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How did you get into public affairs? What was your first job and what did you learn most from this role?

I started out as an advisor to a parliamentarian. Understanding the inner mechanics of party politics, the constituency dynamics and of course the parliamentary aspects was a valuable introduction to public affairs. I was initially drawn to advocacy roles before moving to an in-house function.

What sparked your interest in EU public affairs? What do you enjoy most about working in European/International public affairs?

A long standing fascination with global institutions and an awareness that the key public policy challenges of our time are increasingly being resolved at an international level. EU public affairs is complex yet rewarding and the mechanics of engagement across such diverse stakeholder bases – from the Commission to the Parliament to the Member State Governments themselves, is a truly enjoyable challenge.  

The opportunity to shape and influence policy at this level is terrific and I relish being the eyes and ears for UK small businesses at an EU level, acting in their interests and with their full support.

What does your current role entail on a day-to-day basis?

A large portion of my day is spent engaging with stakeholders – members, politicians, officials, other business groups – you name it! Advising members on policy positioning, lobbying politicians, working with officials on working groups, coordinating FSB engagement within my brief with colleagues in the other business groups.

I might be asked to weigh in on a press comment, draft copy, brief members, assess a new policy proposal, advise on a campaign or develop an engagement strategy.

I’m in Brussels usually two to three days a week during peak season and a significant amount of my day will be consumed in meetings with MEPs –the  record was 30 meetings in one day! It’s also important to get out of the European Parliament and make time for key officials, in the Commission, Council or the Perm Reps, the other leading business groups and of course our own trade association, EMOTA.

Leading the FSB’s work on Brexit, what are the main challenges in the next few years?

The key challenge for the UK Government will be to move from the withdrawal phase to talks on the future trading relationship between the bloc and the UK. These highly complex and sophisticated discussions to negotiate access to the Single Market will be crucial and both sides will need all the time they can muster to get it right. Transitional arrangements will ensure enough time is available to reach the best agreement possible.

As Head of Political Engagement for Pride in London, you enhanced the organisation’s profile and broadened support across the political spectrum. How did you go about engaging with politicians? 

In a country where you can marry your same-sex partner but be attacked for holding their hand in public, it’s clear much remains to be done. I wanted to use Pride as an anchor to engage with politicians and remind them of the challenges ahead, combatting the consensus in parliament and elsewhere that marriage equality somehow heralded an end to the movement. Working with politicians of diverse backgrounds and party affiliations, we sought to share stories from members of the community to bring to life the challenges which still exist for many LGBT+ Londoners. The real value in this approach is that you are helping to educate politicians on a topic they may not fully understand and you empower them to take up the baton as an ally.

What were your main political achievements in this year’s Pride? What were the main opportunities to grasp and challenges to overcome?

Hosting the Education Secretary, who came out only a year ago, during Pride in London 2016, to lead the Parade with her partner alongside the Mayor of London and leading politicians from across London was a highlight for me. Working with political parties to secure messages of support and solidarity from across the political divide, to demonstrate the consensus of support to help our community secure true equality was another.

Jointly hosting an LGBT+ General Election Hustings with Stonewall and PinkNews to really deep dive on the key issues within the community during the election was an amazing experience.

The LGBT+ community is a diverse group and sometimes we don’t always get it right on representation – whether its BAME inclusion, bi visibility or women, we need to do better. Within my brief, it’s the little things like thinking about who sits on a panel, the makeup of an audience, the brief that goes into a politician attending an event and so forth. It’s a key challenge and one we are absolutely committed to.

What makes for a good communicator? 

Effective communication is only possible when you truly understand your audience. Be personal, factual and specific. Listen. Ask questions. Learn how to read body language. Don’t be afraid to clarify.

Which campaign/issue are you most proud to have been involved in?

I’m proud to have led a robust national campaign during the EU referendum to address the information deficit amongst the small business community in the UK and ensure clear and concise information, fact-checked by the well renowned FullFact was distributed to business owners across the UK.

How different is EU from UK public affairs from an association perspective?

There is quite a lot of overlap which probably explains why I have worked in both fields at various points. Getting the messaging right and understanding your audience are critical in both spheres, as is the need to provide robust data and evidence to support your case. A distinction at a European level is the sheer variance of views in the European Parliament, reflecting the mix of cultures and political parties across the EU. Similarly, at an EU level, public affairs is increasingly linked to successfully building and driving pan-European coalitions representing wide aspects of a particular industry.

What are the main challenges for public affairs and communications professionals working in trade associations?

Representing a membership, it’s vital that you are able to listen and understand the views of that membership. Making time to solicit input, to explain your approach and secure buy-in for your external work is critical but ultimately strengthens your hand as an advocate.

In your opinion, will a post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU be signed by March 2019? That’s a tricky question to answer. It should become clear by January 2018 whether this is realistic. Transition arrangements may be key to ensure enough time to secure a deal that works for both sides.

In your opinion, will a post-Brexit trade agreement with the EU be signed by March 2019?

That’s a tricky question to answer. It should become clear by January 2018 whether this is realistic. Transition arrangements may be key to ensure enough time to secure a deal that works for both sides. 

Quick-Fire Round  
Which politician, past or present, would you like to be stuck in a lift with? What issues would you raise? Commissioner Margrethe Vestager – The inspiration behind one of my favorite European political shows (Borgen). I’d love to know how the call to Google CEO Sundar Picha informing them of the historic fine of €2.4 billion really went down.
LinkedIn or Twitter? Twitter
Tweet your career-to-date in 140 characters or less Political aide turned small business advocate. Leading EU/ International affairs for @fsb_policy. In spare time, Head of Political Engagement @LondonLGBTPride
What’s your Media diet? Politico EU, BBC, Twitter, The Times, Sky News
Favourite Film Milk
Guilty pleasure Yes Minister/ Yes Prime Minister reruns on Netflix.
Favourite restaurant for a business lunch? The Cinnamon Club

Read David Geary's advice for students and recent graduates in the GraduateForward Advice Centre where he answers questions including: How important is postgraduate study to a public affairs career? How relevant is Degree subject for a public affairs career? 

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