by GK Strategy 11th October, 2017

Are party conferences declining in importance?

Every year party conference season rolls around and activists, charities, businesses, trade associations, and agencies gear up for two weeks of late nights, networking and perhaps indulging in a bit of gossiping. However, the pre-conceived logic that party conferences offer the best way to meet and engage with key stakeholders is beginning to shift. Whilst conferences do still grab the headlines and draw the eye of the national media, it is perhaps not always for the right reasons and their usefulness to organisations, and membership bodies for campaigning and lobbying could well be diminishing.

Headline figures have suggested that up to 70% of Conservative MPs avoided the Party Conference in Manchester this year, a number which included junior ministers amongst its ranks. Meanwhile, at Labour Conference there have been widespread reports of an overtly anti-business tone, replicated in the continued policy announcements which favoured nationalising key sectors, from rail to water.

This conference season has also been noticeable for introspection and self-congratulation in equal measure. The Conservative Conference was marked with well-attended election post-mortem fringes, while Labour fringe meetings reinforced the belief they have created a platform from which they can win the next General Election, with big business delegations hidden away. The belief that Labour have ‘shifted the political mainstream’ will likely drive the party further to the left of the political spectrum, potentially making it even harder for businesses to influence Labour policy. Yet the Conservative conference also struggled to create innovative, business-friendly policy ideas during the four-day event in Manchester.

It seems clear that investing heavily in exhibiting and sending large delegations to these conferences is no longer an efficient way to convey messages directly to those in power. Meetings at conferences are becoming increasingly brief with no time for in-depth discussion of multi-faceted detailed policy areas.

This is an especially pertinent issue for membership bodies and trade associations who are tasked with representing their member’s views and sharing industry opportunities and concerns in wider society. Many membership bodies, especially those with limited budgets, are choosing to look beyond party conferences and instead invest in long-term sustained campaigns and relationship building exercises which are a much more effective way of getting their message heard.

Instead, building relationships to become a trusted source of information and research, advice and guidance for government, MPs and civil servants should be the aim for all trade associations and membership bodies. In particular, organisations that can offer valuable and original commentary on the impact of major policy issues on industries and sectors are the ones likely to be heard by Minister’s and Whitehall departments. Ensuring that member firms messages, with compelling evidence, get heard loudly and consistently, is the best way to get your voice heard with political stakeholders.

How can we shape your communications strategy? Get in contact with: ed@gkstrategy.com

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