The arrival of autumn signals the start of the party conference season. What on earth will they talk about, it’s not like there is much going on right now. Whether you are directly involved, or watching from afar, they’ll be newsworthy for sure…
by Will Mapplebeck
Party conference season is around the corner and it's the equivalent of Christmas for anyone involved in political communication - loads of work and a nagging sense of disappointment when it finishes.
However, it is a fantastic opportunity to network, influence those in power and talk to other people who are interested in your area of policy work.
Here's some survival tips that comms people might find useful.
Paper, paper everywhere
Don't grab everything you're given. I try to keep it very light, with a conference app on my phone, a notebook and a supply of business cards. There's a lot of paper at party conferences, in that sense they are reassuringly old-fashioned, but a lot gets left unread in cafes and on bar stools. Each conference has an exhibition space in which a strange mix of blue chips and charities - everyone from the Dog's Trust to Google - try to chinwag with passing delegates. Unless you're careful you'll leave with a forest of jute bags and more leaflets than your average General Election candidate.
Embrace the chaos
Party conferences are not places for those who like to be in total control. Basically, stuff happens - fringes finish late, panelists go missing, food doesn't arrive, your conference pass isn't for the right days, you lose your banner stand (A small number of the above have happened to me). You will have to think on your feet and improvise. Remember, everyone else is feeling the pressure as well.
Timing is everything
Airport-style security is a grim necessity of conference life and it takes ages. Be prepared for a lengthy queue to get through plus extra delay when your banner stand case is mis-identified by G4S as a possible rocket launcher. Events take place either within the secure zone or outside it. If you don't have a pass for the right day then you won't get in to the inner sanctum where the majority of fringes and all of conference business takes place. This catches out a surprising number of delegates. It is worth double-checking dates and times.
The PM won't be on your panel
Don't expect to see many big 'beasts' and don't believe anyone who tells you they can get you a high-ranking Cabinet minister at your fringe. It's highly unlikely. Big names of all parties are usually rarely seen off the conference podium, perhaps using the opportunity to spend time with potential donors or carry out internal party management. Fringe panels are usually the domain of below cabinet level ministers and MPs.
But it doesn't have to be dull
However, even though you didn't get the Foreign Secretary, that doesn't mean you won't get good attendance as long as you choose a good title and have a sparky, well-informed, panel. In terms of title - try to make it engaging and put reference the party. For example, 'How Can Conservatives/Labour/Lib Dem make a difference to (insert subject area here).
Beware the free booze
Planning a dry September/October? Try to avoid party conference season. Events tend to float on a sea of room temperature Chardonnay. The drinking tends to start about lunchtime and goes on late, very late. I once attended a fringe reception that started, yes started, at 11pm. Predictably, everyone was ‘tired and emotional’. And, despite the free alcohol, try not to indulge too much. Managing a breakfast fringe with a hangover is worse than managing a toddler with one.
Explore the fringe
At their best, party conferences are a chance to talk about policy with some of the country's leading experts and decision-makers. Try to get to as many events as possible, particularly if the subject is related to your organisation's area of policy expertise. Also, if you have the right level of pass and there's time, get in the conference hall and hear your relevant Cabinet or shadow address the party faithful. It gives you a real insight into where thinking is on a particular subject area and the approach you may need to engage and influence policy.
Will Mapplebeck is Strategic Communications and Public Affairs Manager for Core Cities UK
He writes about politics at https://atleastwegettheburglarvote.wordpress.com and tweets @wimapp
Image via Tullio Saba