If you want to know more about public affairs, stakeholder engagement and public policy this new agency might be just what you need.
by Ben Odams
So, I decided to set up my own business working on stakeholder communications, public affairs and public policy. Doing so was the end of a long process of working inhouse and realising that there is value in having these areas built into communications and marketing but realising that the value of these disciplines is not always clear.
Yet, I also wanted to create business which was different from the usual mould of expensive campaigns, events in parliament and 'proving' value. Although all forms of communications; public affairs, stakeholder management and policy research tend to be seen as additional rather than integral. It can also be expensive and remote with most of the decent firms based in London.
With Mercian Insight, my aim is to be different - provide high quality research and advice, effective public affairs and purposeful Stakeholder Management either in person or through training. Based in the Midlands there is a connection with a local area but also a desire to ensure that the costs reflect what is needed, and the reality that budgets do not tend to grow unless there is a real sense of value.
What does different look like? Firstly, I want to challenge the idea that what I do is 'too difficult' or complex for teams to build into their work. So, Mercian Insight has a training offer which is designed to support teams to build and develop the capacity necessary to do this work for themselves. But also, even without the training my work should be part of expanding the value of your budgets and showing the impact you can have through your team.
Secondly, I want to ensure that people understand what is going on. Having worked in-house, the sheer complexity of public policy is often lost in the development of strategy, not because it’s not important but it can seem too difficult. To me public policy is reasonably simple, it’s as much about understanding the connections between things, as well as understanding what is coming down the line.
Where does this fit with your world in comms?
For example, do you know how the Spending Review will impact on your organisation? What is the opportunity and risks from the Local Industrial Strategy? Do you know how Labour's proposals for a National Education Service links with their ideas about greater 'Democratic control'? How will T-levels affect Apprenticeships? What does life-long learning and the National retraining Scheme mean in practice? Is social care reform likely?
These are questions I can answer (I am an absolute riot for a Pub quiz, by the way). but simply answering the question is not enough. The value comes from how the answers to these questions affect your strategy, your objectives and your approach. It maybe you need to build relationships with MPs, maybe you need to develop a policy position to work with national bodies and think tanks, maybe you simply need to change your key messages. In essence, understanding in practice will deliver better communications.
Providing these can be through a simple report, a day spent working with your team (or your executive) to work out the objectives or it could be simply a discussion on the phone. Again, the value and the cost should be linked, and you should see the value.
The Third difference? Put simply I want to be as ethical about this work as possible. It is not simply about having a number or a name, to genuinely make a difference means having a compelling argument that is meant but also grounded in reality. There are too many campaigns done for campaigns sake - for me, the upcoming challenges around Brexit, public finances and the impact on local areas needs a compelling response delivered through good communications built on sound knowledge.
So I’m proud to launch Mercian Insight. I believe it fills an important gap and can support the important work of the communications community.
If you interested in exploring more about public affairs, stakeholder engagement and public policy check us out at www.mercianinsight.com or on Twitter at @InsightMercian
Ben Odams is Director of Mercian Insight
image via the Finnish Museum of Photography