Whilst some might just see it as ‘schmoozing’, getting to know your stakeholders is an essential part of public affairs and stakeholder communications. With the General Election coming up in 2015 and prospective parliamentary candidates currently being announced, familiarising one’s self with both incumbents and challengers is all part and parcel of good engagement practice.
This is particularly true in potential ‘battleground’ seats. In constituencies where there is a strong possibility of a major swing in votes between parties, the incumbent MP you’ve just spent the past few years getting to know might be gone and a new MP is in office. For example, in the constituency of Brentford and Isleworth, long-time Hounslow councillor and Labour PPC Ruth Cadbury will be challenging Mary Macleod MP (Conservative). Having won the constituency with a majority of just 3.6% in 2010, the prospect of former Royal aide Macleod relinquishing her seat to Cadbury is plausible.
Foresight and preparation for such an event is essential and is why meeting and understanding a potentially new stakeholder early can have lasting benefits. It’s important to initially get to know and understand their interests. By inviting them to meet, it enables discussion about both their own motivations as well as your own. With a parliamentary candidate for example, what are the issues affecting their constituency, where do their intentions lie, and what are their personal interests? All this can be used to facilitate an initial healthy dialogue which can be used to further your own interests and agenda.
Take the example of Ruth Cadbury from earlier; if she wins in Brentford and Isleworth in 2015 and you’ve established contact, and both sides have discussed and understood their interests, then the likelihood of developing a working relationship moving forward that can be fruitful for both parties can only be improved. Should a debate arise in Westminster or a crisis comes to fruition which directly impacts either your own interests, then you know that a foundation has already been established to open a line of communication to allow decisions or events to lead to a favourable outcome.
Getting to know new stakeholders is therefore a small, but important part of effective stakeholder engagement that should not be overlooked. A little effort can often go a long way.