As we enter party conference season, it is interesting to consider the opportunity that this brings. As public affairs professionals, we can attend the party conferences to enhance our knowledge and build our contacts. But what about for organisations – should you be at the party conferences? Do they provide opportunities, or is it merely a four day drinking session?
For those organisations with a specific aim in mind, conferences can be very useful:
- By organising your own fringe event in advance, you can raise your profile and put yourself at the centre of the debate.
- Sponsoring an area within the Secure Zone can make you highly visible to businesses, the media and politicians.
- MPs, policymakers and think tanks will all be in attendance and therefore, planning a programme of meetings can help you to meet lots of important people all in one go. Additionally, you can benefit from direct access to Ministers.
- Conservative Party Conference offers the opportunity to attend ‘Business Day’ at an additional cost, allowing participants to network with other businesses and dine with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Labour also host an equivalent.
If you don’t have an organisational agenda which party conference could help you with at this time, the conferences are less useful, but can provide a networking forum. It is easy to get chatting to people within your sector at fringe events. It’s just a case of weighing up the cost of conference and time out of the office with the benefit of these networking opportunities.
Conferences are a great experience can provide exciting opportunities for organisations to influence politicians and others. But you need to know what you are aiming to get out of it before you go.
Party conference tips for beginners
- Book your accommodation well in advance and ensure it is as close to the conference venue as you can get
- Plan before you go – what fringe events do you really want to be at, and who do you want to see speaking? Most importantly, which events will be putting on a lunch spread?
- Dress well – you will no doubt end up in various camera shots
- Prepare for long days and even longer nights – getting the most of conferences means 18 hour days
- Use the conference to build your network, as well as using it as an opportunity to catch up with former colleagues and friends – arrange coffees before you go, as well as spontaneous ones with new contacts
- Pack paracetamol and berocca – while conferences aren’t as alcoholic as they were in the 80s and 90s, a big part of conference is the socialising and with that the inevitability of drinking
- Unless you are desperate to see the Leader’s speech, use this time to escape the city on the last day before the rush – you will undoubtedly get a much better view on the tv anyway.