“We know that people don’t rush home to turn on the Parliament channel. We have to work extremely hard to engage with people,” Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.
Better known for her amazing sporting career, Tanni also has a firm grasp on the principles of good communications and how to get a message across.
She was the star speaker of the ‘Engaging with Parliament on Health and Wellbeing,’ event last month in Durham (see Six tips for connecting health and politics (part one).
The venue was the other big star of the event and the huge, ornate stained glass window made for a wonderful backdrop to the speaker in Durham Town Hall. I’d never been there before and would recommend a visit – it really is a breath taking space.
Tanni explained that she studied politics but ended up going into sport and having a glittering career. She has now come full circle and is an expert on sport and health in the House of Lords.
She said that the experience and knowledge in the Lords isn’t always recognised by people and as a result good communications and engagement are vital parts of their work.
“Our job is about engagement and networking because that’s the only way we can solve some of these problems.”
She explained how she’s actively taking their work into schools to explain the importance of sport and look at how they impact on health issues.
“More than anything else sport has taught me resilience and that’s such a useful skill to have in life”
As we often talk about in PR the numbers only tell part of the story and she said that in a Lord’s debates it’s not always just about the numbers. On sport debates there can sometimes be as few as eight people there, but they are probably the eight most influential and important people in that field.
However, she explained that openness and engagement can come at a cost. For her this surfaced in the form abusive emails, letters and social media while she took part on a debate about assisted suicide.
She advises that the official website lists all the Lords including details about their interests, so don’t be tempted to mass mail them with poor comms.
“One of the strengths of the House of Lords is that we’re not there to win friends or votes. There will be more legislation on the NHS and welfare so we need to start preparing now,” she adds.
Six Tips for engaging
#1 You need to be savvy in how you contact specific politicians. This needs to be done in a quality way without spamming hundreds of people using a one-size-fits-all approach.
#2 use social media. It’s immediate, visible and widely used by politicians.
#3 Think very carefully about how your issue will impact on their constituents.
#4 Politics is inherently a short term business so make briefings concise and clear. Be explicit about what YOU want to happen by making contact.
#5 Target people on the relevant parliamentary committees, particularly select committees or people with an interest/expertise around health and wellbeing.
#6 Don’t forget the House of Lords. Members here will often be experts in healthcare and unlike MPS aren’t there to win votes or play to a particular agenda.