Dr Stuart Thomson is a public affairs and communications consultant.

Getting stakeholder meetings right

Getting stakeholder meetings right

It is a basic requirement but one that is very easy to get wrong. What are the steps you should take for preparing and conducting a useful public affairs meeting?

A successful starting point must occur well before any meeting is even arranged. You need know to know that you are speaking to the right person at the right time. In other words, your stakeholder mapping and analysis needs to be accurate rather than scattergun. A focused approach will assist in the prioritisation of stakeholders and will make the whole process manageable.

This is essential once the meetings start to take place. Imagine the position you and the team could find yourselves in, preparing for many meetings some of which are much more important than others. The potential for failure increases. So, keep focused.

Put the preparation in

There is obviously a need to get a briefing paper together but that should happen for both sides – for the stakeholder and for your own team as well.

The classic mistake for such meetings is that the focus becomes too much on what you want to say, not what the intended audience would like to hear.

There is no harm in asking, in advance, if they have questions or issues they want to cover. It helps to show them that you are taking them seriously.

Preparation for meetings may focus too much on the key messages to deliver and think less about the types of questions that could come your way and how you should respond. Simply repeating key messages won’t work in this stakeholder setting in the same way that it may do in a short media appearance.

All stakeholder meetings need to be thought of in the context of moving along a continuum from starting a relationship through to becoming a trusted adviser – that would be the ultimate end point. The internal briefing must be considered in that context.

That means the briefing, as well as the agenda for the meeting, should reflect ways in which you can be as responsive to the stakeholder as possible, whilst also looking for ways to strike up personal connections. That mix of the professional and personal will help you along that continuum.

What you need to demonstrate

In any meeting there are some ‘musts’. Here are five suggestions:

  1. Show that you have taken the time and effort to treat the stakeholder as an individual, not part of a blob. That means taking a tailored approach – for MPs they must show that it means something to them / their constituents;
  2. look for ways to demonstrate your expertise and prove your reputation;
  3. bring the issues considered in the meeting to life with examples, facts and figures;
  4. don’t dominate the meeting, listen as well as talk; and
  5. let them know that there will be follow-up and prepare things, in advance, that they can help with.

Overall

For all meetings there should be a feedback loop in place so that you learn from the stakeholder, gain their knowledge and insight, and change your approach, if needed.

My other plea is that good records are kept of meetings – it helps with follow-up and provides a useful reminder for future engagement. It provides the basis for the type of ‘corporate’ collective knowledge that can otherwise be lost.

Always think and plan for stakeholder meetings on an individual basis. This will help move you along the trusted adviser continuum.

Dr Stuart Thomson Chart.PR is a political communications and public affairs consultant.

Winner of Current Affairs Online Influencer of the Year 2020.

“One of our foremost public affairs practitioners.”

“One of the finest public affairs consultants and PR education trainers.”

“Most insightful.”

He advises on public affairs strategies including political and corporate communications and reputation management.  His work also includes consultation and planning communications and he has advised on a number of high profile media relations and crisis communications programmes.

Stuart is the Head of Public Affairs at BDB Pitmans where he has worked since 2005.

Stuart graduated from the University of Aberdeen with a degree in Economics and Politics before completing a Ph.D. from the same institution. His thesis, ‘The Social Democratic Dilemma’, went on to form the basis of a book published by Macmillan.

This site highlights Stuart’s work, reproduces some of his material and introduces the range of issues he has written on. His books and articles cover a number of subjects including social democratic politics, the Labour Party and its history, the development of the left, political activism, trade unionism, British politics, communications, lobbying and corporate social responsibility as well as a number of other business issues.

He began his career in communications with the Rowland Company, part of Saatchi & Saatchi, before moving to Upstream, part of DLA Piper, a global legal services organisation where he was a Director.

Stuart is an honorary research fellow in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Aberdeen and the author of several books including ‘New Activism and the Corporate Response‘ (heralded as a book that “every aspiring business leader should read” by MIS Asia), ‘Public Affairs in Practice‘ and ‘The Dictionary of Labour Quotations‘ which was published by Britain’s leading political publisher, Biteback. His most recently published book, ‘Public Affairs: A Global Perspective’ has been called ‘an absolute treasure-trove’ and is a recommended read by the Government Communication Service (GCS).

Stuart regularly writes and lectures on a range of business and political issues and as well as blogging he contributes to the Huffington Post and has written for the CBI, UKTI, Total Politics and LabourList. He is also an adviser to the Entrepreneurs Network (TEN).

He has appeared on Sky News, BBC 5 Live, BBC World, the Today programme and on Ukrainian TV and has been a judge for both the Public Affairs News and PR Week Awards.

He is a former associate editor of Renewal: the Journal of Labour Politics, and has also contributed to other political and business publications.

Stuart was listed as one of the Top 100 Public Affairs Consultants by Total Politics, has been judge for Public Affairs News and Public Affairs awards, and for the PR Week Awards.  In 2014, he was shortlisted for the IoD and CIPR Director of the Year award.

He is also a CIPR and PRCA trainer running public affairs courses.

Outside of work, Stuart enjoys reading crime novels, watching Nordic Noir, and listening to music. He also plays the guitar.  Stuart lives in North London with his wife, Alex and their children.