The arena of political campaigning and public affairs has an increasing prominence. One reflection of this has been the introduction of the controversial Lobbying Act by the coalition government. Another is the increasing number of postgraduate and vocational courses that provide a platform for those considering or developing a career in the sector. Postgraduate courses are available under the umbrella of public affairs, public policy or communications. Courses will often include a practical placement – these could be in Westminster or even Brussels, with consultancies or with companies depending on the focus of the course. You don’t necessarily need a Masters level qualification though to get started in the sector and many Masters courses are aimed at those already in the sector. We spoke to Jamie Hewitt, Director of Campaigner Academy about careers in the sector and how Campaigner Academy can help.
What type of student has the potential to make a good campaigner? Students who are intellectually curious, enjoy meeting new people and discussing politics. Some campaigners are more introverted, but it certainly helps to be outgoing. Good analytical skills are also hugely important. Campaigners spend a lot of time summarising evidence and forming arguments – don’t become a campaigner if you don’t like reading or debating ideas. It also helps to be thoughtful and have an eye for detail as a lot of information that campaigners produce makes it into the public domain, so it’s important to be factually correct and to present information in an engaging way. Competition for graduate campaigner jobs is fierce, so applicants will normally be expected to have obtained a 2:1 or above for their first degree, though there will of course be some exceptions.
What sort of degree backgrounds do lobbyists tend to have? Plenty of successful campaigners that have very different degree backgrounds ranging from science to the social sciences. Public policy is so broad and if you are firmly focused on becoming a specialised campaigner (e.g. for finance or health) it can actually be incredibly beneficial to have a degree background in one of these policy areas. You definitely don’t need to have a politics degree to become a campaigner, although it can be an easier sell to a prospective employer if you have one as it proves you are interested in it. For those that don’t have politics for a first degree, many students choose to go on and study a politicsor public policy master’s and use this as a conversion course, but again this is not vital.
Why should people consider a career in political campaigning? Political campaigning is an attractive career because it is intellectually challenging (policy is often complex and fast-moving) and it also offers structured career progression. Job titles are quite well-defined and the money can be quite lucrative when you reach the higher levels. I guess there is a certain amount of kudos in working with policymakers and also a certain gratification in mastering areas of public policy that may not be well understood by the public. There is also an element of excitement that is derived from the unpredictability of politics and achieving a policy ‘win’. Seeing politicians debating an issue in Parliament that you have brought to their attention, or finding out that a particular policy position you may have been advocating has been taken up by a Select Committee, or the Government of the day, can be really satisfying.
What is the best way to go about starting a career in campaigning? Showing a demonstrable interest in politics is absolutely key. The most important thing potential employers look for is a genuine interest in politics, preferably a degree in that subject and political activity, whether locally or nationally, is a genuine advantage. It’s a very competitive area to enter and so internships are still seen as a major stepping-stone. Many people go via the route of working for an MP. Undertaking a year in Parliament is regarded as a passport experience. However, many graduates also start off by joining a political consultancy’s graduate scheme, or get their foot in the door by interning for an organisation with a major interest in public policy – such as a charity, a business or a trade association. You don’t need to have automatically worked for an MP. Competition can be intense, so my other message to budding campaigners is to persevere and don’t be put off by being rejected for internship experience. I was certainly rejected a few times before I got my first opportunity.
How is campaigning changing? The distinction between lobbying (campaigning) and public relations is continuing to blur. More and more public relations agencies are offering public affairs as a client service. In tandem with this, there seem to be more niche public affairs agencies springing up with expertise in areas such as health policy. Meanwhile, in-house, many organisations are trying to get their members more directly involved in campaigning activities. This is especially the case in complex policy areas where there are numerous voices all clamouring for the attention of policymakers at the same time. In these circumstances the local constituency link is still a powerful avenue of approach.
In terms of digital campaigning, social media is certainly making a bigger difference to mobilising support. Online petitioning tools are now part of the regular repertoire of campaigners and social media has definitely taken off. For example, I have successfully used Twitter to cajole politicians along to political events and received surprisingly quick responses, which I wouldn’t necessarily have got by ringing up their office. It seems that politicians are strapped to their smart phones like everyone else.
Monitoring the political landscape in the digital world is also getting easier all the time. The availability of free tools, created by organisations such as MySociety, present a viable alternative to more expensive ones used by industry professionals. As a result, we are seeing the rise of citizen campaigner – an exciting new frontier.
How does Campaigner Academy help? With all the changes in the sector I felt there was a role for an organisation to provide a range of information, training and services for those looking to develop a career in the sector or just starting out. Most immediately we run a short (three hour) ‘Careers in Campaigning’ course geared towards undergraduates and postgraduates that may not have much background in the sector. It’s a broad course that introduces participants to practicalities of political campaigning and the opportunities for career advancement. We take a look at the work of public affairs consultants working for lobbying companies; in-house practitioners; and those campaigning in the third sector to influence public policy. ‘Political campaigning’ is a catch-all term we use to reflect the reality of many in the sector where the line is blurred between policy and public affairs. In addition to this short introductory course we will be introducing longer courses as well as the opportunity to get one to one careers advice. We also maintain a blog which has useful sector information.
The next ‘Careers in Campaigning’ Course is taking place on the evening of Thursday, 26 March. As it is a new course it’s being discounted to £15 (normally priced £30), using the ‘Career50′ coupon, when booking through the website. More details and booking at https://www.campaigneracademy.com/careers-in-campaigning/
Further Information about careers in political campaigning
Students in subscribing colleges can access resources in our online library ‘Careers Tagged’ – Search on ‘Public Affairs’
Other posts from this blog on Public Affairs
Otherwise useful starting points are the professional bodies associated with the sector. These include:
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations – The main professional body representing public relations and public affairs practitioners in the UK
The Public Relations Consultants Association - – Represents companies and consultancies in the sector as well as offering membership to individuals.
The Association of Professional Political Consultants - The APPC is a self-regulatory body representing UK public affairs practitioners
Prospects – http://www.prospects.ac.uk Search on the postgraduate courses section – the term ‘public affairs’ returns a good number of courses including those at Queen Mary, University of London and the Public Affairs & Lobbying MSc at Brunel
You can also use Prospects to research more on careers including Public Affairs (http://www.prospects.ac.uk/public_affairs_consultant_job_description.htm)
NCVO – runs a well regarded course that includes 7 full days of tuition (brace yourselves it costs £1440) https://www.ncvo.org.uk/practical-support/campaigning/certificate-in-campaigning
Campaign Bootcamp – http://www.campaignbootcamp.org/apply This course lasts a year and starts with a one week full time session. The next course isn’t taking place till June 2015 (deadline to apply – early April) While the course is expensive (£2800) many participants on the course attend through scholarships. Find out more about some of the scholarships http://www.campaignbootcamp.org/blog/scholarship-bme-campaigners