Understanding & Influencing: Communicators in the new age

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This morning's breakout session on Understanding and Influencing Politics: New Tools for Political Communication provided a snapshot of what's happening and the issues across a number of jurisdictions. The 8.30am start didn't deter a healthy turnout, all keen to hear the inside story from an expert panel. Peter Vermij started with an overview of the European situation, and an explanation of how dealing with 27 different countries shapes their political landscape. Peter described a culture of more talk than action, with less trust in markets, and a tradition of dialogue with multi-stakeholder involvement. The circular flow of communication between Government, industry and society in this setting is often not productive. Here's the important bit: To communicate your point of view, it's better to get in early and be involved before an issue becomes the subject of hype (and in some notable cases, hysteria. GM food anyone?). He believes influencing policy needs strategy, involvement in multi-stakeholder engagement, and open debate where people can explore the potential for compromise. People can be much more willing to work with those they've met on a personal level, regardless of their respective political agendas. Jeff Joseph, VP of Communications for BIO, discussed the organisation's roadmap & 360 degree approach to public affairs. BIO works to influence legislators through the use of face to face meetings with lobbyists, and surrounding politicians with information from and about the industry in as many media channels as possible, old and new. Having said that, there's great awareness that it's no longer about talking to or at people, but rather engaging them as participants in a dialogue. Saliently, BIO is going to move from using words like 'genetic' 'cellular' and 'molecular' to conveying the excitement and promise biotech holds for real people, appealing to hearts and minds. This will be acheived through a mix of old & new media, patient advocates sharing their stories and even via google ads. Jeff concluded with a list of take home lessons: leverage your benefits, keep your friends close, utilise web 2.0, and remember - newspapers are not dead yet.