A guide for those who work for an MP
If handled badly, events in the constituency can go very wrong indeed – and an event that goes wrong can be very newsworthy from the perspective of your local media. This guide aims to help you plan such events and hopefully avoid the major pitfalls.
Planning your event
It’s always best to do your planning in a team of two or three people. This way different eventualities are bounced around and you are less likely to miss something important. So sit down over a coffee with a colleague or a local activist and have pens and paper to hand. If this isn’t possible, can you set up a conference call between the Westminster office and the Constituency office to conduct the initial planning? You may find email is the most convenient way to update each other down the line, but for a brainstorm session it’s by far better to be able to bounce ideas off one another immediately.
What you want to achieve is list of tasks to be done, a list of resources needed and a schedule for executing each element of your plan. Also be clear on who is doing each task, and make this explicit in the plan to avoid confusion. Brainstorm every element you can think of and how you will overcome problems and limitations.
Audience: Who will you invite? Will they have access needs? How will you advertise the event? Will the audience be friendly? Will you provide them with refreshments? What do you want from the audience members by the end of the meeting? Is the event based on an issue, a person, an anniversary – and who will be most interested in it?
Speakers: Who will you invite? Do they have access needs? Where are they travelling from? How will they get to the venue? Are they using visual aids? Do they require overhead projection or other equipment? Are there security issues relating to the speakers? Will you take the speakers to the nearest pub after the event?
Venue: What venues are available? How much do they cost? Which one is the right size? Does the venue have audio/visual equipment? Is there parking nearby? Is it easy to find? Is it well served by public transport? Does anywhere nearby have a confusingly similar name? Is there disabled access? Are there refreshment facilities? What are arrangements for emergencies? How much time do you have for setting up and clearing up?
Media: Will you invite the media? Will you prevent them from entering if they find out without you inviting them? What facilities will journalists require? Will they want a short space in the event schedule for photography? Will you need to reserve them a specific zone at the venue to avoid inconveniencing the speakers or the public?
Local Authorities: Do you require any permits or licences? Are you serving alcohol? Will there be live music? Will there be noise that will affect people living nearby? Will the local police need to be informed? Are you expecting any trouble? (If so – should you be holding the event at all?)
Refreshments: Do you really need them? Will speakers need water and glasses? What can you afford? Will any local food retailers/restaurants sponsor the event with food and drink?
Don’t just stick to these items and these questions. The relevant factors will change depending on the area, the type of event and even the climate. Keep thinking of things until you can’t think of anything any longer.
Once you have identified the questions, you have to start answering them and, in doing so, you will provide yourself with a great quantity of work to do. So make a list and categorise it – maybe in the form above – and then start to farm out these responsibilities. If a crisis emerges, you will not be able to deal with it if you are swamped with basic tasks that could have been delegated. When thinking who can take on responsibilities, think of your Intern, colleagues, local Party activists or local Councillors. Try to delegate tasks according to people’s skills and interests, you’ll find they’re much more likely to get done – and on time.
The Planning Schedule
When you know who is doing what, you then need to work out when they should be doing it. For this purpose you need to produce the event schedule.
Week 1: Check out venues and book one. Invite speakers. Draft flyers. Weekly planning meeting/conference call
Week 2: Pay venue. Get refreshment quotations. Prepare travel options for potential speakers. Arrange delivery of flyers by volunteer distributors. Weekly planning meeting/conference call
Week 3: Prepare event programme – who is speaking about what and when? Confirm refreshment arrangements. Confirm speakers. Acquire brief ‘biographies’ of speakers for event Chair. Finalise flyers. Print flyers. Deliver flyers to volunteer distributors. Weekly planning meeting/conference call
Week 4: Pay for refreshments. Confirm travel arrangements and drivers for speakers. Provide speakers with event schedule. Alert media.Weekly planning meeting/conference call
Week 5: Check digital camera. Brief event Chair. Check audio/lighting equipment. Draft press release for after the event. Weekly planning meeting/conference call
Week 6: Notify Press. Take pictures at the event. Greet speakers. Check audio/lighting equipment. Manage audio/lighting equipment during event. Prepare the room. Clear up the room. Go to the pub!
Obviously, the planning schedule has to be more comprehensive than this. You should prepare a detailed schedule of tasks for the day of the event. You should always provide a programme for the event to speakers and the media – in effect a rundown of how the meeting will go, who is speaking when, how questions will be taken etc.
In short, planning and delegation are the keys to success in such events. When dividing responsibilities, don’t overload yourself – you need time to develop an overview of the project. Above all, plan your work and then work your plan and then everything will be fine.
Tip – Draft a template calling notice early on, but don’t distribute it until about 3 days before the event – this is about the right amount of time in advance for local news editors to be able to send a reporter. Send it too early and you may find the event’s details changing, which will mean you will have to ring up every media outlet and let them know the time change. If details do change, you must inform the local media – if they turn up at the wrong place or at the wrong time, you’ve wasted their time and may not be forgiven easily!
Draft a press release in advance which you can distribute to journalists at the event and take your own good quality photos which you can email to them straight after the event – not all outlets will be able to send their own photographers. If none of your MP’s staff have much in the way of photographic talent, why not ask around for a local photography student to help out on a voluntary basis? They can use the work for their portfolio and may even see it in print.
Learning from experience
After the event get the team together briefly for a post-mortem. Learn the lessons and the next event will go even better.
One other thing: remember that the allowances your MP claims are for Parliamentary duties only and are not for party political or campaigning work. The Office Costs Budget MUST NOT be used to fund campaigning or party political events. Such events should not be held in offices funded from the Office Costs Budget, and neither should staff paid from the staffing allowance be working on these issues during working hours.