It’s always worth keeping an eye on what your opponents are up to – it helps to avoid nasty surprises, and there’s often the chance to learn something, too. In the ideal scenario, their work and expenditure of resources will work to your advantage.
One such opportunity has just come up. NEON – an abbreviation of New Economy Organisers – is a campaign training organisation on the left. It describes itself as ‘a network of over 650 UK organisers from different trade unions, grassroots groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), faith-based campaigns, political parties, civil society groups and movements from across the country’ who ‘run powerful trainings and support campaigns to help progressives win social, economic and environmental justice.’
It’s one of the less well-known outfits playing an increasingly important role in the development of the wider movement of third party groups which help to promote left-wing messages and policies. As well as the sector and general cultural impact, Labour has certainly benefited from the uptick in that activity, as we saw vividly in the 2017 General Election.
There’s a big and important discussion to have about what the centre right ought to be doing on this front, but generally is not – which is something I’ll return to soon.
But specifically, today, there’s something NEON have produced which is of great use to Conservatives and other campaigners on the right: a Press Officer Handbook.
I spent years running campaigns and press offices, and advising other organisations on how to do so, and it’s striking how often communications is viewed as a secret art-form, or a closed book, when in reality it’s a skill which can be learned, practiced and planned. It’s also tangled up in all sorts of misapprehensions and outdated half-truths arising from the portrayal of PR in drama, the self-serving spin some comms people put out about themselves, and an understandable wariness arising from some famous cases of when it goes disastrously wrong.
As a result, lots of organisations on the centre right find themselves seriously under-powered in their communications and PR. From Conservative Associations to local single-issue campaigns, there are a lot of people who really want to up their comms game but often are without proper support and guidance for how to do so.
NEON’s Press Officer Handbook (click the link to read online or download a copy) is the best free resource I’ve come across to help in that. It’s not perfect, it’s not totally comprehensive about every facet of all comms (nor could it possibly be), and as you’d expect given its source its chosen case studies are focused on left-wing campaigns, but it’s clear, well-structured, and most importantly right about the essence of good communications.
It knocks on the head plenty of mistakes that I’ve seen committed time and time again, and reveals many tricks of the trade which I’d argue any good communicator must have under their belt. The authors evidently know their stuff, and have taken advice from both communications professionals and journalists.
In short, I’d recommend that it become essential reading for any Conservative association communications officer. After all, the other side are benefiting from it as a resource, and sharing their knowledge, so it would be foolish not to make the most of it.