MCM Strategic Communications

MCM Strategic Communications
Leading Canberra-based government relations and media relations consultancy firm.

16 May 2017

Unique insights into effective ministerial engagement

Dennis Richardson AO delivered one of the more memorable and entertaining addresses to the National Press Club last week, a speech which also included an enormous amount of extremely valuable advice for anyone who is or who is thinking about engaging with a government minister.

Indeed, the principal points about this which were made by Mr Richardson – who, until his retirement as Secretary of the Department of Defence last Friday, was one of our most experienced and respected public servants – apply to engagement with all key political stakeholders.

In short, Mr Richardson said engaging with a Minister, particularly when communicating information the Minister might not necessarily like, is similar to engaging with a member of your family – carefully consider the person you are about to engage with before doing so. Among other things, think about whether they are a “morning person” or not; think about how and where you will deliver the information, notably what would be the most effective setting. Mr Richardson said it might just be that the message is most effectively delivered halfway through walking the dog.

Mr Richardson went on to state there is virtually no point in getting upset at a Minister. While this may make you feel better, it is highly unlikely you will achieve the outcome you are seeking.

In other words, potentially, the two most important aspects of ministerial engagement are to determine what outcome you are seeking and decide on what is the most effective way of achieving this outcome.

If you are new to communicating with government or even if you have been engaging with government for years, it’s well worth taking time to analyse Mr Richardson’s points – ahead of interacting with all key political stakeholders. His points should directly inform the development of your strategy for engaging with key political stakeholders and at all times during the implementation of the strategy. Doing so will maximise your chances of success.

These rules of thumb certainly served Mr Richardson well in a career in the public service which lasted almost 50 years. We wish him a happy and fulfilling retirement.

- By Hamish Arthur