What happens at a party conference? Our CEO Diane Banks explains why they are worth attending
I’ve been attending party conferences for years in my capacity as a non-executive director of a think tank, but their changing nature in recent years means that they’re well worth attending for anyone in business, the media, the third sector or public life.
There has been much talk of party conferences being taken over by lobbyists in recent years, with the focus away from the coming together of the party faithful. The result is that they have become a sort of mini-Davos, with key figures in business, the media and politics all in one place, making for an excellent opportunity to catch up with contacts, make new ones and exchange ideas.
This year, I was at both Conservative Party Conference in Manchester and Labour Party Conference in Liverpool. With a very real prospect of coming to power within the next year, the latter was markedly more buoyant, but both were buzzing with fringe events, drinks parties and dinners.
I both chaired and attended fringe events which, with their focus on a specific issue, are a great way to meet other stakeholders with similar interests; and because the panels usually feature a relevant member of parliament, offer the opportunity to engage directly with that party’s policy on the subject at hand.
The most productive time spent for me though is always catching up with contacts over coffee or a drink, including clients of Northbank who are broadcasters and lobby journalists; serendipitous encounters, and being introduced to new people who we can potentially work with as a client, customer or partner in the bars.
Conferences are well-known for their drinks parties, particularly those organised by media organisations such as the Telegraph, Sky and the Spectator, who are masters at maintaining guest list exclusivity and this year held parties at both Conservatives and Labour for the first time.
For me, the most useful parties were the Conservatives Arts & Creative Industries Network drinks at the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, and the Labour Creatives event at Tate Liverpool. Both sponsored by ITV, these were opportunities to catch up with key players in the media and creative industries – many of whom who had come for the day specifically to attend these events – and to hear from the Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer and the Shadow Culture Secretary Thangam Debbonaire.
I always try to make the most of a visit to another city, and so took the time to catch up with a client who is based at the University of Manchester, and also fixed meetings with HarperCollins and ITV, both of whom have offices in Manchester. And in both Manchester and Liverpool, I squeezed in brief visits to the city art galleries to take the cultural temperature. I returned to London full of ideas and with a wealth of new contacts to follow up.