1. Find the diamond in the rough
Harry Clarke, founder of Cobalt Technologies, has found politicians a useless resource. “They’re not really interested in helping SMEs,” says Clarke. “As a shining exception to that rule I am, however, grateful to Sir George Young, my constituency MP.
“Back in March 2006 he accepted an invitation to open an extension to our offices here in Basingstoke. He cut a ribbon, drank some fizz, posed for photos, chatted to our employees, and stayed for the ideal 30 minutes before making an elegant retreat.
“He even volunteered to put the photos of the event on his website – enabling us to achieve a high Google ranking through association.”
What, then, is the secret? Be lucky enough to have an MP who cares about their constituency for what it is, not merely as a means to his or her end.
2 Be a bit cheeky
Dale Vince, founder of Ecotricity, put an ad in the Guardian earlier this year addressed to Gordon Brown. It read: “We’ve needed a change in power for a very long time. A change in power from carbon to renewable. Today I’d like to take Gordon at his word and engage him in an open debate on energy, environment and community.”
Did name-checking the new PM cause a lot of publicity?
“Absolutely,” says Vince, whose £18m-turnover green electricity company saw profits of £1.3m last year. “It was a timely ad, appearing on his first day as PM. We felt it was an opportunity to spark debate.”
3. Party hard at parliament
If you want to host an event at parliament, you have to get an official ‘invite’ from an MP. They only allow a limited number of guest events a year, so if you want to raise a toast in the Commons, you’ll have to pull a few strings.
The Forum of Executive Recruiters (FER) hosts its annual Christmas dinner at the House of Commons. “Charles Walker is our man,” says Uzair Bawany, FER member and MD of £16m-turnover company Contact Recruitment. “He’s the MP for Broxbourne, but he’s also heavily involved in the recruitment industry.”
4. Break through the barrier to entry
Regenatec manufactures and installs widgets that allow vehicles to run on pure plant oil. Tapping into the public transport sector would be a major win for founder Mike Lawton, but he was scuppered by some outdated legislation that makes bus operators pay a premium for green energy.
Lawton contacted Ed Vaizey, shadow culture minister, to ask him to raise the question in parliament. Vaizey obliged and the issue was picked up by the Chambers of Commerce. “There’s a huge amount riding on it for us,” says Lawton.
5. Promotional videos
“Deal With It”, the behavioural therapy programme run by Cheshire-based SOG, received endorsement from Steve Norris, then minister for transport, in 2004.
As former chairman of Jarvis, which had been embroiled in controversy following the Potters Bar rail crash, Norris had a vested interest in promoting safety issues. “The BBC was featuring our programme on Working Lunch and we needed someone to introduce the footage,” says SOG director Alan Houghton.
“Norris was happy to be involved, for free. The DVD now forms the bulk of our brochure to prospective clients, and revenues from “Deal With It” have just hit £750,000.”
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