Winner in the Best Current Affairs Influencer category at 2020’s Online Influence Awards was Stuart Thomson, head of public affairs at BDB Pitmans and well-respected blogger in the PR and comms sector.
From a childhood love of Newsround and political discussions with family, through to a PhD and career, politics and public affairs is Stuart’s passion – read on for more on his work, the impact of COVID-19 on politics in 2020 and his plans for 2021.
How does it feel to win your category this year?
I was completely shocked, as you may have been able to tell when I accepted the award! It still hasn’t really sunk in but my LinkedIn post on the win received so many wonderful comments and likes and is still being shared weeks later. That helps me to appreciate what a big deal the win is for me and how many people really value the role that my blog plays. I have been writing it for a long time and its readership has taken time to build but people have come to it because of its very practical nature. That applies to newer entrants into public affairs as well as much more established players. They can all get something from it.
What started your passion for your subject?
I’ve always loved politics and current affairs, ever since I was a kid watching John Craven’s Newsround, the children’s news programme. We always talked about politics at home and I went on to study it at university and for my PhD, as well. So, working in a profession in which politics and current affairs are at its heart is a dream for me.
Starting the blog was a mix of wanting to write more regularly but also wanting to share practical ideas; partly to sit alongside the books I have written, partly to complement the training I deliver, but also to open up opportunities to get into the profession, as well.
How has the pandemic impacted your work?
A lot of the political and Parliamentary engagement work I advise clients on usually has a large element of face-to-face engagement. Obviously, that can’t happen at the moment. So while reports like Vuelio’s The Politics of Social Media show how much MPs value face-to-face meetings, we have had to come up with other ways of engaging and getting their attention.
But there is also the issue of COVID dominating government head space, as well. There is some other policy development taking place, and that seems to have been increasing recently, but the pandemic has dominated. So, for many representative bodies trying to engage with the Treasury on support, they have never been busier. For others, with a more specialist request, they are having to build networks but be more patient at the same time.
What do you love most about being a blogger/influencer?
Writing – I’ve always enjoyed putting ideas and thoughts down on paper. The discipline of having to come up with a topical idea, provide some practical ideas and then put that all down in 500-600 words remains a great feeling. Some weeks are definitely more challenging than others, but seeing those words appears on sites, be shared around social media and go out to people who have actively said ‘yes’ to getting posts from me makes it all really worthwhile.
How do you like to work with brands and PRs?
That has been less of a direct consideration for my blog so far. It gets posted on my site (www.stuartthomson.co.uk) but also by BDB Pitmans, where I work, on the CIPR influence site and LinkedIn, as well. So those aren’t the places where tie-ups with brands or PRs would be right or appropriate.
Where I have worked with brands has been in the delivery of guest posts, speaking at their events, writing white papers and delivering webinars. They are really a continuation of what the blog is about and my personal reputation, if that doesn’t sound too pompous! So, working with others needs to be about keeping true to the aims of the blog.
The blog is really my calling card that shows people can trust my public affairs and communications advice. That in itself helps deliver clients and that is also part of the reason for writing, as well.
What plans do you have for 2021?
The award win applies some nice pressure to keep the posts coming! To an extent I am in the hands of the Government, the Opposition and others when it comes to content but I could be more open to responding to queries that come in from others, as well. Maybe I should actively encourage questions and then try to answer them?
The award win is really useful because it can help me to continue to expand the profile of the blog and I’d love to do that in 2021.
For PRs looking to work with you, how would you prefer they approach you and with what kind of content?
I’m always happy to listen to ideas but I like coming up with the content and doing the writing myself. Maybe that says something about the level of control I want! So, whether that’s white papers, podcasts, webinars or training, I develop the content. I am never going to simply put my name on something.
Which other influencers/podcasters do you follow?
I listen to a huge range of podcasts because it really helps me hear different viewpoints which make my public affairs better. I also find that I get ideas from a wide range of listening, as well. So the FT’s Payne’s Politics, Times Red Box, Bloomberg Westminster, HuffPost, The Guardian, New Statesman, Spectator’s Coffee House Shots for my politics but then add in some that deal with communications (FIR, Ms. InterPReted, Provoke), and then some business ones as well like Masters of Scale. My top tip is to listen on double speed – you’ll get through so much more!
Which other media do you always make time for?
I support Liverpool Football Club and really enjoy reading and listening to output from The Athletic – really get writing and insight. I will also always make time to read anything from Phillip Collins, now a columnist at the New Statesman, and Danny Finkelstein at the Times. TV-wise is ideally some Nordic Noir or similar but I do retain a love for Dr Who and am about to start on season two of The Mandalorian.