Biba has stepped up its campaigning strategy with some encouraging results. Eric Galbraith explains

A strong reputation with leading stakeholders is vital to any organisation that wants to exert influence over the political, regulatory and media environment.

Until 2006, Biba focused its campaigning and lobbying efforts on developing good relations with a number of government departments, especially the Treasury.

While this approach ensured that we stayed abreast of technical issues that could impact our members, it restricted our ability to input to the wider political and regulatory landscape, and limited the amount of leverage we could bring to bear.

We needed a more integrated approach to communications, incorporating other Whitehall departments, the media and, importantly, MPs from across the political spectrum.

New approach

Last year we took the decision to appoint Fleishman-Hillard, a highly experienced public affairs agency, which has helped us to develop a new approach and has provided strategic advice and support as we began the process of stepping-up our engagement with key stakeholders.

Following this shift in focus, and a lot of hard work, we have made excellent progress, and are beginning to reap the rewards with some notable successes.

Last year, during the passage of the Road Safety Bill, Biba took the opportunity to promote members' ' ' views on the problem of uninsured drivers both in the media and at Westminster and Whitehall.

We held several meetings with key opposition MPs and the Department for Transport, securing recognition for Biba's views and establishing ourselves as a resource for the government and MPs.

This year, we have been developing our political and media relationships through our business continuity campaign.

Our goal was to raise awareness among small businesses across the UK about the importance of being prepared to survive in the event on an unexpected emergency.

The campaign was publicly welcomed by the government and opposition parties and resulted in a parliamentary petition signed by over 20 MPs congratulating Biba on its work to raise awareness of this issue.

Furthermore, a host of MPs helped to support the campaign in their constituencies issuing local press releases urging businesses to look at their contingency planning arrangements.

This support helped us to gain a range of national and regional media coverage, ensuring that we reached out directly to the businesses at risk.

It also allowed us to hold a range of high level meetings with several key figures within government and parliament, ensuring that the messages of our campaign were heard not only by businesses, but by the people who are responsible for managing the policies which protect them.

Most recently, and most visibly, we have been campaigning hard to bring about real change in the regulation of the travel insurance industry.

It is our firm view that all providers of travel insurance, including tour operators and travel agents, have a duty to ensure that their customers know what they are buying, and what cover their policies provide.

We have been working with the Treasury on its review of travel insurance to bring about this change and are hopeful that economic secretary Ed Balls will opt for tour operators and travel agents to fall under the FSA's regulatory regime.

Our work in this area was recognised in parliament in April when Lord Brennan highlighted the work of the Treasury Select Committee and Biba in identifying a distinct lack of appropriate cover for consumers travelling abroad.

Engagement with the media has also been a key strand in the development of our new approach. We built strong relationships with the media over the past year, notably with BBC's Watchdog and Sky News, and achieved a whole range of national and regional media exposure.

This not only serves to promote Biba, but lends us greater authority in the eyes of political stakeholders.

A considerable amount was achieved during 2006 to position Biba for the first time as a valuable resource for key decision makers. Continuing the dialogue and maintaining the momentum will be key to building the Biba brand as a valued resource of informed advice.

That does not mean that we need to comment on every issue that hits the headlines. What it does mean is that we choose our ground and look to shape the regulatory environment in which we operate.

This year will see a period of significant political change. A new Prime Minister is expected by the summer, and is likely to bring in a largely new team, new ways of working and new ways of making policy.

It is vital that we maintain a proactive approach to ensure effective input to the policy making process.

We are keen to encourage members to participate in this activity. A considerable amount of thoughtful and valuable work is already conducted in Biba's technical committees.

We want now to showcase to all our external stakeholder audiences the value that intermediaries bring to the UK economy, to businesses and domestic customers.

We hope to find better ways to involve Biba members more directly with the communications programme, in order to ensure that Biba builds on its strengthening voice with policy makers. IT

Eric Galbraith is Biba chief executive