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Elect to be heard

12 May 2014

We are still a year out but already many of us are getting turned off by all the posturing and positioning ahead of the scheduled general election in 2015. Fixed terms are a good thing, but they have elongated the electioneering activity leading up to the main event to almost US presidential election levels.

Lots of people at Forster are politically engaged, so if we are getting bored it is likely that the wider public are equally switching off in their droves. This creates a big challenge for organisations looking to use the election as a hook for campaigns and policy asks. Barely a week has passed since the beginning of the year when we haven’t had a brief from, or a conversation with, organisations looking to do exactly that.

As a result politicians of all hues and levels along with the politically active members of the public are going to be inundated with campaign communications over the next year. This may lead to a lot of disappointed organisations whose campaigns have been drowned in all the noise and hubbub.

So, here’s the Forster guide to ensuring your campaign bobs to the surface:

  • Campaigns are for life not just for Elections – before you commence on the challenge of getting your voice heard over the next year, making sure the tail isn’t wagging the dog and that all the campaigning you plan to do fits with your overall strategy and long term objectives. The election provides an opportunity and useful rally point in campaigns, but it shouldn’t be the sole reason you are running a campaign. Your target audiences are more likely to respond and engage if they can see the bigger picture
  • Be realistic – you probably want to change the world for the better, but it is unlikely that your election will do more than possibly nudge things slightly in the right direction. Set realistic goals for what you want to achieve, led by external target outcomes with supporting internal or organisationally focused ones. Then consider the gold, silver and bronze outcomes you would be happy with strategically. By all means aim for gold, but plan for bronze as some elements of your campaign success are likely to be outside your control
  • Take an inside out approach – The more engaged people are with you and the issue you are looking to campaign on, the more likely they are to respond positively to your campaign. That means focusing as much on your current supporters, volunteers, staff and partners as you plan to do on the new and exciting audiences you hope your campaign will engage with. Momentum can build amongst the people you already know, and new people are more likely to respond positively to a campaign that already feels like it has some support and momentum behind it
  • Don’t rely on political engagement – politicians must be dreading the next year in some ways, both those currently in office and those seeking to be so. Don’t predicate the success of your campaign solely on the number of MPs and prospective parliamentary candidates you reach and engage, develop a broader set of metrics that means all your effort is funnelled to what is going to be a very narrow and put upon audience
  • Collaborate – hard as it may be to believe when you are in the middle of everything but your campaign and issue area are unlikely to be unique. When looking at the overall objectives for the campaign, consider whether you really should go it alone or whether you would have more success linking up with others who share your vision. If your objectives are weighted towards increased corporate profile, then going it alone might be the most effective route, but if you are looking for genuine influence on a key issue, there is strength in numbers and co-ordinated effort

Do something different – many of us sign a lot of petitions and if we are completely honest we don’t always have a complete grasp of what it is exactly that we are supporting as we sign. Many politicians have started calling organisations’ bluff on petitions and ignoring them. They still have a role but it is worth spending some time considering less traditional ways of getting through to policy makers and influencers. 38 Degrees have had a lot of success crowd-sourcing funding for high profile ads in national newspapers to get attention. We’ve been looking at desk drops to MPs using fortune cookies with campaign messages inside. Imagination and wit do not need to be expensive and can be the difference between being noticed and sinking under the tide.