The strategy is the compass for your campaigns. Without a working strategy, a campaign will turn into a series of unplanned reactions to unanticipated events. The strategy defines the aims and shows how they can be achieved.
Planning a campaign is like building a house. First, you decide what to build and where; then you lay the foundations, upon which you create the visible structures and work on the details. The foundations of campaigning are clear objectives and the blue print is your campaign plan.
A well planned and managed campaign can be flexible as the campaign grows or shrinks. Uncontrolled growth is nearly as harmful for the campaign as shrinking it. And you must make sure from the outset that the structure of the campaign can handle the growth.
The most important phase in designing a successful campaign is determining the reason for campaigning. Ironically, this phase in particular is often skipped. There is no axiomatic campaign objective. The objective has to be specifically decided, it has to be written down and you have to make sure that everyone understands it.
A surprisingly large number of campaigns fail because of vague objective setting. Establishing the objective is, without a doubt, the most important individual decision of the campaign. A small, well-built campaign with a clear objective is better than a large, uncertain one with vague objectives. An effective campaign requires strong team-spirit and a shared objective.
A campaign often has several objectives. In this case, when setting objectives, it is important to prioritise and divide them into the short-term and long-term ones. A campaign should have a clear primary objective, which all the other objectives must follow.
To develop a strategy (a campaign plan) you need:
A campaign plan that has not been written down is useless. Whenever the campaign faces difficulties it is important to have this strategic document on which people agreed at the start of the campaign.
It is the campaign manger’s task to make sure that all planned issues are carried out on time, and as well organised as possible. If achieving the target result is not possible, the performance should at least be as good as possible.
As a starting point, the implementation of campaign operations must be delegated: it is not a job for the campaign manager or the candidate. Those managing the campaign are in charge of planning, acquiring and allocating resources. Other ‘doers’ will ensure that the tasks assigned to them are performed, and they should be expected to report on progress.
It is significant to note that a campaign can be built in a great many ways. Even identical objectives can be successfully implemented using completely different methods. The fact that some campaigns are always carried out in a certain manner does not, in fact, reveal very much about how they should be done.
The best campaigns are born from a kind of new functional combination of various campaigning methods. It is important to ask why something is done, whether the chosen method is functional, how it could be improved, if the same can be accomplished at lower cost, or in an easier way, etc.
Positive campaigning is the safest and most common basic tone for campaigning. A positive campaign is often better than a negative one: it is generally a more effective means of convincing supporters who have not yet formed an opinion, or who are predisposed to favour the cause you are defending.
Positive campaigns are safe in the sense that they do not easily cause significant damage. Positive campaigns have a slower effect, because a positive campaigner has to convince the target group of his excellence or the excellence of the cause.
In positive campaigns, trust and influence are often built up a little at a time. First, one has to gain the trust of the target person, then the target person must be convinced of the need for change. Finally, the candidate has to sell his or her own solution as the best one. In a positive campaign, it is therefore usually crucial to employ the tactic of several waves, approaching the target group slowly.
In the first wave, the target group is prepared for the cause, by presenting the cause and the reasons behind it. In the second wave, more active communication is slowly put in place. In the final wave, a direct action is ultimately suggested.
A positive tone is a rather good starting point. It is better at forgiving small mistakes, and enables long-term, upward-moving campaigning. However, you should start a positive campaign early, so that the impact has time to take effect. But be careful: it is a good idea to start the actual chargeable advertising in municipal elections only a few weeks before the election.
The traditional mistake has been to think that the contents alone of the message are enough. This is not the case, at least in politics, and it will most likely never be. The key is for the message to be presented and supported with favourable status communication.
In practice, this means that in all situations, the candidate must act as though he or she is the host of a party. This method must be used at actual events, as well as when in public. The candidate must ‘host’ all situations for the duration of his or her campaign.
A good host takes control of the space, becomes noticed, and takes note of all those present. A host controls the situation with his or her being. Any participants acting as troublemakers should be guided elsewhere unobserved; the pleasant moments at which the candidate is present should be reserved for welcome guests.
The status expression of a Pirate Party candidate is considerate, oozing with expertise, emphatic and self-confident, but never arrogant or vulgar. Status communication is one of the most important elements of a campaign, and it is worth rehearsing.
All in all, the Pirate parties’ brilliant candidates must merely behave as well and look as good as they really are.
A successful campaign can never be planned and carried out by one single person. Choosing the right group of people to prepare and run a campaign of any sort is among the most crucial strategic decisions you will have to take.
The individuals that make up the campaign team need not all be from within the party. But, together, they must be capable of that which a solitary campaign manager simply is not: seeing, understanding and shaping the broader picture, both inside and outside the party.
Crucially, the division of labour within the campaign team must be such that each of the principal functions is covered and that each of the main actors is involved. It is often necessary to distinguish between a ‘core’ group, and other members of the team responsible for the calendar and events, printed material, opposition research, as well as a creative resource, and, sometimes, the candidate.
The best campaign team is a small campaign team. This, however, is not always possible, for there are often practical and political reasons to include certain functions and factions of the party. As a general rule, the campaign team should consist of nine people, and never exceed fifteen (although bigger teams, even in small countries, do of course exist!).
The larger the team, the more important and useful it is to establish a ‘core’ group within it, which can act quickly and effectively when swift, and frequently unexpected, decisions are called for (your opponent ridicules the figures you have used to justify the party’s economic recovery programme; damaging revelations concerning your top candidate appear in the evening news bulletin…). The core campaign team should be composed of three to five individuals: always the Campaign Manager, the Secretary General, and the Media or Press Officer; sometimes also the treasurer and the volunteer manager. Speed kills in a campaign: the core team must be trusted and have the legitimacy necessary to act or react quickly, without having to consult others on the appropriate measure to take.
Two scenarios are common. In the first of these, the Secretary General of the party is appointed campaign manager. The advantage is that he or she will be readily accepted by the party hierarchy, and can kick-start the campaign with a well-developed and well-oiled network throughout the party and across different regions of the country. But there is a danger that the Secretary General will remain bogged down with party work, and that he or she, although a competent long-term planner, will be ill-equipped to work at the pace required. A political party is slow; campaigns must be fast. Campaign management is a proper, full-time job, and the campaign manager needs time and space to carry out his work. It is therefore essential that the Secretary General’s regular duties be passed on to a colleague or a replacement for the duration of the campaign.
The second option is for the party board, assisted by the Secretary General, to choose a person with campaigning skills. The individual may be an outsider, from a PR agency or with a solid PR background. But under no circumstances should it be someone without prior experience of dealing with a political party. In any event, he or she must be capable of garnering the trust of the party’s board and middle-management (this obviously applies differently to big and small parties).
Whoever she is or wherever he comes from, there are qualities that the campaign manager must always demonstrate: project management skills, PR knowledge, a political instinct, and absolute loyalty. Of course, given the nature of the tasks ahead, the campaign manager must be thick-skinned, stress-resistant, calm under pressure (which is likely to be constant), a good motivator, and an excellent team player.
A campaign team full of technocrats, no matter how talented or quick-witted, will rarely deliver. A creative person, therefore, can only be good news for the campaign. This could be someone from within the party, or an external but experienced public relations manager with close links to the party (the latter is a particularly good alternative for smaller parties).
It is always useful to have somebody who is in charge of publications or other printed material. The job is relatively technical, just as it is varied (typing, design, production, stapling, etc.). But it is one that, like so many others during a campaign, has to be done quickly and well. Such work can be outsourced to an agency (known in the business as a ‘full service agency’) – but this inevitably pushes the costs up.
Don’t just pick the person with the biggest calendar! A range of different tools can be used and combined: from a large wall calendar or an Excel sheet, to more specific time management systems (Lotus Notes, Outlook, etc.). Whoever manages the calendar must have an overview of all relevant and significant dates; he or she must be able to say, at a glance, what can or can’t be done, when and where. He or she must not only be aware of what colleagues have planned, but have notes and up-to-date information concerning opposition meetings and gatherings, public or school holidays, the parliament’s plenary sessions or committee meetings, government announcements, and so on. Even seemingly secondary events, such as football matches or localised demonstrations, need to be tracked. The objective is to always have an accurate idea of what’s happening inside the party, inside other parties (to the extent possible), and across the country.
The most sophisticated campaigns function with multi-layered calendars (Microsoft Project or open-source software). These are used by several people, and enable the individual responsible for the calendar, and timing more generally, to have instant access to the most important dates of all people involved in the campaign.
Much of the above software is not ideal for smaller campaigns or smaller parties. ‘Quick-and-dirty’ is generally a good motto when getting started: a simple and effective initial approach is to map out the most important steps and events ahead using coloured post-its (green is for…); once this basic flow-chart is in place on a wall or on a board, the more detailed calendar covering all parts of the campaign and all people in it will follow.
In small campaigns, it is not unusual for the same person to be in charge of both the calendar and the events. In larger ones, where this is less common, it is important for at least one member of the ‘events team’ be involved in the campaign team.
It is certainly not always necessary for the top candidate to personally take part in meetings of the campaign team. But it is advisable that she be involved in the most important decisions or represented by somebody she trusts. A member of her staff cannot replace the top candidate; but he can act as her eyes and ears, function as a form of early warning mechanism, and, in all circumstances, encourage the two-way flow of information.
Campaigning is a fight: know your opponent! Someone in the campaign team, or very close to it, must be responsible for researching and providing the latest facts and figures concerning the opponents’ policies, plans, weaknesses, etc. This information should always be ready and accessible.
Volunteers are often an untapped source of talent and enthusiasm; their diversity, their number, and therefore their potential, represent an outstanding opportunity for Pirate campaigns, political or otherwise: all contribute ideas, energy and help – all for free.
Frequently overlooked or quite simply forgotten, volunteer management is without doubt one of the most important functions in any political campaign, and the person in charge of volunteering must be a key member of the campaign team. How often do volunteers spontaneously turn up at campaign offices or get in touch with party headquarters hoping to offer a helping hand, looking for a task, leaving their contact details? How often are their names and numbers then swept under the carpet, and lost? It is the volunteer manager’s responsibility to ensure this never happens.
What are you able to do? What do you want to do? How much can you do? Three important questions to determine and make best use of a volunteer’s skills, enthusiasm and availability. The best way to keep volunteers happy is to get them involved from the very beginning, to offer them ownership of the campaign. Bring them all together during the planning phase, and openly discuss the different tasks. Talk with volunteers; do not order them about.
A volunteer works from home on her computer? Another volunteer has a car? Yet another has plenty of free time? Get to know them, and get to know how they can fit in.
The person responsible for volunteers must, above all else, be an excellent communicator. This is not a job for the least important and least experienced person in the party. Your volunteer manager is a central figure of your campaign.
From the moment it is set up, the campaign team must know how it can take decisions, and which decisions it cannot take. It is common for the party board to reserve some of the most sensitive decisions for itself. Precisely which these are must be made explicit. A lack of clarity will almost inevitably lead to disputes and disagreements, which, in turn, are certain to damage, or at the very least disrupt, the campaign. The procedural rules must be straightforward, transparent and agreed by all.
In many instances, the candidate has the final say. One rule, in particular, should never be broken: a campaign poster must always be approved by the candidate that it depicts or represents. Campaign posters are powerful strategic tools, and one which a candidate is unhappy with will fast become a subject of extensive and predominantly negative debate (first and foremost because the candidate himself won’t stop complaining about it!). If a top candidate doesn’t like a poster, don’t print it. Likewise, his or her veto concerning any part of the campaign should stand. Top candidates are not puppets of the campaign team or party board.
The result of self-initiative and free will, volunteers are not oriented towards material gain. Volunteering is usually a community activity focused on the common good.
Volunteering shapes and forms societies and is key to successfully accomplishing certain objectives. People who do volunteer work contribute a range of individual competencies: know-how, social skills and the ability to motivate people. Furthermore, they serve as opinion multipliers within a campaign.
The diversity and creativity of volunteers can add to the value and success of every campaign. The broader the supporter base, the higher the credibility with the target group.
People volunteer because they want to contribute to society, because they want to change something or engage with others. They have different expectations of volunteer work. They regard it as very important that the work is fun, that they get to meet likable people, help others through their volunteering and contribute to the common good. They expect long-term planning of their tasks, a clear and well defined time span for their assignment, and appreciation and recognition of their contribution. It is important to provide volunteers with regular feedback, and to give them a say in decisions.
Basically, there are two ways people can contribute to a campaign:
What are measures of success for working with volunteers? Prerequisites for the successful involvement of volunteers in a campaign are:
The following key aspects have to be taken into account:
1. Create a general concept and integrate it into the campaign strategy
2. Identify demand and possible assignments
3. Define target groups
4. Creation of task profiles
5. Gain supporters
6. Meeting and looking after volunteers
7. And last but not least
A youth wing can prove to be an important asset for a Pirate Party when campaigning looms. As multiple election studies have shown, younger voters are more likely than older people to consider a vote for a Pirate Party. In this respect, a youth wing can be viewed as the perfect ‘tool’ to connect with younger voters. However, the mother party must not forget that a youth wing can never be a mere ‘tool’ and that a necessary amount of independence must be respected. It is important to stress that the message to the voter can only get through when both entities follow the same strategies. Most of the time, both the mother party and its youth wing are too small to work next to one other. So cooperation between a Pirate Party and its youth wing before and during elections is essential to the success of a coherent campaign. Such cooperation relies on mutual understanding, for which the sharing of information, mutual consultation and a clear and detailed agreement are key.
A thorough preparation is the precondition for a successful campaign.
First of all, the youth wing should draw up its own programme and make clear which points it wants to put forward during the campaign. This can be a deepening or an extension of the mother party’s election programme. It goes without saying that a youth wing approaches the existing programme from the perspective of a young voter and thus can point out what concerns younger voters in particular and how the mother party’s programme can best be ‘translated’ towards the young. The youth wing builds further on the mother party’s existing programme, adding its own content aimed at the young. It is understandable that you consider your whole programme worth communicating; however, choose and prioritise the main points you want to stress, and build your campaign around these focal points. Obviously, these decisions are taken after consultation with the mother party.
Youth wings rarely have enough financial resources to conduct a proper campaign that can generate any impact. Therefore, apart from any own budgetary means that are deployed for the campaign, draw up a list of the financial and logistical needs that are deemed necessary for the campaign and present it to the mother party. Rely on experienced people to assess which needs have priority for the youth wing.
Campaign material for younger voters should give a clear overview of the main points (e.g. a 6-point priority plan) and should present the young candidates on the list. A distinctive ‘look and feel’ for all the publications reinforces the singularity of the youth wing and appeals more to younger voters. Don’t hesitate to outsource the development of a specific graphic style to a professional lay-outer. It is a worthwhile investment if you use it afterwards for all your publications. However, a link with the mother party in the publication is recommended. Try to conceive diverse material for different occasions. A flyer to distribute on a market place, personal flyers or even a small newspaper to distribute at train stations. (See also the best practice on Sharing Your Message.)
Make an internal campaign calendar which gives an overview of when to do what, from the preparation of the campaign (e.g. deadline for publication & printing) up to election day. Choose what kind of actions you want to do at strategic places and times. Once again, attune your campaign calendar with the one of your mother party but don’t forget to specifically target those places and events where younger voters go.
Look for young candidates and lobby for their places on the list with the mother party. Promising candidates should be placed on visible places on the list. Support of the youth wing can prove essential to appearing on a list or not.
Inform the young candidates of your campaign strategy and calendar, preferably during a group event where all the young candidates can share expectations and experiences. It is the perfect place to get to know each other better, take campaign pictures and already fix moments to go campaigning together. If possible, provide them with personalised posters, cards, flyers, etc.
For a lot of young candidates it will be their first time ever on a list. Guide them as much as possible by providing basic training in campaigning, debating, addressing voters, etc. Regional/provincial focal points are a good intermediate level between candidates and the national coordinator/youth wing. Invest in their training and formation, so that they will be able to act as mentor for a group of young candidates from one region during the campaign.
An updated information flow between the youth wing and the mother party enables each side to:
Don’t get trapped in a hesitant attitude. Approach the mother party pro-actively to stay informed on a daily basis.
Stay in contact with the young candidates and provide support for actions. Campaigning can be very hard and tiring, so motivating the young candidates is crucial if you want them to pass on a positive and appealing image to the voters.
Finally, hold enough in reserve for the last week before polling day because it is only then that a very large number of voters decide. A last-week campaign offensive should therefore be considered crucial.
The seriousness with which a mother party treats its youth wing depends, of course, not only on its actions during elections. Building up credibility is a constant point of attention for a youth wing. Making yourself visible as the youth wing within the mother party is therefore highly recommended, year in, year out. This can be done by participating in various activities, congresses, parties or by constructing an own identity as a youth wing by being politically active.
Some people consider that you need a miracle to finance a campaign for a small party. Most of them do not even want to start planning because they are convinced that there will never be enough money. Of course, writing figures on a page, counting and calculating does not increase the budget, but it is the first step towards doing so.
The treasurer of a campaign should always be a well respected person. He or she does not necessarily have to be old, but should have the trust of all parts, regions or factions of your party.
First of all, you should get an overview of what you need and what you have. The best way to start a new budget plan is to look for an old one. What did you spend in your last campaign? What happened then? Where did you get your money from?
If you have never before run a campaign in your town or country you should try to find out how much other parties on your level spent. The more information you can gather about their finances, the better. You don’t have access to your competitors’ data? Then ask Pirates in other towns or countries of comparable size and with a similar financial situation. If your party has a big bank account, the situation is different from that of a poor party with no assets, even if the size of the town is comparable. Look for best practices of budgeting campaigns in a comparable party and learn from them. The most effective way of learning is by copying – try to copy from the budget plan of others, adjusting it as required.
Search for colleagues. Try to find experienced Pirate treasurers who can assist you. They can have a look at the draft of your budget at a very early stage and provide you with useful information.
Initially, you should concentrate on the income part. How many assets do you have? How many donations do you expect? How much will you be able to raise from your members? Will there be a certain amount of government (re-)funding? Will you be able to get money from corporate sponsors (if you accept them)? How much money did your party receive for the last elections? In which election and at what level did you raise the most? Will it be possible to get this amount again? Try to make at least a rough estimate based on past experiences and recent developments. You then have to decide whether you want to use only your reserve funds that you have built up for the campaign or if you want to invest parts of your monetary assets.
Should you borrow money for the campaign? There is no easy answer. You first have to assess your chances of winning the elections and of perhaps having the money refunded. Look at the polls and try to predict how much money you would receive in a normal term. You should always be able to pay back a loan within one legislative period. Of course, there is always the risk of snap elections. Be aware of this risk and calculate carefully.
You do not always have to borrow money from a bank. In some countries certain branches of the party have enough cash to lend money without any interest rates to those who need it for their campaign. Don’t hesitate to ask your Pirate relatives (parties) from within or outside your country to lend you money. To finance successful campaigns, it is much better to circulate the money within Pirate parties than to store it in a bank.
After having planned the income and set a rough financial frame for the size of the campaign, your focus should shift to the expenses. Start a brainstorming phase that involves the most important people and several parts of the party.
Look again for best practices: what was successful in your most recent campaigns? How do the other parties plan and spend their expenses?
For the brainstorming phase it is very helpful if the treasurer can already present a relatively complete list of ideas and budgets. Then, new ideas can be added and the whole budget can be modified over the course of the discussion. Always try to use the experiences of past campaigns when you deal with new ideas. Where did you waste money last time? What was successful? Keep a critical eye on ‘big events’ – money is often wasted on them.
After brainstorming, the decision making starts. You should first consider the opinions of experts, and then launch a democratic decision making process in the campaign team. Those parts that you have to cut can perhaps be financed later if lots of donations come in. Everything that you can’t finance at the beginning should remain an option for later additional measures. You do not need a new additional budget for large donations if you can rely on the additional options that you already included during the planning process.
When setting the budget, please note that you should reserve lots of money (20-50%!) for the last days. A growing number of voters don’t decide until very late on, so your ads, TV spots, posters and leaflets are extremely important during the final days of the campaign.
Unfortunately, donations are unpredictable and large donations arrive late in the campaign, sometimes even once it is over. This may save your budget – but you shouldn’t count on that!
Here is an example of the structure of a campaign budget:
Keep your paid staff small. More personnel also means more effort to steer your campaign – this also needs to be taken into account. Without a working structure and clear leadership tasks, you will waste money on chaotic activities.
During the campaign you should always know precisely how much has already been assigned to specific activities – and how much remains. For a smooth running campaign, it is crucial to be able to monitor and control your budget effectively. The structure of the budget has to be clear so that all expenses can be easily be allocated. Never lose the overview, watch your budget closely!
The processes of decision making and spending have to be well defined. Who is allowed to place orders? Who has to agree? Be precise when defining responsibilities but don’t forget that decisions sometimes have to be made quickly during a campaign. Somebody who is allowed to sign should always be available.
After the campaign you should always evaluate the financing of the campaign. Write down how your decision making and spending processes worked. What turned out well, where did you experience difficulties? Which parts of the budget had to be adjusted? Which ones were easy to plan and control? These notes will be of enormous help when you plan your next campaign budget… Good luck!
You want to raise a huge amount of money in no time? Then you should play in a lottery – this article is going to disappoint you. Fundraising and sponsoring are well-planned efforts which require financial as well as personal resources.
Whereas a fundraiser usually doesn’t give anything directly in return for a donation, the situation is different for sponsoring. This is more like a business contract: a company gives money or contributions in kind to the party and will get something in return that both sides have agreed on: e.g. the company logo will be displayed at certain events, on the candidate’s car or on the back of a brochure. We’ll come back to that later.
In some countries there are legal or cultural barriers for fundraising. You should always check the legal situation before you start fundraising. Sometimes, only certain parts of a party are allowed to raise funds, in most cases parliamentary factions are not allowed to do so. In some countries people are more used to donating in cash, in others they want to pay by cheque, transfer money from their bank account via SMS, or use an online donation tool. Have a look at the methods used successfully by others in your country and ask which may be good ways for your target groups. Of course you can leave the choice of the channel up to your donors.
The main challenge to start fundraising may be your own attitude towards it. Your party needs money, but you feel uncomfortable begging for it? That’s why you haven’t even started? Perhaps you want to hire a fundraiser and let him or her do the bad job?
If these are your feelings it is time to change your attitude. You are not a beggar! You are fighting for a better world with your party and you offer others the opportunity to support your cause – even if they cannot or do not want to spend time on it. They want a better world for themselves and for their children – and you provide them with the opportunity to improve the situation by simply giving some money. Isn’t this a generous offer? Or as John D. Rockefeller, Jr put it: „Never think you need to apologize for asking someone to give to a worthy object, any more than as though you were giving him an opportunity to participate in a high-grade investment.”
Fundraising is not just about money, it’s much more about persons and relationships. Building up a good relationship between the party and the donor is crucial. The most promising donors are the members of your party. They already have an intense relationship with your party and will understand when your party needs money to finance a campaign. But most of them will want to donate for a vision, for a better future or for a specific issue, not just for ‘the campaign’.
Successful fundraising will always start with the members. When you send out a mailing to your members you should always ask for money and support for a specified purpose not just “for the party”. You could e.g. tell your members that you need a certain amount of money in order to finance a campaign event or a campaign newspaper. You can also offer the opportunity to donate for a specific political cause (e.g. “for the campaign against the new waste disposal site”).
Some parties give certain incentives to donors: If you spend 50 € you get a T-shirt or a cap, if you spend 100 € you get a bathing towel, if you spend 1000 € you’ll be invited to a dinner with the top candidate. Until they’ve actually tried it, some party officials fear this will not work with their members. Think about incentives that are really attractive for your members. Perhaps you’ll promise an iPod Shuffle for giving 500 € or an invitation to an eco leisure centre?
To build up and nourish a good relationship with donors, you should think about fundraising dinners and other fundraising events. Don’t expect too much from just one event! It is necessary to build up ties that last. A fundraising dinner should always include a speech by a prominent and popular representative of the party like the top candidate, a minister, the party leader or at least the campaign manager. The location shouldn’t be too big – it should always look well attended. At each table there should be interesting hosts from the party not just potential donors. Never forget during a fundraising event to ask people for a donation. This does not have to be made in cash of course – but don’t forget to ask!
The most effective fundraisers usually are the top candidates. They have to call people and enterprises they know and ask for support. A fundraising assistant should sit down with the top candidate and should check her or his address book in order to identify potential donors. In a list you should put down when and how this person should be reached. The fundraising assistant has the task to ask: “Did you manage to call your aunt Esther last week and ask her for support?” This continuous monitoring of the top candidates’ fundraising activities is very important because she or he will have plenty of other duties.
Some people may be easier to convince if you offer them to pay just half of the intended amount now and the rest later. Others will be impressed by a Campaign Finance Committee full of honourable and trustworthy citizens who really try hard to raise money for your party.
Start early! Those who give once will often give several times. But don’t just ask for money for your candidate or your party – you should always try to sell hope, pirate solutions and ideas.
When you want to look for sponsors you should carefully check the legal situation in your country first. In many countries there are limitations for political parties to receive money from corporations. No party or candidate should be dependent on corporate money alone – this would be an invitation for more corporate influence on legislation and corruption. Therefore sponsor relationships always have to be transparent.
At best, sponsor relations are treated like business contracts with precisely defined conditions. A company gives money or contributions in kind to the party in exchange for a certain service. Examples for these services include companies:
If you are not sure whether you should press hard on sponsoring, you should discuss this with people from other Pirate parties that are more experienced in this field. The delicate question of whether a certain company should be allowed to sponsor your party or not should be handled with care – regulations can prove very helpful. They could, for instance, exclude military and nuclear industries, and define an internal decision-making process to limit the risk of wrong or controversial decisions. With creativity and personal involvement of the top people, and with binding regulations and full transparency, the chances of establishing a good mix of sources for financing your party are high. Good luck!
Niccolò Machiavelli already believed a detailed evaluation of our opponents’ as well as our own strengths and weaknesses to be one of the most important preconditions for the preservation or expansion of power. Although citing the Italian power strategist (‘The end justifies the means’) is sometimes frowned upon these days, even in modern electoral politics, knowing the strength of the weapons (or nowadays, the means and instruments) we face is an essential prerequisite for successful campaigning.
We need strategy and tactics, skill, endurance, resources – and knowledge! The more we know about voters’ attitudes, desires, fears and demands, and the more we know about how and when to reach them with our messages, the more exactly we can plan campaigns, minimize uncertainties and tailor our messages more precisely.
The voter need not be an unknown creature. There is no reason why political campaigns shouldn’t be able to do what business, the advertising industry and political consulting agencies do every day. Campaign organisers are every bit as capable of utilizing the research tools provided by the social sciences. For years now, the introduction of any product or even new beer label has been conducted with more social scientific know-how than most election campaigns – at least in Germany and most other European countries.
A variety of factors determine the outcome of election campaigns: mobilisation, themes, individuals and thus also the favour of voters. However, the ‘classic voter milieus’ are not merely becoming more diffuse, but are increasingly disintegrating altogether. It has become far more difficult to predict how members of a given social or occupational group will vote.
While in the 1960s 80 per cent of working-class Germans still cast their votes for the SPD in the last federal election of 2009 the figure was only 24%. In the same election, 28% voted for the conservative Christian Democratic Union, 13% for the Liberals and 7% even voted for the Green Party. And with increasing frequency, it is the ‘Non-Voters’ party that ultimately wins elections. If all the electoral abstainers who have stopped participating in democratic elections were to gain representation, as the largest party they would provide the head of government. While more than 91% of eligible voters still went to the polls in 1972, by 2009 the figure had fallen to barely 71%.
It is therefore important to mobilise as vigorously as possible, choose themes correctly and position key candidates deftly, thereby reaching potential new target groups. In order to do so, however, we need to know our potential voters inside and out.
Formerly small parties such as the Greens frequently have an especially difficult time bringing their political objectives into alignment with the current themes that determine the outcome of elections. Often enough, alongside the ‘hard’ issues, ‘soft’ indicators or image values such as credibility, assertiveness, a clear profile and a close connection with citizens and their concerns are key to electoral success. Putting on a good performance is one of the most important aspects of campaigning. It may sound strange, but it is generally true: not making mistakes is half the battle. The earlier you gain an idea of what impression the voters have, the better you can respond to potential deficiencies. NB: negative images cannot be corrected overnight, but good image values can be ruined in very short order! To prevent this happening, we need to use demographic tools! While we should never underestimate our ‘gut’, i.e., experience, intuition and that little measure of necessary luck – a good scientifically collected statistical basis is the best decision-making aid!
In short: If you can answer the following seven questions about your own voters, you are definitely moving in the right direction:
You not only need to be able to answer these questions long before the election, but also to keep questioning and evaluating during the campaign. After all, the impact of a campaign requires constant monitoring. Otherwise, it resembles a hiker in the woods who has lost her compass. She knows where she wants to go, but will have a hard time getting there.
In choosing research tools, we distinguish roughly between ‘qualitative’ and ‘quantitative’ instruments.
Quantitative tools (such as written interview questionnaires) try to describe reality with numbers. A classic example is the so-called Sunday question: ‘If the election were next Sunday, who would you vote for?’ The results are usually presented in percentages. Quantitative analysis yields simple but robust statements about voter groups within brief periods of time: their socio-demographic characteristics (gender, age, income, occupation, religion, origins, etc.), which topics they care about, how they assess certain politicians, etc. To this end, a certain group of persons is surveyed (in direct face-to-face interviews, on the telephone or the Internet) who are representative of the general population (or the party’s own voters). The selection of a representative group is made according to extensive scientific criteria. NB: the absolute number of persons who need to be surveyed to yield representative results varies according to what you are trying to find out and the overall population. It can range from 100 to 1000. A serious research institute can offer expert assistance. This is another reason to be sceptical of surveys that were not conducted by professional institutes.
A quantitative study can be helpful both before and during the campaign. Before planning begins, the study offers a good basis for answering the seven questions about the campaign’s target group. When planning the budget, it is absolutely essential to allocate sufficient funds for this. Studies of this kind are expensive, but if done right they are priceless. The insights you gain are a compass that can accompany you throughout the campaign. Especially at those times during the campaign when you are unsure about whether you are taking the right path and addressing the right people, a glance at the ‘map of the electorate’, the survey report or the volume of tables can be very helpful. Such surveys can be very useful during the campaign as well. How popular is my candidate, how did the voters stand on a current issue, and who is cutting the best figure during the campaign? Answers to such questions help not just the campaign organiser, but, if skilfully disseminated, can also influence reporting in the media. Who hasn’t read about an allegedly ‘internal’ survey conducted shortly before election day that clearly yielded different figures than those published in the media? You can be sure that spin doctors were at work here and deliberately gave the survey to the press. Many of us know from experience the commotion that changes of about two percentage points from one month to the next can set off. Few people know that, statistically speaking, two points often means that nothing has changed, or they choose to ignore it. After all, it is far easier for the media to write ‘party takes a dive’ than ‘party surveys for XY are still within the margin of fluctuation’.
In order to organise such surveys of only one or two questions at short notice, polling agencies offer so-called omnibus or bus surveys. Here, each client can book a ‘seat’ and pose their questions. The large number of clients makes these studies feasible. Independent surveys are usually beyond the budgets of political parties, especially towards the end of an election campaign.
Qualitative methods, in contrast, depend on the observer’s impressions. Generally, this involves longer, more detailed conversations, interviews or group discussions that offer the client an excellent overview of the individuals’ reactions to and assessments of a particular subject, message, claim or poster. These qualitative research methods, while relatively subjective, yield astonishing information and insights. When can we dispense with numbers? Ultimately, the ‘qualitative’ tools cannot provide usable representative results and ‘hard’ figures. They are nonetheless important campaign aids. The most widespread instrument is the so-called focus group – a moderated discussion among a small group that addresses certain questions along predetermined guidelines. Socio-demographic criteria are used to ‘cast’ the group in advance. This discussion is recorded both in written notes and on video or audio. The client can also attend the discussion, usually incognito behind a two-way mirror, or (more rarely) as a ‘participant observer’ in the same room as the group. For the observer, these discussions are often a revelation, since campaign organisers all too frequently forget to discuss their brilliant ideas with ordinary people. And by the time posters are hanging all over town, advertisements have been placed and campaign spots are hitting people’s television screens it is often too late. For that reason, focus groups in closed, semi-anonymous spaces save us from many mistakes or confirm our strategies. And some top candidates might find it useful to follow a discussion of their public appearances, or to see the puzzled faces when their names are mentioned. After all, self-perception is generally relatively far removed from the way outsiders see us. NB: Those who want more details should consider a ‘mirror process’. Here, the candidate’s own personality and demeanour are ‘mirrored’ and then processed in coaching and training sessions.
An additional tool that can be used to evaluate campaigns in progress, in particular, is so-called media resonance analysis. We are all familiar with the classic press review or newspaper clippings file, which offers an (albeit incomplete) overview of whether one’s own press efforts are working. This is an important tool, but inadequate for the professional and up-to-date monitoring and evaluation of a campaign. After all, the person who compiles the clipping file is always unintentionally subjective. Media resonance analysis seeks to analyse press reports ‘qualitatively’ and to present the results in quantifiable figures. This includes not just counting the number of times the candidate is mentioned, for example, but also assessing the general thrust of an article: is the tone positive or negative for us? Is it more neutral? Is it the result of our own press work? How far do our own messages reach? Even if you should be careful not to confuse media resonance with public opinion – media resonance analysis is the best and quickest way to discover whether your own media work is bearing fruit, and helps to discover at an early stage which media trends demand a response. Professional agencies also offer media resonance analyses. Apart from newspaper clippings, they can include television and radio reporting as well, if desired. If your funds don’t run to this kind of analysis, at the very least you will need an extensive press review, which you can prepare yourself with relatively little effort. Also helpful are the ‘alert’ functions of some Internet search engines, which automatically send you a message when certain search terms appear in new (online) press publications.
Who to target Parties engaged in any political campaign are always confronted with a complex environment. Politics is blessed with a wide range of issues and a diversity of potential voters. Some people are more important than others and each person responds differently to a particular set of issues. Determining which voters to communicate with and what messages to use is called ‘targeting’.
A campaign can never reach all people equally. The resources available (both staff and financial resources) are limited. We never have enough people working at information booths, talking, convincing others, etc. And we never have enough resources to finance large campaigns, to pay for radio, television and cinema spots, or to place advertisements in the press. Furthermore, it is far more effective to communicate a message repeatedly to the same people, than to try reaching out to as many people as possible. Guided by the maxim “the right message for the right voter”, targeting helps campaigns conserve resources while maximising their impact.
A campaign must therefore focus on two groups:
People who are FOR our concern: they no longer need convincing, and they require no further resources. Active supporters do not have to be persuaded to support the issue; they have to be motivated to discuss and gather support for the issue and objective, within their means and capabilities. The aim is to mobilise these people.
The individuals that form this group are UNDECIDED: they can become supporters of the campaign, if the right arguments are used.
|Active opponents||Possible floating voters||Active supporters||High
Acceptance of the issue
|Not-interested opponents||Completely uninvolved||Not interested supporters|
|Low ————————–> Accordance with the message ———————–>High|
Identifying the right voters and crafting a message for them requires an understanding of how people decide to vote. Political professionals view the voting decision as a three-step process. During the ‘cognition phase’, a voter becomes aware of the campaign, and the candidates taking part in it. Next, in the phase described as ‘affect’ or ‘persuasion’, voters form opinions about the candidates and decide who to support. Finally, during the ‘mobilisation’ phase, voters must be motivated to actually go to the polls on election day.
|Approaches for definition of target groups|
|Polls & psephology||Lifestyle analysis of milieus||Network communication|
|Who are our (potential) voters? |
|How do they live? |
(Culture, mobility, interests, identification)
|How do we catch them?
Which communication channels are available
Which networks do we want to contact?
One way to develop individual targeting is to build a database. Polls generally cost a lot of money, but a relatively cost-effective way of compiling information is to use data available on official voter-lists, which include a person’s address, year of birth and sex.
With the help of official election statistics and an analysis of voting transfer, targeting is possible at no great expense. In this manner, swing voter strongholds and turnout can be analysed precisely, thus identifying the potential supporters and voters.
In order to reach target audiences, we need to know more about them. It therefore makes sense to employ aspects of lifestyle and environment research. The ORF (Austrian Broadcasting Corporation) and the Austrian banking sector, for example, use ‘sinus milieus’.
Using sinus milieus based on basic value orientation and personal settings like work, family, leisure, money and consumption, people with similar views and ways of life are pooled together. The argument behind the sinus target groups is that purely demographic characteristics, such as age or education, are not enough to define target groups; it is important not to disregard the diversity and individuality of persons. The sinus-environments bring people and their entire systems of reference concerning the world holistically into focus and thus offer more information on individual target groups than traditional approaches.
Network analysis offers a number of findings that may be relevant in target group work.
We know that in Austria, for example, the Green voters are those who have the largest networks and who talk about politics with the majority of people in their immediate surroundings. Such a phenomenon exists in various professions and age groups.
Opinion makers and connectors between internal networks have important roles in target group work.
Opinions form around the utterances of central persons, who take on the role of ‘opinion leaders’. In a given group, opinion leaders are those who have the most relations with other members. They possess accurate knowledge about the current mood of the network, and they stabilise rather than influence opinion within it. Opinion leaders can be identified by a simple ‘snowball survey’ – one chooses a person at random and asks, for example: “If I want to know what’s going on in the company, who should I turn to?” If you then ask these people the same question, and repeat the procedure 5-10 times, you end up with a list of individuals who are frequently referred to. These, then, are the opinion leaders. They are a particularly important group for action and direct communication.
Opinions are spread not only by opinion leaders. Spreading also takes place at departmental, educational, professional sites, and at bridges between core networks. These are the so-called ‘opinion brokers’ (or ‘connectors’). Opinion brokers transport information into a completely different environment, and feed their network. In contrast to the opinion leaders, they are often the innovators, and a gateway to another world. They are often situated on the edge, rather than in the centre, of a network. Opinion brokers are responsible for ensuring that information between different social groups is exchanged, while at the same time exerting influence on various social networks, and thereby changing their opinions. Opinion brokers can also be identified using the snowball practice.
The latest trend of campaigning, especially in America, is ‘micro-targeting’. How does it work? American parties appear to have access to the electoral roll and to be able to collect information from customer databases (bonus cards, newspaper subscriptions, etc.). The data from the electoral roll is ‘enriched’ with this data. Individuals can then be contacted in telephone surveys (or home visits), and asked to verify the information. Direct and targeted personal actions (home visits, telephone calls, e-mail campaigns) may sometimes be crucial to winning or losing a seat, if the margin is by a few votes. Currently, the two major parties in the USA are working to build huge databases of people and infrastructures, a task that consumes huge amounts of time, energy and finances. In Europe, micro-targeting will not succeed so quickly. Not only because of the smaller budgets, but also because of the more stringent privacy rules. Nevertheless, in Europe, also, the dialogic web will become more important for parties and it is increasingly important to know the needs and concerns of the voters.
Practice makes perfect. This is certainly true for political engagement and successful election campaigns. Of course, a lot of the know-how comes from experience. But training courses for staff, candidates and volunteers are effective tools and important opportunities for the sound preparation of campaigns, and, in particular, ahead of decisive phases of election campaigns. It is at moments such as these, when the time to prepare has long passed, that everything must run smoothly and quickly fall into place.
It is generally advisable to call upon professional trainers, coaches or facilitators, who possess the skill set required to accompany or guide successful workshops. They have experience in the subject area, can encourage knowledge sharing and productive working relationships, and know how to best overcome and moderate sometimes difficult situations. External trainers have the added advantage of being able to see things from a fresh and objective perspective. This commonly leads to better results.
Of course, not every workshop and not every personal coaching session has to be accompanied by paid external trainers. Own means and resources are often sufficient for the concrete preparation of campaign situations and for the exchange of knowledge.
Above all, it is important to establish and agree on a shared objective (for example, ‘after the workshop, we want to be better at convincing potential voters in the street’, or ‘I want to receive open and honest feedback on my speeches so that I can further improve my skills’). For workshops with a large number of participants, it’s usually a good idea to pick someone with experience (acquired at university or through other projects, for example) to moderate exchanges.
Below are three suggestions for smaller groups. These can be implemented as they stand, but could also be usefully complemented by contributions to the Best Practice section of the Campaign Handbook.
Invite your own experts along. You will frequently find the important knowledge and experience you’re looking for in your immediate surroundings.
Example 1. You want to organise an election campaign in a city next year? Further south, in another city, your Pirate Party friends organised a series of exciting fundraising events through which they acquired a large part of their campaign funding. How did they manage this? What worked well or less well? Did they produce documents and lists that could prove helpful for your work?
Idea: invite those responsible for the fundraising actions in this other city to an internal evening event or reception of yours. Give them the chance to present their experiences and instruments, then consider which of these methods and approaches you could adopt.
Example 2. It has been decided that you need to organise your volunteers better. Because when they’re around, it’s not clear what they should do; and when you have too much on your plate, they’ve disappeared. You know of an environmental NGO that works a lot with volunteers. How does the NGO deal with volunteer management? What planning tools does it use? How are tasks distributed? How does it keep in touch with its volunteers, inform and motivate them? How are they thanked once the successful campaign is over?
As a candidate, it is a good idea to get hold of your own personal speech coach. Only with practice and feedback will you be able to improve.
Public speaking stars don’t just fall from the sky. The same rule, therefore, applies here also: practice, practice, practice. But not alone in front of a mirror. Do you know what effect you as a candidate have on others? When do people find what you say and how you say things to be convincing? A speech coach could help you develop. But not everyone can afford a professional adviser like Obama or Clinton.
Idea: Look for someone close to you, someone you trust. Ask him or her to accompany you to big and small events over the following weeks, and to pay particular attention to what you say (whether it is understandable, too long, etc.) and how you speak (too loud, too quiet, body language all wrong, etc.). The two of you can then discuss in detail his or her impressions and feedback. In this way, although it may prove somewhat hectic, you will improve more rapidly and become far more confident and convincing than if you were to simply speak to yourself in the mirror.
Idea: Ask those responsible for volunteer management within the NGO to attend one of your smaller workshops. With their help, you can determine what objectives you should set yourself in your work with volunteers, how they can be better organised and their contribution made more efficient.
Volunteers need support, especially if they are not yet familiar with political work or everyday life on the campaign trail.
An election campaign means work. Convincing people on the street, at their front door, at the campaign stall. For untrained co-workers, it is unfortunately not always immediately obvious who they should speak to (is it worthwhile embarking on a long conversation or will this man in fact never vote for Pirates?), how long a conversation should last (so that there’s enough time remaining for other conversations), how they should react to (often critical) questions, or who they should point to when more complex queries arise.
Idea: Once your election campaign message is clear and your flyers have been printed, get together and practice common campaign situations with the people who are going to be out on the streets campaigning by your side. Team up in groups of three, switch roles regularly, and spend around five minutes on each typical situation. One person is the campaigner looking to convince others that his party is the one to vote for, another plays a passer-by, while the third observes and provides feedback. The whole thing is usually fun and amusing, since people are generally quite happy to adopt other roles (an elderly grandmother one moment, a young father the next, then a banker on his lunch break) – much like an actor, but as part of a role-play. After a few rounds, the overall effect is that participants become more self-confident in their personal abilities and when communicating with other people. This is particularly important when the ultimate objective is to convince others of the merits of your own political programme.
Parties tend to know best what is necessary for the future. But unfortunately they often do not know what their surroundings are like at any given moment. In other words: they talk to themselves about their lengthy papers and their internal struggles but they often do not know or forget what matters most to their voters.
Voters will always punish you for such snobbish behaviour. If you want to move and motivate people, start where they are, not where you are.
To be effective, election campaigns need to be informed:
Elections are about choices. People have to choose between different philosophies, different programmes, different styles and different candidates. An election campaign provides support to the voter in the decision-making process. A campaign shows differences and makes it easier for voters to spot them.
Issues usually do not attract people simply because they exist. They mainly attract voters if they highlight the divergences between various organisations, governments, parties and candidates.
Pirate topics can often be found in highly conflictual areas. Use the conflict to gain attention. Form alliances around hot topics – alliances are temporary partnerships for certain themes: a recycling plant, a nuclear power plant, a new airport, a border conflict with a neighbouring country, and care for immigrants…
Before you start a campaign you should always invest time and money in research: What’s up in our country/state/municipality? What are people talking about? Listen! Only then will you be able to approach them where they are – and not just preach from the high Pirate rock on which you stand. Get as close to your constituency as you can and win the sympathy and respect that such an effort creates. You may not immediately win the next elections, but you will in the long run if you really care for people’s needs.
Finding the right message is probably the most important task in a political campaign. Unfortunately, it is also among the most neglected ones. At the start of many campaigns there are enthusiastic and lengthy discussions about posters, pictures, events and ‘give-aways’. It is in fact better to begin with a simple, but sometimes very tough, question: What do we have to say? What is the key argument to convince voters in the short and precious time that they give us? Sometimes, the answer to this question is obvious and easy to find. At other times, the situation is complex and it is hard to come up with a good message. There are also those occasions when you simply can’t see the wood for the trees.
But with the right message for your campaign, life is so much easier. Your message becomes the heart of your campaign. It serves as a guideline, as a leitmotif, and everything you plan will have some element of the message in it.
The message consists of the eight sentences (or less) that answer the voters’ question: Why should I vote for the Pirate Party this year? There is no magic formula, but it will come more readily if you ensure that it has the following characteristics:
Reserve a few days, not just a few hours for message development. Talk to ordinary people about their expectations, worries and hopes, about their opinion of the Pirates and the opposition parties. Compare what you hear with your own opinion – and see if there are gaps that need bridging. Then go into retreat with your core campaign team. Message development must be done in a small team, not more than four or five people. The bigger the group is, the more diffuse the discussion will be.
Message box: A good tool for message development is the ‘message box’, as it arranges the most important aspects in a systematic order:
This ‘message box’ is an auxiliary analytical tool to help you focus on the most important points. You will have to do most of the work, however, with creativity, in discussion with others, and using common sense.
Once you think you have found the right message, start testing it. You don’t have to spend tens of thousands of euros on focus groups. Go out into the street or to the pub next door and talk to those people you know are potential voters (it is probably not a good idea to start with a 62-year-old conservative banker). Introduce your message in a normal conversation and observe the reaction. Or be open and frank and say: “I believe the Pirates deserve your vote, because…”, then ask your counterpart if he or she agrees.
After you have found the perfect message, internalise it. You should be able to recite it quickly, like a shot, even as you lie awake in the middle of the night. After internalising it, start spreading it. As the leitmotif of your campaign, you can include your message in:
Of utmost importance: never tire of repeating it again and again. Always remember: only when you can no longer bear hearing it, will the journalists start to recognise it. And only if the journalists cannot bear it any longer, will the voters start to remember it. This is precisely what you want! Therefore, the rule is: One message, a thousand voices! (Not the other way round.)
The message is not identical to the main slogans on your posters. But these slogans, which consist only of a few words, should be a condensed version of the message, which consists of a few sentences.
It’s the candidate, stupid! People who strive for public office should be aware of what awaits them there and what they should expect from the job. If you want to be a candidate, ask yourself the following questions:
Here are some (ironic) tips and suggestions, based on the ideas of Marco Althaus, a well-known German consultant in political campaigning and communication:
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” (Sun Tzu, The Art of War)
Political campaigns are mostly defined according to the opponent. The observation of opponents is a key instrument of political strategy and, for over two decades, a professional part of election campaigns, particularly in the USA. Some party-people still resist opposition research – “Why do we need it? We have no money and no people. We prefer our own, positive message; let’s concentrate on this.” But it is an unavoidable fact that, in the coming years, the consistent observation of opponents will be an integral part of any campaign. This concerns in particular publicly accessible information. So it does not involve the invasion of privacy, baseless allegations or snooping! Opposition research detects developments and projects at an early stage, but also the opponents’ conflicts and contradictions. It is important to know how that information can be used for one’s own campaign.
Opposition research is not just about the opponent’s weaknesses; it can also serve to anticipate attacks. It is crucial to recognise one’s own potential weaknesses in communication and to ward these off with appropriate responses (arguments, counter-attacks, or ignore them).
Negative campaigning is a tactic that attacks the opponent directly – with or without comparison to the alternative(s) proposed by one’s own party. In some countries, the Pirates are subjected to massive amounts of negative campaigning. Negative campaigning is likely to become an increasingly decisive element of campaigning. Both in day-to-day political debates and in communication networks, polarising statements will get on to the agenda more easily. The sustained success of negative campaigning for campaigners is open to question, however. In the meantime, the negative campaigning in election campaigns has itself become a topic of discussion (e.g. dirty campaigning). In any case, it is crucial to know about attacks by opponents in advance.
The goal is to integrate and organise opposition research as part of the election campaign to enable the systematic collection of relevant information. Specific objectives are to:
Generating and directing media coverage is a difficult ‘dark art’ at the best of times. It is always a challenge to find original, relevant and understandable messages and ideas, which at the same time are not too ‘dumbed down’. Photos have to be compelling and eye-catching, but if too extravagant it could appear to be a stunt or make your candidate look like a clown. The good news is that during an election campaign, papers, radio and TV stations are covering and giving lots of priority to political stories. The bad news? All of your competitors are fighting you for those column inches and to dominate the airwaves. So what can you do to gain an advantage?
Try to maintain positive, professional relations with media. Even if it does seem as though they are not treating you as well as you deserve. Also DO try to keep an eye on how much coverage other parties are getting: the number of front page stories, photos published and stories carried prominently on TV and radio news bulletins. Different countries have different rules: you might be entitled to as much as your share of the vote in the last election, in the last poll – or you might not be entitled to anything at all!
If you are getting disproportionately ignored, do contact the news editor. Try to make the case that you’ve got a good/unique story to tell and their readers/audiences would benefit from hearing it. Ask if there is anything you could change about how you are organising your events to improve the likelihood of coverage (timing, notification, structure and messages could all be tweaked to help get better coverage). You can be sure that your counterparts in other parties are complaining if they’re getting a bad deal. It almost certainly will annoy your media colleagues, but sometime the loudest voice will dominate.
It can be useful during a campaign to conduct regular media briefings. For bigger parties this might be daily. Or for parties who get less attention from the media, every couple of days. Ideally, it will be in a regular spot so that journalists remember the location! This also reduces transportation of backdrops, lights, podiums, etc.
Under the intense pressure of an election campaign there is rarely enough time to run a campaign, let alone plan one. So it is a very good idea to have as many plans as possible in place before the campaign begins. Ideally, you will have a framework prepared for the most critical last weeks of the campaign, when most people make up their minds about voting and when being visible to the public is most critical. This can be as detailed as you need it to be, but it should be well thought out, and agreed and familiar to the key decision-makers in the political and communications roles.
The purpose of a campaign plan – or ‘grid’ – is to give everybody on the team an overview, and to facilitate efficient work. It is important to consider spacing out your events to take account of your capacity to organise interesting events, and also of the media’s ability or probability of covering them. This point is particularly important if there is a system of proportional media coverage (stopwach). If in doubt, spend your time organising a smaller number of well-researched, well-run events, rather than lots of lower-standard events; quality rather than quantity.
During the campaign itself, it is useful to issue a media notice by email containing details of important events taking place the following day. Even if there are no specific media events organised, the schedule could contain details of speeches or meetings in which senior figures are participating. For very important and last-minute events, it could be useful to send an SMS to political correspondents, news editors, photographers, etc.
If your party does not have a press clippings or media monitoring service, it is a good idea to plan to do an early morning newspaper review, so you have an overview of the big stories and can fine tune your messages and events as needed. This task would likely need to be rotated, as all those early starts will quickly wear out a press officer if she or he has to do it all on their own!
Most campaigns will contain a number of similar elements – set-pieces like: launches to get the campaign going, unveil posters, publish the manifesto, showcase an election broadcast and, eventually, to wrap up the campaign.
There will also usually be opportunities to present different policy ideas. These need not take the format of a press conference; it is usually a good idea to present your ideas with visuals that create an idea of the policy in action. A press conference provides little visual material for TV stations and photographers to work with. And even the best communicator will struggle to make detailed policies interesting in a room full of bored journalists.
In the election campaign for local councillors in 2009, the best covered media event that the Irish Greens held was a press event to outline the party’s plans to improve cycling facilities in Dublin.
A dozen bikes and helmets were borrowed from a cycle shop, and journalists and photographers were invited to accompany politicians on a mini tour of the city to point out good facilities as well as bad points (they also were treated to refreshments and pastries in a café in a new, pedestrianised urban plaza which has good bike parking – as well as good coffee.) A similarly successful event was held on a regular Dublin bus, hired for a couple of hours, to point out public transport facilities to media.
Making policy more interesting and understandable is one approach to take. (For an education event, why not consider holding it in a school or playground with children spelling out your message on large toy letters?). But Pirates also have a tendency to talk exclusively about policies, and wonder why we suffer from a lack of coverage. We sometimes forget that journalists are often – and sometimes more – interested in the processes of politics and the personalities involved.
It is a good idea to prepare research on your political opponents – both their ideas and their people – and work them into sound-bites that can used in conversations with journalists.
As Pirate Party campaigns are usually more poorly funded than our competitors, we often have less money to spend on expensive items like outdoor advertising. We can try to use public relations to leverage our spending. Consider hiring a mobile ‘ad-mobile’ for a press launch – a photo of this in the papers can be worth 20 billboards, and can make your budget go further.
Input phase »»» Organisation phase »»» Training Phase = Mobilisation
Train your activists and enable them to talk to their friends in their own language. They must receive the following information:
Offer exclusivity for your activists. (Give them ‘insider’ information, offer them information earlier than the public.)
In today’s overloaded advertising world, personal recommendations are the best and most effective way to get through to our potential voters. Friends communicate openly, honestly, credibly and accurately at the point of interest.
Word-of-mouth-marketing is often understood as a tool in downstream communication used in the last phase of the communication process. The power of WOM is in the end-to-end integration of the target group – from the development of the issues and the campaign development to the communication itself.
During a campaign, whether it is an election campaign or a campaign within a district or town, media advertising or poster and leaflet distribution are no substitute for direct contact. Door-to-door is one of the most important forms of direct marketing (other forms include organising meetings and debates). It is one of the most time-consuming ways of conducting a campaign, but it is also one of the most effective. If we come to somebody’s home, there is a much greater chance that he or she will remember us (compared to, say, reading our leaflet or an article about us in the local press).
Door-to-door campaigns are always worth doing even if we are inexperienced. It may be that someone is more willing to vote for a slightly lost-looking young person who knocks on their door and presents his or her programme than for a completely anonymous individual displayed on a leaflet left in their postbox. Remember that people/voters appreciate effort.
Visual impressions are most important when it comes to direct contact. That is why, when conducting a door-to-door campaign, the focus should be not only on the verbal message but also on non-verbal signals: appearance, gestures, facial expression, breathing, attitude, tone of voice, etc. In direct contact, our credibility depends on whether our verbal and non-verbal signals are consistent. If they are not, the recipient will rely on visual signals, assigning them greater importance (she will trust what she sees, not what she hears).
Door-to-door campaigns are best done in apartment blocks or areas with terraced housing. In areas of low-density housing, with free-standing gated homes, going from one door to the next will be very time-consuming.
One important piece of practical advice: start at the top and proceed to the bottom (buildings, roads).
Door-to-door campaigns can be done individually, but experience shows that two-person teams are best, i.e. the candidate and an assistant, which can be useful if the conversation becomes prolonged (and the situation requires speaking with other voters).
Before the door is opened, it is a good idea to take a step backwards so that the household member does not think we are trying to enter their home. Your opening statement can be constructed in the following way:
Thus constructed, the statement should communicate that:
The problems associated with direct contact include recipients’ reactions that interfere with our message and recipients’ subjective feelings that are at odds with our intentions, for instance: the person is tired, has had an argument with a family member, is busy looking after their child, or we have interrupted their favourite television programme, etc. In such cases, we should be sensitive to the given situation. We could, for instance, say the following: I see you’re busy, don’t worry, I understand, I also have a small child. Here’s my leaflet, please have a look at it when you have a moment, I’m canvassing votes; or: I’ll be coming past your house again. Would you mind if I came back in half an hour?
Remember: don’t focus on, or take to heart, the reactions of people who open their door to you. What is important is to present your proposal briefly and effectively, to win support, and to hand over a leaflet.
When conducting a door-to-door campaign, we should expect to devote approximately 3 minutes to each person. If we exceed this limit, we should say: I would very much like to speak with you further but I have two visit 30 other people today. Please call us or send an e-mail to our office. All our contact details are in the leaflet.
However, we must not avoid answering the most important questions, e.g.: what’s your view about the incineration plant (our response should not be: we discuss this in the leaflet, please read it). We should briefly present our opinion and, for example, invite them to visit the website.
We should ask at the end of the conversation and do so openly. For instance, we could say: Please vote for us in the coming elections.
All gifts should be offered at the end of the conversation. It is also important to hand over the leaflet together with the gift or gadget – the person may read it later or show it to other people.
As a starting point it is vital to think about the demographics of the electorate – where do you need to find support, and does that correlate with the highest levels of internet use?
In short this means any Pirate Party, anywhere in Europe, has a very good case to be actively engaged in online campaigning. Across Europe older cohorts of the electorate (in percentage and actual terms) vote in greater numbers than younger cohorts. The graph of regular internet usage in Europe is precisely the opposite – with younger people using the internet much more than older generations.
The very nature of Pirate Parties – edgy, forward looking, creating a new vision of the left and environmentalism distinct from the traditional parties of the left (most often linked to organised labour) – means the natural the Pirate electorate is going to be younger and more web savvy than supporters of the traditional Volksparteien.
In terms of party organisation, and even at the level of ideology, Pirates should be at the forefront of the use of the web for campaigning. Pirate Parties traditionally have flatter party structures, are more open to internal debate and discussion that longer-established parties, and these more ad-hoc and participative forms of organisation are common across the net. Furthermore, smaller Pirate Parties, especially in central and eastern Europe, may simply not have the long established structures of their older and often better funded opponents – effective use of the internet may act as a partial alternative in these cases.
Any Pirate would be in favour of one less poster and one less leaflet in election campaigns – purely in terms of sustainability. So while questions are legitimately being raised about the Pirate credentials of data centres used to run websites, the environmental case for message delivery online, as opposed to via traditional routes, remains clear. The same applies financially – the costs of online activity can often be substantially lower than traditional means, although this is of course only so if online activity can be translated into success at the ballot box. The following sections of this article will explain how this can be done.
As a campaign consultant I am often asked “Well has anyone actually won an election thanks to their use of the internet?”, “When are we going to see the first internet election?” or “When are we going to see someone using the net in Europe in the way Obama did?” Sorry to disappoint, but all of these questions rather miss the key issue. We already have very net based election campaigns, yet determining the impact of the internet as separate from other factors is the complicated issue.
Think of it this way: without e-mail between activists and staff, Google searches for the latest opinion poll data, and all the latest news drawn from news sites, modern election campaigns would simply not function. There is to be no return to the use of paper and telephone.
The important question is about comparative advantage moving forward.
I would argue that there are four types of elections where an internet campaign can have a decisive impact. These are:
I will deal with each of these in turn.
First of all, party selections or elections. Here the case for a net campaign is incredibly strong. The electorate is small, motivated and often geographically dispersed, especially when a matter concerns the national level of a party. The traditional campaigning means – knocking on doors, tables on street corners, leaflets – do not work or are not cost effective. Often a party only allows a limited biography to be distributed with ballot papers, and speeches at party conventions are too late to change an outcome. So online activities are the vital means to build a reputation and build standing.
Secondly, any election that is covered little by the mainstream media is ideal for online campaign efforts. This of course applies to internal party selections and elections; debate about these is seldom carried out in the newspapers, television and radio. The same, however, applies to second order elections – local elections and European elections when the media has its eyes elsewhere. If turnout is going to be low then those that will vote are the motivated ones, and possibly motivated enough to look you up online. Equally the election area – a local ward council for example – may not even have its own media (even local newspapers are not always that local), yet web campaigns can be very narrowly and locally targeted.
Elections fought strongly on policy themes are also a fertile ground for online campaigning, where the net can be used to build bridges between candidates running on platforms that raise certain issues and NGOs and other campaigners raising the same points. The crucial question here is what brand to use – how much of this networking should be on the sites of the party, and how much elsewhere – but clear policy thinking works well online, and matches how an electorate thinks (and Googles).
Strong candidates and interesting characters are a further important component of a vibrant online campaign. The electorate can see who is behind the information being produced, and can relate to the individuals involved at a much more intimate level than can be done via the mainstream media. The net can also be used to progressively develop a different reputation for an individual than the one portrayed by the regular press. Furthermore a candidate cannot be expected to meet every single voter in a constituency, especially in large urban areas, so effective net campaigning can help bridge this gap.
To conclude this section, where does it work less well? Things work far less effectively when online activities are nothing more than a reflection of the offline, i.e. parties themselves are to the fore, to the neglect of individuals and policies important to the electorate. This means that effective online campaigning can also contribute to the organisational evolution of traditional parties.
Like so much else in party political campaigning there is no substitute for good preparation in online campaigns. As the previous two sections of this article have stressed, online activity is about presentation of individuals and policies, and it is also about the overall impression gained by the electorate. These are not matters that can be left for the short campaign in the weeks before the election itself. This is especially valid when it comes to traffic driven from search engines (see section 6 below), and a sustainable social media strategy also takes time.
First and foremost try so set some objectives for any online campaign activity. SMART objectives work as well for the web as they do offline and are always a good place to start:
It is perfectly acceptable to set objectives for the web alone – numbers of site visitors, or numbers of others linking to your site, for example – but do try to set something clear and measurable. All too often websites are created for no reason other than everyone else has one, so why not? More rigour is always welcome.
Second, a clear staffing plan is vital. Who is going to do what online, according to what time frame? It cannot be expected that the candidate themselves will produce all content, or indeed sign off all content. Content displayed on a campaign site needs to be timely, accurate and interesting, so there is no place for complex sign off procedures.
Having said that, web campaigning, and especially social media, works best when the individual seeking election is in some way involved in online activities. This might be a blog or Twitter account that is written by the individual politician, while other parts of a website are written by staff members. There is no correct mix of these aspects, although as a matter of preference I would always verge on the side of more candidate involvement wherever possible. Web campaigning does not demand great prose; instead the priority is the quality and immediacy of content.
Above all it is vital to be honest in all web communications – there is no legitimate expectation that a candidate writes all his or her own content, but if a candidate is writing some of it, then find ways to highlight this – making it clear in a sidebar for example that this really is the candidate. Conversely, if a candidate simply has no personal interest in anything to do with the internet then it is questionable how much time should be invested online. A web campaign that is too distinct from the candidate’s own style and political aims will soon look hollow.
The website for a candidate in an election campaign is going to be the hub around which all other online activity revolves. Hence decisions taken in this area are vital to ensure success of all other online activities.
The main question here is: where do you compromise? Your campaign will have finite financial resources and not everything will be possible within the time and especially the finances available.
When approaching a web agency to commission a site it is good to have a clear idea in mind about what sorts of functions the website is going to need from the start, what functions may need to be added in future, and also to draw up a list of links to sites from similar organisations or individuals that you consider to be good in some way.
The brief for a new site should be something between 1 and 3 A4 pages in length. If it is shorter the agency will have to guess what you want, and correcting problems later will be time consuming for all concerned. Conversely, a brief that is too long and detailed may bind an agency so tightly that costs of a project rise as programmers and designers strive to meet every last criterion.
At the heart of every modern website is a content management system – this is essentially a web-based software system that allows users to update content from a web browser, using a username and password to login. Any campaign is fast moving and you need your content online now, not when someone from your agency has time to fit it in.
In terms of technology, the main costs that can be cut depend on the choice of content management system. I am yet to see a system programmed by an individual agency that comes close to the capabilities of the main open source (i.e. free) content management systems such as WordPress, Drupal or Typo3. So insist on open source, and, if told an open source option will not work, then ask why not, and consider going elsewhere. The vast majority of campaign sites are not breaking the mould of net politics – this is primarily about doing the basics well.
A detailed guide on how to choose a Content Management System can be found at WebDesignerDepot here, but in simplest terms it depends on the style of site you wish to create. Are you looking for something blog or magazine style? If so, then WordPress would be a good starting point. Are you looking for a detailed, structured site with dozens of pages that will develop over the years? If so then Typo3 could well be the place to look. If you’re looking for a combination of those things then Drupal might be a good option, although it is not always the easiest system to use.
When it comes to design it is important to see the big picture, and make sure all design ideas are collated by one staff member before sending them to a designer. Further, avoid getting stuck in a cycle that concerns the exact shade of green or blue, or whether a certain object requires a shadow or not. Some design tasks are simply not worth the financial outlay to make them work – especially when you consider that websites look very different considering the browser used to view them. Above all make sure you do not end up in design hell, and try to build an effective and constructive working relationship with the people doing the design work.
So, in short, you should be able to compromise when it comes to the technical choices that you make. But it is content where fewer corners can be cut.
I cannot emphasise this strongly enough: your online campaign will be made or broken according to the quality of the content produced, and not due to tech or design.
So, if you have limited resources, think content, content, content. Focus relentlessly on that. The smartest tech or smoothest design without the necessary content serves no purpose whatsoever.
Above and beyond the text and images your website will be able to deliver, what are the other tools you are going to need? Here are a few suggestions.
You need a solid and reliable way to mail supporters, activists and the press, so a reliable newsletter tool is important. If you are mailing more than 50 people in one go then a newsletter tool will do a better job than Outlook. You have essentially two options – an open source system such as phplist that allows you to mail as many people whenever you like for no additional cost per mailing, and features a web-based signup and unsubscribe function. Alternatively, paid services such as MailChimp and Campaign Monitor offer detailed statistics on how many people open a newsletter, but charge for each mailing sent out.
Regardless of the technology you choose, make sure you keep your mailings short and snappy, linking wherever possible to your website, and also asking for something from the readers – practical action to take.
Do not be over-reliant on your newsletters, however – as we are all so swamped by e-mail you will be lucky to get more than 1 in 5 recipients actually opening your messages.
Not a separate technology as such, more of an aspect of your website. You are going to be producing all kinds of news stories throughout a campaign – who did what, where and when, who was quoted in which newspaper, etc. – and you need a simple way to catalogue all of these stories. ‘Posts’ in WordPress and the News plugin in Typo3 can accomplish this function for you.
Essentially a blog is a website with content written in an informal manner, in chronological order, and with the opportunity to comment on articles. The latter is important – blogging is about building a conversation, and the lack of a comments function prevents that happening. Avoid falling into the trap of just calling site news a ‘blog’ to try to sound cool – it does not work. Take a look at Carl Bildt, Iain Dale and Tom Harris for examples of good political blogs, and see how these individuals highlight important political issues in an informal yet serious manner.
Importantly, do not be to worried by the prospect of negative comments on a blog. If the US Air Force can manage to have a blog commenting policy – and they work in a very sensitive sector – then I’m sure you can do the same.
There are many different ways to read articles on the web, and RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a vital aspect of any modern website. This allows users to subscribe to content in a RSS reader, meaning they do not have to visit your actual website for news about what you are doing. Keeping an eye on RSS feeds from your opponents’ sites is an important way to monitor online reputation (see section 6 below).
In each of these networks individuals set up profiles and the assumption is that the actual individual is behind a profile, not a politician’s staff. The alternative is to establish supporter groups or pages for politicians in these networks if the candidate does not wish to be personally engaged in everyday use of the network. As stated above the key is to be honest and clear at all times.
Facebook, with more than 500 million users worldwide, and half of regular online users with profiles on the network in some countries, is the clear market leader, although a case can be made for using other networks if they have a particularly strong local user base.
Be aware that Facebook creates a grey area between the personal and the professional, and building an organisational rather than a personalised presence on Facebook can be complicated. Facebook is also now a saturated medium, meaning it can be hard to get messages through to supporters there.
If Facebook is for the people you know, Twitter is for the people you would like to know – even if you have no way of actually meeting those individuals in real life. The key here is in the vocabulary – on Twitter you have followers, on Facebook you have friends, with ‘follower’ implying a lower level of commitment.
Twitter is an excellent medium to reach journalists and those interested in the topics that motivate you – it should be viewed as a professional networking tool.
Twitter works very well off smart phones, and the super-short nature of the communications (140 characters in each tweet) means that finding time to use Twitter should be within the scope of every candidate.
A photo sharing website that takes imagery of what you are doing to a wider audience, although using it for your own ends – the Creative Commons option in the Advanced Search for royalty-free images – might be more useful on an everyday basis.
Youtube pioneered video sharing online, while Vimeo is its challenger with more flexible tools for not-for-profit organisations. These services make the tech aspects simple – upload a video in more or less any format and the sites handle the rest, and embed codes allow you to integrate videos from these services into your own site. The problem comes when you have to ask yourself what to film and how, and whether your video is going to be adequately interesting to garner hundreds or even thousands of views. Effective use of online video can be expensive and time consuming – ask yourself whether use of video is the best use of your time.
What is going to set your campaign apart from the rest? If this is your aim then it is worth giving some thought to using some new, innovative services and being the very first person to be active using a particular technology. The current web boom areas are location based services, and smart phone applications. Have a look at Foursquare and Layar, and think whether there could be mobile phone applications that could be developed for your campaign. As with anything else keep a close eye on the finances, but doing web tech well is still interesting enough to generate coverage and interest in its own right.
This article has so far covered all the proactive things that can be done in online campaigning, the things that are in your hands as a candidate or a campaigner. But what about the things others are going to write about you online?
Start by Googling yourself, and keywords that are important to your campaign. At the very least you need to make sure the top Google search results when searching for your name are you, and ideally your website should be the top result. To assist with this put your whole name in the domain name of your site. For example franzsimmering.com is much better than franzfuerhamburg.com or votefranz.co.uk when it comes to Google search results. Give your Google search results time to develop – you might need 6 months of your site being live before it reaches the top of Google search results.
Secondly, keep an eye on what Google finds about you by using Google Alerts. You can receive an e-mail as-and-when, or daily, when Google finds any new stories mentioning you or keywords you define, or if anyone links to your site. You can then determine whether to respond to what has been written or not. Backtweets.com offers the same service as Google alerts, only for Twitter – track people who link to your site from Twitter.
Lastly, learn how to use RSS. This is especially vital if you want to exploit networks of bloggers as part of your campaign, but it is also generally useful anyway. Open an account with Netvibes or Google Reader, and add feeds from national, regional and local press, and from blogs that are relevant to the policy issues you work on. You will never have time to visit 30 blogs a day, but keeping an eye on 30 blogs via RSS is possible. For more advice on the effective use of RSS see this article.
Social media is a term used to describe a number of (relatively) recent forms of online interaction, many of which can be very useful for running campaigns if used correctly. Using the different forms available, you can use social media to spread awareness about your campaign, provide an easy way for supporters to get in contact/follow the campaign, interact with supporters, coordinate events, raise money and subvert the need to use traditional media to reach voters.
Social media however is not two things. Firstly, it is not a free and easy form of campaigning. Many forms of social media are becoming increasingly crowded (such as twitter and Facebook) and therefore require extra time and energy to ensure that you get your message across from the din of a crowded online media.
Secondly, social media should not be considered as a substitute for more traditional forms of campaigning. This is especially true during election time, when voters may want a more personal form of contact than just ‘following you’ on Twitter.
Because of these limits and downsides, it is important for your campaign to decide in advance its strategy for social media. Making it up as you go along is not really an option!
What are the different tools?
Facebook is the largest and best known social media site. It offers the opportunity to set up personal profiles, groups or pages.
Personal profiles are the most common – establishing an account for your personal use where you add friends, upload pictures. Groups were formerly used by organisations and campaigns, but recently pages have become more popular as they are more flexible and interactive than groups.
Pages need only someone to click ‘like’ in order start following that page. This is considered more informal than having someone ‘join’ a group, and so ensures that your campaign reaches as many people as possible.
Facebook and apps: Facebook has a number of applications (apps) which can make the page even more interactive. Some of these are free but others have to be paid for. See sites such as involver.com for more information.
Some of the more popular apps include the YouTube app, which allows you to upload videos to your Facebook page. There is also an app which allows you to upload documents, so that your members can read your publications and documents.
Facebook and your opponents: There is vulnerability in using a Facebook page. Because anyone is free to ‘like’ your page that means even your opponents can like it, which will allow them to post on your wall and write comments. While you may welcome engagement with such voters, it can result in your own message being blocked out and by people spamming your page.
You should therefore be prepared to delete comments or block certain users. This is especially the case if they become repetitive or abusive.
Facebook and advertising: Facebook gives you the option to advertise your page on its site. While it’s always preferable to try and get your number of ‘likes’ up without having to pay for it, Facebook offers a convenient means of advertising should you choose to go down that path.
Under Facebook, you can target ads for your page at certain groups of users (i.e. young people, people with an interest in environmental issues). You don’t pay unless a user clicks on your page, and you can set a maximum daily amount (from a minimum of €1 upwards) which will ensure you stay within budget.
Free is always better, but advertising could allow you to quickly increase numbers, which will help you spread your message. Worth the investment, but only if you have the money!
Facebook and events: A great way to be active on Facebook is to organise “events”. You can create events for a campaign rally or even Election Day (Vote Pirate on Feb 25th, for example). You can invite your supports, and encourage them to invite friends (or, as above, advertise it). This will result in the event appearing in people’s news feeds as the event approaches, and is a great way to translate online interaction into actual, on-the-ground action.
Facebook is becoming especially crowded with events, so it’s important not to overdo it (i.e. don’t make every campaign meeting an event). Try and limit it to major events, and try and give the event a catchy name and interesting description.
There are other social media sites, whose popularity vary from country to country(hyves.nl in the Netherlands, netlog.com in Belgium). So it’s important that you tap into whatever are the popular forms of social media in your area/country.
Twitter has been described as a micro-blogging site site where you posts 140 character tweets to ‘followers’. These tweets can contain links to websites, press releases, event info or just a simple message. Anyone with a twitter account can follow you, and anyone can retweet your tweet (forward it on to their followers).
In campaigning, especially election campaigning, there are two styles of tweeting – active and passive.
Active – twitter allows account holders to send 140 character tweets between accounts which are visible to all other twitter users. This allows campaigns to answer questions directly and can result in discussions between users. However, such use of twitter can be time consuming, the quality of discussion in 140 characters is questionable and such discussions can quickly become repetitive.
Passive - such account users simply post their tweets and engage in minimal/no interaction with other users. This is advisable if you have thousands of followers, when engaging with all of them could consume a large amount of time.
Other twitter tips: Twitter is like a community, and like any community, there are sometimes ‘hot topics’ under discussion. In twitter, these topics may appear with a hash tag at the beginning (i.e. #election2012). A tweet beginning with a hash tag becomes a link, and clicking on that link brings up all the posts containing that hash tag. So it’s a great way to join a conversation on twitter, or start one of your own.
Twibbons – twibbons are a relatively recent development, but are fast becoming ubiquitous on both Twitter and Facebook. Twibbons allow you to create a small graphic image, which your supporters can add to their profile pictures for their twitter or Facebook accounts. They are free, easy to create and a great way to demonstrate grassroots support for your campaign. See Twibbon.com for more information.
Apps (or ‘applications’) are small programmes that smart phone users can download through sites such as iTunes. Apps can vary from games to programmes that sort and organise information. For campaigns, an app can pull together information such as campaign videos, candidate biographies, policies and press release, making it an easy way for activists and potential voters to follow your campaign.
Applications require more effort than other forms of social media, and in particular require people with a decent level of programming skill. Apart from the cost of hiring a programmer (zero if the programmer volunteers his or her time), there is little cost involved and is an excellent way to demonstrate that your campaign is ahead of the technological curve.
For further information on using smart phones during elections, check out the following article from the handbook: Using mobile phones
Social media works best if you try and make your followers have a sense of involvement in the campaign. A great way to do this is to use social media to keep supporters involved in how your campaign is doing on a daily basis. Writing a blog entry, or getting a campaign volunteer to help you keep a video diary, can result in some really great content that you can tweet or post on Facebook.
You needn’t (and shouldn’t!) spend too much time on this. Only a few minutes each day keeping people up to date with what the main issues of the day are, or recounting some story from the campaign trail. Social media is, after all, about being informal.
Another good example is to set up a flickr account (flickr.com) which allows you to upload and share photos easily. This is a great way for people to follow your campaign in a very graphic way, and has the added benefit of giving the media easy access to photos of your events. And the easier you make their job, the more likely they are to give you coverage!
As discussed above, social media sites such as Facebook and twitter are becoming increasingly crowded, making it difficult to keep your message visible during campaigns. One simply solution on Facebook is to request your campaign team to ‘like’ every single posting that you make. By clicking ‘like’, your post gains popularity on people’s homepage and so is more likely to be seen. A free, simple means of keeping your campaign visible online!
With twitter, maintaining coverage is dependent on a degree of coordination. Twibbons, hashtags, retweeting are all essential tools in this. That is what it is important to appoint one person to be in charge of social media (see below).
Like any campaign tool, it helps to be able to quantify how successful your efforts are. A great site to help with this is bit.ly. Bit.ly allows you to shorten links to videos, websites etc, which is great for Twitter and Facebook. Importantly though, if you register for a free account with them you can keep track of how many people actually click on these links. You’ll be surprised (perhaps unpleasantly so) at how many people click on such links.
Social media may appear to be a cheap, informal, bottom-up means of communicating. However, that does not negate the need to ensure that the social media aspect of your campaign is well planned. That means two things – deciding on resources and drafting a communication plan specifically for social media.
Financially, it’s up to you to decide how much to contribute. As discussed above, ads can be an effective way of getting followers, and without a decent base of followers than your efforts won’t have much impact where it matters – votes.
You may have people who wish to help with your campaign, but who dislike the more direct forms of campaigning such as canvassing or leafleting. If they have any computer skills then this may be a great way to get them involved in the campaign, thus expanding the number of people on your team. Its also a great way to involve your supporters who may be living oversees during the election.
It’s also important to ensure that you have sufficient content for your social media and that you time its release correctly. So for example, during your campaign you may want to start with a ‘daily reason to vote for the Pirate Party’, posted first thing in the morning so that Facebook and twitter addicts have you as their first social media hit of the day! Other suggestions could be to preview your manifesto on twitter before its launch (i.e. top ten policy elements from your manifesto).
Social media has an overall younger profile than the wider electorate (though it’s not exclusively limited to younger people!). You should take this into account when deciding which policies to prioritise on social media.
Social media presents itself with risks as well as rewards. This is particular true of twitter, where its diffuse nature means that it is very hard to maintain any sort of control over the debate. While such a non-hierarchical structure is to be welcomed, it is important that this is factored in when planning for the campaign.
A recent risk for candidates is media checking their personal social media profiles (twitter or Facebook) and discovering inappropriate photos/comments.
To protect against this, all candidates should be required to ‘scrub’ their Facebook page (including their private profiles!) of anything that could be interpreted in a negative light. As best practice, somebody else in the campaign should look over their profile to see if anything has been missed.
A final risk, as discussed above, is overestimating the role that social media can play in campaigns. As Malcolm Gladwell discussed in his widely read article on the topic, social media is a very weak form of connection to a campaign or cause. After all, connecting to a campaign online only requires a few clicks of a mouse, and very little effort beyond that. But for your campaign to succeed, you will need people to make a greater commitment than just ‘liking’ you on Facebook. As Gladwell says “Social networks are effective at increasing participation—by lessening the level of motivation that participation requires” (Gladwell, M Small Change The New Yorker, Oct 4th 2010)
So you should only see social media as a tool to get to that high former of interaction with your campaign – to advertise events, and to share information that your supporters can use when talking to friends and family.
One idea from the Dutch Greens during their 2011 regional elections was to combine on online and a face-to-face event. They staged an event at the train station the day before the election, handing out coffee to voters who had questions. But they also took questions, and broadcast the whole event, online.
Using mobile phones in political campaigns is nothing new. We use our mobile phones to reach other activists or candidates on a daily basis, we call people during political actions and coordinate them – and many of us access websites with relevant information from our smartphone. We do most of these activities without even considering the mobile phone a specific vehicle for campaigning.
This article discusses a more strategic approach to the use of mobile phones, and particularly smartphones, in campaigns. While reading this, you will realise that the use of mobile phones in campaigns often relies on a strategic approach to online communication in a wider sense; in fact, these two approaches work best if they are thought about in conjunction. This trend will continue to rise as more and more people use smartphones. Soon, all mobile phone users in Europe will be able to access the internet in some way or other.
Campaign communication via mobile phones, just as with any other medium, needs to be targeted. A first step is therefore to define the various target groups. The subsequent ideas will focus on the following target groups: candidates, general interested audience, (potential) voters, party activists or passers-by. Think about how to approach each of these groups differently and what you need to keep them happy, or get them involved.
With regard to both SMS communication and smartphones, you need to prepare the relevant technical infrastructure. For smartphones, ensure that your website (or a sub website) is accessible for all mainstream smartphones platforms like Apple, Blackberry, Android and Nokia. For SMSs, you need to think about using an easily accessible online platform that allows you to send cheap and targeted text messages to differentiated distribution lists. Ask your mobile phone operators and online services (and compare also with Skype) how much they charge for such mass SMSs – and think in advance to what extent you might want to use them. You may also want to consider what SMS (or even call) distribution lists you should establish and sort subscribers accordingly. For instance, it makes sense to have one list for candidates, one for party activists from your own party, and one list with a vote-reminder on election day (and, as always, one group does not necessarily rule out another).
The next step in an active approach to mobile phone campaigning is to constantly give interested people the opportunity to register their mobile number, or to access activities with their (smart)phone. Can people register their number on your campaign website? Can people get a reminder to vote on election day? Can people sign up for key information or the latest news concerning, for example, candidates or nearby events? But interaction is not a one-way street in which the people you are in contact with remain passive. What form of interaction can you offer people? Can they vote via SMS or smartphone on current issues and developments? Is there any other action they can take? Think about these things when you prepare your campaign!
Pay particular attention to the smartphone compatibility of your campaign website. Create a particular sub-site such as ‘mobile.pirateparty.eu’ or ‘m.pirateparty.eu’ that is accessible for all mainstream smartphones, and where targeted and less data-intensive information is presented.
Privacy warning: Whatever you do, pay attention to privacy. Never collect any data of phone users without their explicit consent.
‘Getting out the vote’ – every political campaigner and every politician in the USA knows this claim. It is a symbol for election campaigning on election day itself, until the polling stations close their doors. But it is no longer just an American phenomenon.
In probably all European countries it is becoming increasingly important to campaign until the election day. Potential Green voters, in particular, tend not to decide until ‘notoriously’ late on. For example, at the last election in Germany’s biggest federal state, Nordrhein-Westfalen, with its nearly 14 million voters, 39% of the Green voters left it until the final days before deciding whether to vote at all and, then, whether to vote for the Green Party. As a result: You can win and lose everything during the last 7 campaign days or even the last 72 hours. But what must one do to be on the winning side?
First of all, mobilisation is everything. But you should mobilise those who support you and not the supporters of your political opponents. Forget those voter groups you have never convinced before. Why would you be successful now? It is better to contact those who are open to Pirate ideas and/or voted for you before. You do not need a special survey to find them. In most cases, you only have to look at the polling stations’ last election results. These show where the strongholds are, i.e. your ‘battlefields’ for the last days.
But do not count on the media. At this stage, in most European countries, TV and radio stations as well as newspapers traditionally cut down on their reports about parties’ election campaigns. Your top candidate may receive a small amount of media coverage, but the time for long articles about your positions and visions is over. It is now time for direct contact with your possible voters. Go to the places where they are, such as pubs, events, parties, markets, and so on. Small teams of activists and volunteers, equipped with branded clothes and ‘give-aways’ can reach a lot of people in the streets in a short period of time. But this strategy has two further advantages: Number one: it is quite cheap because you only need volunteers; Number two: it will convey the message in the streets and to your voters that you are motivated and convinced that you will win.
Rely on your members and supporters. Smaller parties, in particular, always have financial campaign limits (with not enough resources for buses in the campaign design, or hundreds of TV and radio spots). So opt for the strategy of using your members and supporters as your ‘ambassadors’. Send them small packages of give-aways, posters and background information to distribute to their neighbours, colleagues and friends. There is no cheaper and easier way to spread your campaign material. In addition, these kinds of ambassadors generally have much more credibility than paid activists or expensive spots.
Be creative. You are the expert of your country and you know what the people in your country like. Use your knowledge and experience, and impress and surprise people. For example: rent a video projector and project a funny campaign motive on the town’s landmark in the evening. Or distribute coffee and tea in the morning at a railway station when the commuters go to work. It need not be an expensive action, but it should be an innovative one.
Do not forget that the campaign actions of the last days must be planned in time and not one week in advance. This last offensive should be mentioned in your campaign plans and your internal communication from the very beginning onwards. Otherwise you will send your material and ideas to supporters that have already invested all of their money and energy, and all of your strategic and creative ‘Get out the vote’ ideas will remain no more than that: ideas.
Last but not least, the internet: it is not surprising that the internet has become more and more important for political campaigning.
After any campaign, the volunteers as well as the staffers tend to sleep long for the first time in weeks, or – after a big success – to engage in new stressful activities in new jobs. Quite often, campaigners forget to put their campaign to bed and to look back on it systematically.
People do not want to see your campaign posters for the whole year. Please make sure that all your posters, banners and displays are removed quickly and completely after the election. Environmentalists should take care of their environment and clean up!
Thank everybody who has been helping you in the campaign. The earlier you do this, the better. You can already start on the day of the election before the results are published. If the top candidate or the campaign manager calls all or the most important volunteers personally on their mobile phones on the day of the election, thanks them for their work, and invites them for the election-night, the reward will be considerable. This would be talked about in the evening, at the election party, even if the party loses – preparing the ground for support in the next election campaign. Many campaigns again invite their volunteers to a party or for coffee and cake afterwards to mark the end of the campaign and to thank them.
Do not forget to also thank your donors after the election. Why not send them a letter explaining how you or your party analyses the election results, what kind of plan you have now, and how they can contribute to further success? They will feel valued and not just used as a source of money.
If you lose, don’t forget to congratulate your opponent! Only bad losers blame their opponent’s actions and their own campaign team and volunteers for their defeat. Show that you are able to deal with it.
Evaluating the campaign should not start after the campaign but from the very beginning: it should always be a formative evaluation. This is one of the many tasks of the campaign manager or of the Secretary General of the party. To evaluate a campaign, you need to know the goals that were defined at the beginning. A written strategy of the campaign is the basic document for its evaluation.
Formative evaluation is a process of ongoing feedback on performance. Already at certain milestones during the campaign (e.g. after choosing the candidates, after deciding on the programme, after the launch of the campaign) it is very useful to discuss among the campaign team which targets have been met and what has gone right and wrong so far. The more precise the goals, the better and easier it will be to control and evaluate the campaign. In a bigger campaign, an ‘evaluation manager’ could support the campaign manager or the Secretary General in this process and make sure that notes are taken during all evaluation discussions.
The summative evaluation after the campaign tries to identify larger patterns and trends in performance – and to judge these against the targets that were set at the beginning. One of the best ways to do it is a facilitated half-day workshop. The participants (not more than 40-50) should include the main campaign staffers, certain members of the Board and from regional and local levels, some volunteers (from online and offline campaigning!), 1-2 sympathising journalists, somebody from the PR agencies involved (if trusted) – and a person to take notes!
Maybe after the workshop somebody will want to sit down and write an article for the party members’ journal in which she or he reflects on the campaign? In any case: write the minutes, distribute them among the participants and keep them for the next campaign. It will be a valuable document to start with!
This compilation of useful tips is derived from years of international experience. They will work whenever you strive to be defeated. Loss guaranteed! 100%.
Whoever has something to tell, really should T-E-L-L it. You don’t need colourful images or hectic activities to express yourself and your ideas. Campaign events are an awful lot of work and they usually pass unnoticed in the political news sections of reputable newspapers. They just end up on certain pages or blogs that you never read yourself, or broadcast in programmes you’ve never heard of before.
Everybody complains about information overload these days, and especially during campaigns. In order to stand out you have to produce as many press releases as you can. Those press officers who, on a daily basis, send out several elaborated press releases about their campaign will at a certain point succeed in being read. Should you fail, the problem is your press releases: they are too few and too short.
Provide extensive information about your programme, your campaign, and about the structure of your party. This information should always be distributed in written form! Avoid direct conversations, for there is a big danger you may be misunderstood! However, if you can’t escape them, be sure to always stay on the air and on message (keep talking!), and avoid listening to those people you are certainly convincing.
Instead of campaigning right from the start, some ‘know-it-alls’ recommend that you invest in research first, to gather information about the electorate and about the opponents, segment ‘target groups’, test messages and designs, map the votes in each district, and so on. This obsessive behaviour will cost you an incredible amount of time and money that you shouldn’t waste on somebody else’s irritating love of statistics.
Your party has coined and shaped several terms and expressions which are commonly used by your colleagues but which not every household is familiar with. Don’t try to ingratiate yourself with clueless people by not using your complex phraseology! They should learn your language – this will help them gain a broader understanding of your unrivalled concepts!
Always put PR and press people in different corners of your campaign headquarters! Whenever your campaign produces a new brochure, the press officer need only find out once it has been sent out. Because it would never occur to anyone that the press officer might usefully consult the PR team to discuss which topics could be promoted jointly, would it?
In these fast moving times, people are generally inattentive. This is particularly true when it comes to campaigns. To counter this, you should not try to imitate the twitter ‘language’. Your texts should always provide the entire context. It is much better if somebody has to read the whole text to understand your message or ideas than if he or she is immediately made aware of the most important parts thanks to the structure of the text or an obvious headline.
Some media persons are unfortunately unable to detect in a press release whether there is a contradiction with other opinions within your party. Help them, be transparent! You should always call them and provide them with the details of the conflicts that emerged in recent meetings. You will make plenty of new friends in the media and your party will be rewarded with constant coverage.
Your campaign and your party do not just consist of the top candidate and the spokespersons. There are far more people involved: why should only the most important people talk about the most important things? Always announce your news as coming from ‘the party’ as a whole or ‘the board’, and avoid personalisation. Furthermore, you should avoid assigning certain topics to specific candidates. This would certainly not reflect the diversity and complexity of their personalities.
Contact with people in other parts of the party, who have similar functions to you, is a waste of precious time. These people are familiar only with the specific local situation, and are most probably unable or unwilling to help you out with your problems. This is true also of your entourage. National blathering is OK for the party board, but not something you as a campaigner have the time for.
There’s so much rubbish out there on the market that you’d be well advised to stock up on your own publications. It’s such an uplifting feeling to be able to hang up those old posters, to cover your display stand with large quantities of old publications from the last campaign, and to remember all of the good things you produced all those years ago.
There’s nothing more debilitating than knowing how much money is earmarked for what and when. You’re better off not planning for the campaign at all. It’s far more creative to decide spontaneously how much you want to pay. When there are no funds left, you’ll no doubt come up with something!
It happens frequently that the most unexpected people suddenly take an interest in your party. It only makes sense, therefore, to distribute your material as broadly as possible. You don’t want to risk missing anyone out. The rather fashionable fixation campaigners have with specific target groups is just a poor excuse for those people too scared to venture into opposition territory.
During campaigns, it’s not uncommon for people to be slavishly dependent on the honourable ladies and gentlemen of the media when organising their schedule. But they just turn up when they feel like it. You’d therefore be better off planning things to suit you and your team. You can simply call your journalist friends shortly before the editorial deadline to ensure your issue is still fresh in their minds at the right moment.
Don’t drive yourself mad with the internet. Everything ran smoothly in the olden days. It’s completely unnecessary to create a press area on your campaign website. Should the press come looking for anything, they can call you up for a plain and simple conversation.
The election campaign website of your party headquarters looks much like that of the regional branches? Are they even centrally updated? You must know someone personally who’s good with computers. He can most certainly build a far better tailor-made website for you. This is the only way people will realise that you’re in charge of your area. And that’s how it should continue.
She who does her job well has no time to get bored in campaign training programmes. People grow with the challenges of their own work, not by playing little group games led by some sort of PR know-it-all in one of those seminar-style hotels. And you can also forget about the sprawling mass of campaign literature – it all says the same thing and is so out of touch.
You can happily ignore the whole circus that surrounds the image of a campaign. Make sure your things look good on the ground, that you and your friends are impressed, rather than bothering yourself with the bits and pieces provided by the campaign headquarters. With the new graphic design software that’s around, you can do a better job than them on any computer.
If a big crisis or scandal hits the campaign and the phones won’t stop ringing, there aren’t many solutions: pull the plug or turn on the answering machines! As an employee, you’ll only get into trouble if you try to handle things any other way. Someone from the party board or one of the candidates will surely say something – far better for people to focus on him, than on you.
Agencies can never really know your party or its procedures – they are the worst of the whole PR business. If, in search of new ideas, you nonetheless want to work with them, invite them and a few freelancers along to an unpaid competition for the campaign, then implement the best of their ideas by yourself, without any expensive input from the agencies.