On Saturday a lady came up to me at a party and told me that she was surprised that in this day and age we were still knocking on doors. She asked if we had ever considered sending emails or phoning people instead. In a previous job she was apparently a marketing consultant and would be very happy to advise me on how to win elections.
Through somewhat gritted teeth I thanked the lady for her interest and assured her that we did use email and phone, in fact during the campaign we collected around 12,000 email addresses and made over 40,000 phone calls.
I did however encourage her write a paper on what we could do better as we all have things to learn, regardless of how long we have been in the business. Asking people to write a paper is one of my favourite ways to sort the wheat from the chaff. Everyone is happy to sound off and tell you what you are doing wrong, but actually sitting down and committing a strategy to paper requires thought, understanding and attention to detail; the very qualities which those prone to "sounding off" in front of an audience often lack.
Despite being an "early adopter" of new campaign technologies, I still hold a very old fashioned and basic view of how to win an election in three steps:
1. Use the peacetime between elections to identify
(a) those who will always support us,
(b) those who need persuading to support us, and
(c) those who will never support us
2. Develop the messages that will motivate group (a) and win over as many of group (b) as possible
3. Use the short campaign to ensure everyone in groups (a) and (b) are aware of the advantage and necessity of voting for our candidate.
It is a remarkably simple concept made harder by those who think every election is a battle of ideology which must be fought on each and every doorstep during the four weeks of April.
Within the above strategy a good campaigner holds a small armoury of weapons - some blunt (leaflets to every door), others niche (direct mail, targeted email and social media) others laser guided. For example, this year we linked Voter ID survey responses to variable paragraph direct mail, sending over 240 versions of the same letter to specific groups of voters based on what they told us their major local concerns were. We also developed personalised leaflets for swing voters; the same basic leaflet with the content changing from house to house, again based on what that voter had told us mattered most to them and their family.
All of this requires hard work and a year-round strategy. You cannot target messages if you don't know which issues concern people. You cannot drive turnout if you do not know the addresses of those who will vote for you and those who never will. You cannot win over the doubters if you don't know who they are or what concerns them.
And the only way to find this is to knock on their doors with your clipboard (or phone them up) and talk to them.
Sometimes I think I am old fashioned and fear the bandwagon is leaving me behind, so I was pleased when a friend who knows a thing or to about campaigning sent me this message:
Who is Mark Neeham I hear you ask - well he's Executive Director of Crosby-Textor Group, who've probably helped win more elections throughout the world than everyone else I know combined!
As the old saying goes.... "Winning elections isn't difficult. It's just hard work!