For People Interested In Winning Elections

I was passed a Memo yesterday by Louis Perron, the Swiss political campaign adviser, at his presentation in Makati. It begins,

For People Interested In Winning Elections

I like the clarity of the title, so I’ve copied it!

Louis writes,

In 2007 I had the opportunity to observe closely the national elections in Switzerland and The Philippines….I find it striking how the same campaign strategies and tactics worked while the same mistakes caused politicians to lose. The Swiss and The Philippine poltiical systems are about as different as they could be….’

He then gave his seven lessons learned from this accumulation of experience…. as follows –

1. Have a coherent, well-tested, appealing and believable message

The example he gave of bad campaigns in the Philippines were summed up as ‘bullshit rhetoric, nice jingles and empty motherhood statements’. One group called “Team Unity” had the strapline ‘Team Unity. We Will Rock You”. (Neil Kinnock are you listening?) They lost too.

(While on the Kinnocks there was a flurry of anti-Kinnock blogging when it turned out during the recent troubles in Russia, that his son Stephen was head of the British Chamber in St Petersburg. My BCC contacts here tell me that Stephen had estbablished himself in the BCC well before his father or mother had any possibility of pulling strings. He’s excellent at his job and should be left alone.)

2. Start planning and campaigning early

Louis starts,

There are plenty of reasons why politicians don’t want to start campaigning early. They think the effect might be lost by election day, for example. Also they don’t want to spend the money before they have to. Louis repeats the words he heard from a local Philippino politician … “Train early, work hard and you will have an easy fight”.

What I mean by that, writes Louis is laying the groundwork, defining the message, neutralizing weaknesses and showing contrast to potential opponents.

Especially what a candidate should do early is neutralise weaknesses. Every candidate has weaknesses, and these need to be innoculated early.

You can see Gordon Brown making enormous efforts to innoculate his weaknesses, being seen smiling with kids for example. It’s funny how he’s ended up as Prime Minister of Great Britain, but still has no idea as to how to project the right image. It shows how an election might have been effective for Labour in weeding out Gordon’s inabilities which are apparently incapable of innoculation.

Another politician in Switzerland’s SDP Louis describes, was very lucky to win the election, as she had a lot of ‘baggage’ and hadn’t done enough early work to neutralise her weaknesses. Having learned the lessons, though as soon as the election was over, she invited her core group to a meeting to get started on the next election immediately. Louis adds

As we political consultants like to say – ‘After the election is before the election’!

3. Don’t believe early and/or unscientific surveys

early surveys don’t matter as they only reflect awareness of candidates, which can and will change easily. Early surveys always have a bias in favour of established names…. I promised Strapline I wouldn’t mention US politics at all today, but there is surely relevance to the Clinton/Obama saga here.

4. The time of celebrities in politics is over

This is particularly a reference to Philippine politics, where film stars were often elected to the Senate or The Presidency such as Ramos. But don’t scoff. Remember Ronald Reagan. (sorry Strapworld!). And remember Blair trying to cuddle up to Bono, and project his Cool Britannia regime, surrounded by celebs.

According to Louis, in these harsher, less frothy times, celebrity is no longer a draw. Gordon Brown has got that bit right, it seems.

5. Bank heavily on paid advertising

Elections are decided by non-political people, who don’t read blogs or political journals. They can only be reached by ads.

Louis adds – News coverage is good. But there are two problems with it: one, it is hard to get it. and two, the campaign cannot control the message. In most cases the media is only interested in pseudo scandals, celebrities, conflict, blood, poll numbers, chizmis (what’s a chizmi?)….but certainly not the campaign message….

In paid advertising, however, a candidate can communicate what he wants and he is addressing millions of tv watchers. Advertising is an unwelcome guest; it’s hitting those who don’t want to be hit.’

Another point worth adding is that once an election is called, there is so much clutter going around, it is almost impossible to build a campaign message. A Pound spent on advertising before an election period is worth ten pounds during one.

6. Stay loyal to your image(or change it slowly)

Sometimes a politician needs to innoculate him/herself against a perceived negative. For example, Brown tried to present his lack of communication skill relative to Blair and Cameron as due to the fact that he was less frivolous and would be more reliable. He wanted to project an image of silent strength and reliability. The attempt to innoculate Brown went very well during his ‘bounce’, but unfortunately it became clear very quickly that he wasn’t strong at all, but jumpy – as became particularly apparent when he pulled out of the election.

7. Don’t overbuild expectations

If you allow people to talk up your prospects, then doing well will be perceived as only as expected and will not excite people.
It sometimes helps to be the underdog to begin with, I guess. Conservatives, take note.

I wonder if Rachel Whetstone (Pictured), Cameron’s Campaigns adviser knows all this stuff.

I’m sure she does!

The Tap Blog is a collective of like-minded researchers and writers who’ve joined forces to distribute information and voice opinions avoided by the world’s media.

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