Companies could benefit from following the procedures of the political
campaign trail, say Andrew Lansley and Paul Wheeler
The political parties have sharpened up their act as the demand for
issue-based campaigning outside elections has grown. Political campaigns
now involve a high level of integration between policy analysis,
polling, market research, direct marketing, advertising and news
management. Politicians increasingly expect that those who seek to lobby
them will adopt similar campaign techniques.
Some think a campaign is about changing opinions; it is not. The purpose
of a campaign is winning hearts and minds, by mobilising prejudices.
That is why they are essentially about simple messages, repeatedly
A desirable pre-requisite for campaigning is to build up, over the
longer-term, an image in the minds of policy-makers - and the public as
necessary - which pre-disposes them to accept your case. Image
conditions responses on issues. Labour has learnt this. It began
repositioning itself within months of the 1992 election defeat.
Campaigns must be informed by opinion research. Opinion surveys have
been a recurrent feature of lobbying campaigns, but how many campaigns
prepare with quantitative and qualitative opinion research, test
arguments and propositions in focus groups before deploying them, and
track reaction in target audiences throughout the campaign?
Research-based campaigns also recognise that to have news impact, the
central message must be continuously backed up with news. To supply
this, teams of party researchers comb data, compile statements of their
opponents, conduct surveys, analyse City forecasts, all in order to
sustain the argument with one new fact. Every time a new fact can be
used, the whole argument can be re-presented.
An essential part of campaigning is at the grass-roots, concentrating on
contact through direct mail, leafletting, letter campaigns, petitions,
phone-ins, local and regional press, third-party endorsements, roadshows
etc. This is essentially propagandist, reiterating the campaign
proposition through preponderant share of voice.
Campaigns need simple slogans which reinforce existing opinions. ‘You
can’t trust Labour’ was used repeatedly in the 1992 campaign and
research showed how voters subsequently used this slogan to sum up their
reasons for rejecting Labour. Similarly, the Labour use of ‘chicken run’
to describe Tory MPs seeking parliamentary constituencies with larger
majorities has entered popular usage.
At a national level, a fast-and-furious operation has to feed the news
agenda and requires a quick response to events and an immediate rebuttal
of opposition material. The public do not respond to news content
immediately. You can win the campaign in the national media for days,
even weeks, before tracking research will show a shift in public
Political parties run issue-based campaigns as part of their long term
positioning and strategy. Firms and interest groups operating in public
policy issues must do the same. They need to ask themselves and their
advisers whether they have taken up the lessons offered by party
Andrew Lansley was director of research for the Conservative Party from
1990-1995. Paul Wheeler was election co-ordinator for Labour from 1992-
1995. Both are now senior consultants with the Public Policy Unit.