CAMPAIGNS: Local Government - A poll call to the youth of Cheltenham

Client: Cheltenham Borough Council

Client: Cheltenham Borough Council

Campaign: To encourage young people to register to vote

PR team: In-house communications team

Timescale: September 1999 - May 2000

Budget: pounds 3,000

Turnout in local elections is traditionally low, averaging around 36 per

cent and often falling to half that level among the young. The Local

Government Association organised Local Democracy Week in mid-September

to catch the deadline by which people need to register for next May’s

local elections.

Cheltenham felt that it had a particular problem involving young people

who comprise 25 per cent of its electorate. Its contribution to Local

Democracy Week was to create a campaign targeting the town’s

disenfranchised youth with the message that it is their town as well,

and that they should take responsibility for it.


The primary aim of the campaign was to encourage people in the 18- to

24-year-old age bracket to register to vote, thereby increasing the

likelihood that they will turn out at the next election.

Strategy and Plan

There was an awareness that young people in the ancient spa town of

Cheltenham had little feeling of involvement or ownership in their

community. In a bid to gain the interest of the youth sector, the

council’s communications department decided to launch a campaign that

would emphasise some of the ways in which it directly helps young

people, which in turn would give them more incentive to register to


The council created an advertising campaign highlighting the support the

local council gives to the skateboarding ramp, late licences for night

clubs and registration of body piercers.

The latter featured a provocative picture of pierced local girl,

19-year-old Naomi Jo Hughes. The posters, with the strapline ’Make your

mark: live by your choices, not someone else’s’ were displayed in bus

shelters, shops, pubs and clubs around the town.

An exhibition caravan on the town promenade became the focus point of

the campaign. Amplification of the story was planned via link-ups with

the local independent radio station CAT FM and the local paper which ran

the story highlighting the image of Hughes’ pierced face.

Measurement and Evaluation

The picture of Hughes was picked up by most of the national press, ITN

news, Central television, Sky News, Newsnight, local and national radio

and even became a question on BBC2’s Have I Got News For You.

The final effect will not be evident until the next local elections.

However a post-campaign survey found that two-thirds of those who did

not vote last year said they were more likely to vote next time


This news prompted another flurry of coverage this week.


Although carried out with a tiny budget, this was an almost textbook

example of an integrated campaign using advertising and exhibition as

the subject matter for a PR campaign. The strategy of highlighting what

the council does for youth was spot on and the execution was


Most of the stories in the nationals were about ’the modern face of


Some looked at the issue of young people’s apathy in elections.

Even the few negative stories about the body piercing played into

Cheltenham’s hands by making the council look more accepting of youth

culture. There is no doubt that the council’s communications department

manufactured its own luck with this campaign.

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