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
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.