St Albans City & District Council kick off comms drive ahead of local elections

St Albans City & District Council has embarked on a push to encourage its electorate to remember to register to vote and have their say in May's local elections.

St Albans is using the Electoral Commission's visual assets to help encourage voter registration
St Albans is using the Electoral Commission's visual assets to help encourage voter registration

So far the Hertforshire-based council has issued a press release for a general audience and tweeted about the need to register. It plans on sending out more comms nearer the registration deadline, while an alert for new homeowners and movers is planned imminently.

The activity comes in the wake of a national campaign launched by the Electoral Commission using the slogan "Got 5?" to highlight how quickly and easily people can register to vote.

The council will mix traditional and digital comms, issuing press releases around key dates such as the deadline to apply for a postal or proxy vote.

St Albans has a comparatively politically engaged electorate. The area contains 107,763 eligible voters, with the turnout for its last district elections hitting above the national average, at 39.47%.

The council said that turnouts for general elections and referenda have been pretty high partly because there is a split in the district The Conservatives have the majority, but only a small one, closely pressed by the Lib Dems.

The three-strong comms team is well-versed in election campaigning, as the council holds elections every year. Unlike many areas, St Albans staggers councillor terms, meaning that one third of its councillors are elected each year, followed by one year when county council and general elections are held.

The authority conduct awareness campaigns, encouraging the electorate to register to vote, every year.

As well as the work conducted by the district comms team, a full-time election staff will work on encouraging voter registration, as well as McJannet's line manager – executive and communications manager Claire Wainwright.

Aside from its press releases and media relations work, St Albans uses its Twitter (it has more than 10,000 followers) and Facebook accounts to reinforce messaging.

"We tend to be guided by the Electoral Commission, because its comms resources are greater than ours and it has graphics that can be used on social media," said John McJannet, principal communications manager at St Albans City & District Council

The council has so far retweeted the Electoral Commission's campaign launch tweet, while it has been liaising with local press on stories about key dates.

Most of the communications have been shaped around reaching the main electorate and people who have moved house recently. The area's student population is not sizeable enough to warrant targeted comms.

For future campaigns, St Albans is looking at other channels to reach its electorate. This month it launched a MyStAlbans online account that people can sign up to and use for various local services, such as getting sent customised information and paying bills. Once it has attracted a sufficient number of subscribers, the authority may use the channel to contact people about voting and registration.

In terms of measurement, McJannet said that – as well as counting the number of registrations and applications – the council would look at the coverage it achieved, assessing exposure, and monitor the number of hits, 'likes' and engagements it garnered via its social activity. He admitted that the impact of its activity would be difficult to measure due to the fact that many voters register via the government's centralised registration hub.

"It's pretty much essential to try and engage the electorate," McJannet said. "The council has made big decisions on their behalf on a range of issues and needs to communicate to people what those decisions are and, in terms of elections, remind them to have their say by voting."

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