COMMENT: PLATFORM; Campaigning the politically correct way

Companies could benefit from following the procedures of the political campaign trail, say Andrew Lansley and Paul Wheeler

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

political experience.

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.

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