Campaigning is when marketing becomes a sport – suddenly you’re playing to win. But campaigning is far more important than netball or AFL. In sport there’s always another round, another season, but there may never be another chance to pass legislation, save a landmark or salvage a species from extinction.
The stakes are high, which is why campaigning matters. It’s very difficult to do well.
Campaigning requires skills in all aspects of marketing – tactical thinking, digital communications, lobbying, media relations, public speaking – as well as organising, demonstrating, researching and the rest. Then you have the complexities that come with recruiting and leading a team of humans and working to deadlines and milestones over which you have no control. On top of all that, there may be people campaigning against you. (Honestly – the very idea!) But if you think you haven’t got a chance in hell of actually changing the world for the better, think again. I never thought I’d co-found a campaign that kept a trillion-dollar company (Apple) out of Melbourne’s Federation Square, a public space with significant cultural heritage value. All it took was a crack team, 18 months of continuous hard work and 78 lucky breaks. (Read more about how we did it here.)
Campaign fundamentals you must master
I’m always tempted to start solo, which means there’s no delay, no discussion and no conflict. But I’ve realised that recruiting the right mix of people is essential. The team that first gathers may not be your best option. Extend invitations to people with the right connections or skills – they may be flattered. Your leaders need to keep everyone feeling both valued and accountable. They need to hold efficient meetings and delegate as appropriate. There will be instances of conflict and bad behaviour – the leaders must deal with these decisively. In short, they must be saintly.
People are busy, so your campaign must cut through or die. Choose a personality for your campaign: cheeky, confronting, confident, knowing, passionate, angry – the choice is yours but you have to appeal to likely supporters and look like a campaign worth supporting.
You need a range of tactics. Don’t rely solely on an online petition, social media or a damning newspaper article. It’s unlikely to work. Trial different options, evaluate their success and be quick to change strategy if you’re not finding the goalposts.
Community campaigns shouldn’t be afraid to ask for money. Some people would rather donate cash than volunteer their time. The earlier you can get the dollars flowing in, the more valuable they are, because you’re likely to need some cash to establish your campaign and get a sense of your fundraising capacity. That said, money is over-rated. Look at Clive Palmer’s campaign budget to victory ratio.
Make it easy
Beyond a certain core group of supporters, most people will have only a passing interest in your campaign. Make it easy for them to support you. Give them one action at a time, pre-fill letters, provide envelopes for mailing, arrange transport to the big meeting – whatever it takes to keep things simple. Then thank your supporters as though they did it all by themselves.
Campaign failures and what’s behind them
I’ve been a part of many campaigns. Between you and me, most of them have failed. Here’s why campaigns fail.
Lack of buy-in
My 3 Million Reasons campaign to recruit people into the aged care industry failed in part because it gained little support from a dozen large industry players, each with their own agenda.
Lack of resources – usually human
Campaigns require immense energy. It’s easy to publish a couple of tweets and expect the world to change, but successful campaigns require endless phone calls, follow-ups, double-checks, coffee meetings and research. This can last years. So how much work are you willing to do between now and mid-2023?
Lack of passion
Campaigning is not a spectator sport. There’s a reason why volunteer campaigns are so often successful – they’re fuelled by passionate people who celebrate every milestone and take setbacks personally. If you’re passionate and you get paid for it, all power to you. But those who record their overtime and won’t work beyond their job description are unlikely to succeed.
There’s more to say and I’ve said it in the campaigning webinar ‘Take control’, which you can watch on replay here. Plus there’s a bonus John Farnham reference. Enjoy.
Brett de Hoedt helps organisations communicate for good, not evil, at his agency Hootville Communications.