CAMPAIGN DIRECT PROFILE: MICHAEL CUNNINGTON - A marketing expert who helped New Labour turn the tables on the Tories. How Michael Cunnington’s team became the crucial tool for raising cash and support By Andrew Grice.

Michael Cunnington, an ardent football fan, did not think he would ever re-live the excitement he felt when Leeds United won the league championship in 1992. Yet he managed to exceed it last May, when at 2am on general election night, he stopped organising Labour’s victory rally at the Royal Festival Hall and finally joined in.

Michael Cunnington, an ardent football fan, did not think he would

ever re-live the excitement he felt when Leeds United won the league

championship in 1992. Yet he managed to exceed it last May, when at 2am

on general election night, he stopped organising Labour’s victory rally

at the Royal Festival Hall and finally joined in.



Tony Blair’s triumph was the culmination of eight years of hard labour

for Cunnington, though it was also a labour of love: working for the

party was his first real job after he left Sheffield University with a

politics degree.



Both Cunnington and Labour have come a long way since he joined the

party in 1989. Outgunned by a Tory direct mail blitz at the 1987

election and facing an income crisis because of falling trade union

membership, Labour tentatively set up the two-man fund-raising team of

Cunnington and Simon Pell who, after launching Labour’s telemarketing

operation, set up an agency, Pell and Bales, which works for the

party.



Today, Cunnington, as Labour’s head of marketing and fund-raising, runs

a 32-strong department which turned the tables on the Tories last year,

raising pounds 4 million during the election campaign and running a

sophisticated targeting operation in its 90 battleground seats. Labour

now boasts a database of 13 million known and potential supporters,

which is consistently refined with back-up from NDL and ICD.



With hindsight, Cunnington admits Labour could have bitten the DM bullet

quicker, but he adds: ’We now have a very strong operation. One of the

most rewarding things is that marketing is now regarded part of the

mainstream work of the party.’



Cunnington gradually increased the slender resources available to WWAV

Rapp Collins, which held the party’s account from 1987 until 1995 when,

Cunnington says, there was an amicable parting of the ways because ’we

had gone as far together as we could’.



The biggest cultural change under Cunnington was setting up a national

membership register which, despite early teething troubles, allowed him

to build up a list of 70,000 donors who gave an average of pounds 5 a

month by standing order or direct debit. They now provide a vital pounds

4 million of the party’s pounds 20 million annual income.



The recruitment drive was given a huge boost with the election of Blair

as leader in 1994; membership rose from 240,000 to today’s 400,000. What

better for the marketing department than an attractive new product and a

boss committed to rebranding the party? ’New Labour’ was a brilliantly

simple message that could be used in both mailshots and ads.



The two pieces of work of which Cunnington is most proud are a stick-on

membership card attached to recruitment leaflets, inviting people to

fill in their name and then phone Labour to join, which symbolised the

party’s new openness, and a straightforward ’Keep Labour in Front’

graphic used in direct mail and inserts.



Evans Hunt Scott, which succeeded WWAV after a pitch, is one half of

what both agency and client see as a formidable partnership of political

and commercial nous. ’A DM agency should be more than just a production

house, you have to use its brains,’ Cunnington says. It helps that EHS

is politically committed to Labour on more than on a strictly commercial

basis. Terry Hunt, executive creative director at EHS, shares the

assessment of Cunnington by his Labour colleagues that he is ’a pro and

a nice guy to work with’. Hunt says: ’Labour expects a lot but it also

gives a lot back.’



Now Labour is in power, their joint task is, if anything, harder than in

opposition. A pounds 4 million deficit must be wiped out and party

supporters are nervous about the Government’s intentions, particularly

regarding welfare. Another problem is that Cunnington must be careful

about Labour’s high-profile donors, as the Bernie Ecclestone affair

showed.



Although Cunnington, 33, describes himself as ’a party hack’, his track

record means he could easily move to more lucrative private sector

pastures.



But he is staying put, determined to face new challenges such as the

Internet.



’There are a million and one things to do,’ he says.



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