A view from Mark Cridge

Perspective: What I learned after swapping digital for political campaigns

Writing about advertising, as you might guess, is somewhat different from actually creating advertising.

In the same way, I found recently that creating advertising for a political party is of a different order from actually conducting a political campaign.

It's a cliche that all politics is local and that political campaigns are won "on the ground"; however, this point was driven home to me personally when I took some time off to volunteer for the Green Party's campaign in Brighton.

The first thing that stood out was the length of time and amount of sustained effort that goes into the preparation and build-up. Each individual election campaign is part of a continuous process where data is gathered and local knowledge is built up, which is then used to improve the future targeting of limited resources and provide a focus for the efforts of canvassers, door-knockers and leafleters on rainy days and snowy nights.

This continuous process of test and learn is one that you'll often hear advocated by agencies, but to see it in action over what has clearly been a number of election cycles was impressive.

The second thing that struck me was how each individual part of the process was particularly structured to collect specific information, each individual scrap of information eked out over repeated visits. For instance, canvassing over a period of months identified potential voters. On election day, these voters where ticked off as each went to cast their ballot; or if not, they were "knocked up" on the day to remind them to vote.

The vagaries of the election night counting process also provide a mine of useful information. As ballots are poured out on to the tables for sorting, flocks of samplers from each party would buzz around each table edge, keeping track of how many votes are cast for each party. This sample wasn't about the final amounts, which of course we'd know in a few hours; rather, it was essential information for the next election to aid in the targeting of door-knocking in years to come.

One aspect of this for me, being a fan of all things digital, was that if we moved to electronic voting, all of this essential data drawn from the paper ballots would simply vanish with no way for individual parties to easily gauge support in each ward. A rare example of analogue winning out over digital!

Just as political marketing can shape the outlines of a campaign, leaving space for others to fill in, so too do the sustained efforts of activists on the ground help identify the demands and requirements for specific political marketing efforts.

A humbling reminder that the "ad" is rarely the be-all and end-all, and that even though we may harp on about the latest poster, all campaigns are ultimately won on the ground.

- Mark Cridge is the global managing director of Isobar.

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