Planning the Campaign Strategically

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By Ville Tuominen and Albert Eckert

‘Alice: “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don‘t much care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.’
Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The strategy is the compass for your campaigns. Without a working strategy, a campaign will turn into a series of unplanned reactions to unanticipated events. The strategy defines the aims and shows how they can be achieved.

Planning a campaign is like building a house. First, you decide what to build and where; then you lay the foundations, upon which you create the visible structures and work on the details. The foundations of campaigning are clear objectives, and the blue print is your campaign plan.

A well planned and managed campaign can be flexible as the campaign grows or shrinks. Uncontrolled growth is nearly as harmful for the campaign as shrinking it. And you must make sure from the outset that the structure of the campaign can handle the growth.

The most important phase in designing a successful campaign is determining the reason for campaigning. Ironically, this phase in particular is often skipped. There is no axiomatic campaign objective. The objective has to be specifically decided, it has to be written down and you have to make sure that everyone understands it.

A surprisingly large number of campaigns fail because of vague objective setting. Establishing the objective is, without a doubt, the most important individual decision of the campaign. A small, well-built campaign with a clear objective is better than a large, uncertain one with vague objectives. An effective campaign requires strong team-spirit and a shared objective.

A campaign often has several objectives. In this case, when setting objectives, it is important to prioritise and divide them into the short-term and long-term ones. A campaign should have a clear primary objective, which all the other objectives must follow.

The campaign plan
To develop a strategy (a campaign plan) you need:

  • clear objectives
  • a clear message
  • a decision on the main topics and on the top candidate(s)
  • a precise idea about your target groups
  • in-depth knowledge of the conditions surrounding your campaign (including competitors and opponents)
  • good timing (campaigns are fast, parties tend to be slow), starting with a rough schedule
  • a decision on the style and tone of the campaign
  • an initial decision on the campaigning methods used
  • a rough idea of the human and financial resources you can rely on
  • to write everything down!

A campaign plan that has not been written down is useless. Whenever the campaign faces difficulties it is important to have this strategic document on which people agreed at the start of the campaign.

It is the campaign manger’s task to make sure that all planned issues are carried out on time, and as well organised as possible. If achieving the target result is not possible, the performance should at least be as good as possible.

As a starting point, the implementation of campaign operations must be delegated: it is not a job for the campaign manager or the candidate. Those managing the campaign are in charge of planning, acquiring and allocating resources. Other ‘doers’ will ensure that the tasks assigned to them are performed, and they should be expected to report on progress.

It is significant to note that a campaign can be built in a great many ways. Even identical objectives can be successfully implemented using completely different methods. The fact that some campaigns are always carried out in a certain manner does not, in fact, reveal very much about how they should be done.

The best campaigns are born from a kind of new functional combination of various campaigning methods. It is important to ask why something is done, whether the chosen method is functional, how it could be improved, if the same can be accomplished at lower cost, or in an easier way, etc.

Through joy – positive campaigning
Positive campaigning is the safest and most common basic tone for campaigning. A positive campaign is often better than a negative one: it is generally a more effective means of convincing supporters who have not yet formed an opinion, or who are predisposed to favour the cause you are defending.

Positive campaigns are safe in the sense that they do not easily cause significant damage. Positive campaigns have a slower effect, because a positive campaigner has to convince the target group of his excellence or the excellence of the cause.

In positive campaigns, trust and influence are often built up a little at a time. First, one has to gain the trust of the target person, then the target person must be convinced of the need for change. Finally, the candidate has to sell his or her own solution as the best one. In a positive campaign, it is therefore usually crucial to employ the tactic of several waves, approaching the target group slowly.

A three-wave tactic (as an example)
In the first wave, the target group is prepared for the cause, by presenting the cause and the reasons behind it. In the second wave, more active communication is slowly put in place. In the final wave, a direct action is ultimately suggested.

A positive tone is a rather good starting point. It is better at forgiving small mistakes, and enables long-term, upward-moving campaigning. However, you should start a positive campaign early, so that the impact has time to take effect. But be careful: it is a good idea to start the actual chargeable advertising in municipal elections only a few weeks before the election.

Status communication – a candidate as the ‘host’ of his own campaign
Especially with Green parties, the traditional mistake has been to think that the contents alone of the message are enough. This is not the case, at least in politics, and it will most likely never be. The key is for the message to be presented and supported with favourable status communication.

In practice, this means that in all situations, the candidate must act as though he or she is the host of a party. This method must be used at actual events, as well as when in public. The candidate must ‘host’ all situations for the duration of his or her campaign.

A good host takes control of the space, becomes noticed, and takes note of all those present. A host controls the situation with his or her being. Any participants acting as troublemakers should be guided elsewhere unobserved; the pleasant moments at which the candidate is present should be reserved for welcome guests.

The status expression of a Green Party candidate is considerate, oozing with expertise, emphatic and self-confident, but never arrogant or vulgar. Status communication is one of the most important elements of a campaign, and it is worth rehearsing.

All in all, the Green parties’ brilliant candidates must merely behave as well and look as good as they really are.

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