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Creativity is helping Operation Black Vote empower 21st-century civil rights activists

Following a hard-hitting awareness campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi designed to get underrepresented voters into voting booths during Thursday’s local elections, non-partisan group Operation Black Vote is leaning on the agency to spread its message far and wide beyond polling day.

Following a hard-hitting awareness campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi designed to get underrepresented voters into voting booths during Thursday’s local elections, non-partisan group Operation Black Vote is leaning on the agency to spread its message far and wide beyond polling day.

Local elections in the UK on Thursday (May 6) mark the first major vote since George Floyd’s murder under the knee of a police officer almost one year ago.

Floyd’s death led to some 200,000 people attending mass rallies in cities including London and Bristol as the campaign to tackle racial injustice reached new heights. 135 arrests were made, and countless headlines were grabbed. However, despite the desire among underrepresented communities to create real change, many are not exercising their right to vote.

According to Operation Black Vote (OBV) – the non-partisan and not-for-profit national organisation established in 1996 to address a democratic deficit among Black Asian Minority Ethnic (BAME) communities – BAME individuals are still showing worryingly low levels of registration compared to the national average.

According to OBV’s numbers, BAME non voter registration sat at 24%, compared to 6% in white communities ahead of the local elections. Based on this stat, the group knew it had to take action in the lead-up to the voter registration deadline on April 19, encouraging people to register to go to the polls as a starting point.

Presented with such stark figures, Lord Simon Woolley, director of OBV, cross-party peer and former chair of No 10’s race disparity unit, turned to long-time agency Saatchi & Saatchi to quickly turn around a campaign to confront the issue head on.

“Activism takes many forms. The most radical political act you can do is to register to vote, and vote,” he explains.

“After seeing how movements like Black Lives Matter and the George Floyd protests had galvanized young people, we wanted to capture that energy with a central message.”

All for nothing?

The result was ‘All for Nothing’, an urgent 60-second film designed to encourage all underrepresented communities (not just BAME individuals) to register to vote.

Turned around in just eight days by Saatchi & Saatchi, the campaign focused on the ease and importance of registration. Its central message was that by failing to vote, the on-going crusade to tackle racial disparity was ‘all for nothing’.

“We wanted to show that along with protesting and other forms of activism, voting is one other way young people can use political power for change. The local elections are some of the most important outside of the general election – because it’s here key local policies around housing, schools and social spaces are decided.”

Woolley continues: “Above all, we had to make sure this awareness push was successful in challenging young people about understanding power; where it lies, and how it can be accessed.”

Saatchi & Saatchi quickly mobilized a team to turn around the work with a tight deadline.

“We had to move fast to mobilize young people,” says the creative shop’s managing director Sarah Jenkins, admitting that over the past year the agency has been on its own diversity journey since Floyd’s death sparked outrage across the globe.

“We’ve had eight months of accelerated education, engagement and brutally honest conversations as we looked at how we could be better anti-racists in a changing world,” she reveals. “Our industry has the power to create change on a societal level. The revolution has many lanes. The only wrong thing to do is to do nothing.”

As such, when Saatchi & Saatchi started work on the brief, Jenkins was careful to ensure its creative team was having the “right conversations” with the very people it wanted to target.

“We worked hard to ensure a diverse team stayed close to the work – it was definitely one of those moments where people were clamoring to work on the project, everyone wanted to be involved.”

Getting smart about media

The fruits of OBV’s and Saatchi & Saatchi’s labor will become more evident as the local results are called in over the course of Friday (May 7) and the voter demographics are more closely examined. However, a smart media plan has helped OBV amplify its measures further and set the course for its next plan of action.

“It was important to us to take the campaign mainstream – with backing from the Daily Mirror and BT – but we also wanted to go below the radar and use platforms like Clubhouse and influencers,” says Woolley.

Ahead of the deadline to register, Woolley took part in a Clubhouse debate with Dayo Okewale, chief of staff in the House of Lords. He also appeared as a guest on the 3 Shots of Tequila podcast, taking part in a a conversation about Black youth empowerment with host Marvin Abbey.

Woolley believes the use of these platforms, combined with the frank, visible conversations with influencers, will lay the building blocks for the next stage of the campaign – which is about keeping the conversation around political empowerment top of mind for underrepresented communities. As a direct result of this push, OBV representatives are going to the US to meet with Stacey Abrams, who played a pivotal part in Biden’s election via her voting rights organisation Fair Fight, which schools voters in Georgia on the importance of democratic participation and voter rights.

For Woolley, being a client that’s open to quick, creative executions has proven to be invaluable in crafting a message that cut through.

“Because the timeline was so quick for the initial campaign, there were some fraught conversations, but I wanted to allow our agency as much creativity and freedom as possible, so we were pretty open to everything.”

Jenkins agrees that having a client who was “open to all ideas” resulted in the best awareness push possible. Saatchi & Saatchi partnered with Prodigious on the production of the campaign and MSL has handled all PR activity, who all leaned into the spirit of collaboration, producing work for social and press that extended into polling day.

For Woolley, though, regardless of the election result and turnout, there’s still much progress to be made.

“Voting absolutely makes a difference. Look no further than what occurred last November in the US. The voters voted for an end to racial division, and for racial equality for all communities. We’ve seen people here protest for change.

“The first part is getting people to register to vote, the second part is getting them to the polls. Then, after that, we need to continue the momentum, build trust and politically empower a new generation of 21st-century civil rights campaigners.”