Policy & Regulation Politics Marketing

Yes, campaigns really can sway people right up to election day


By Hannah Johnson, Global Executive Director

May 29, 2024 | 6 min read

Surely everyone’s made up their minds? Not so, argues Blue State’s Hannah Johnson five weeks ahead of the UK General Election.

A choice of the two lead parties

From our experience working on political and emergency campaigns worldwide, we know that a significant impact can be created in a short timeframe. However, the party that performs best will be the one that has prepped, planned, and is ready to go.

Responding to disasters, legislation changes, and unexpected events–while successfully mobilizing people–is possible. Bringing people together for a cause under almost any timeframe can be done. But the impact is bigger if you’ve done the scenario planning and lined up as much as you can ahead of the moment.

First message to market

Getting those first words in front of people as soon as they see a piece of news is critical. The quicker you get to people (ideally within hours, but definitely within days), the better. The first message you take out sets the tone for the coming weeks.

When the news finally broke, Labour had its election campaign and platform out in the world within hours. This time, there were no long slogans or complicated messages–just one word: Change. Five years have passed since the last election, and the party has decided to drop four words from the previous slogan (‘It’s Time for Real Change’).

On the Conservatives’ side, ads and media were less prepared and more haphazard.

Will the slogans cut it?

The Conservative party has seen real success previously with their three-word statements–swift, to the point, and a clear example of “does what it says on the tin.” While you may not agree with them, you can’t deny that they are memorable and persuasive. We all remember ‘Get Brexit Done’ and ‘Britain Deserves Better.’

The Conservatives have made a marked move away from the Boris slogan days and instead appear to be taking a more matter-of-fact tone. No clever catchphrases; instead, a continued statement of intent in ‘Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.’ Does this have the same powerful ring to it? Can it answer criticism and debate?

Labour is hanging its hat on one word, a tactic that has seen great success in the past (certainly with Obama’s campaign in 2008), which showed the power of singular terms such as “hope,” “progress,” and, of course, “change.” It also used stylistic imagery and a color palette to bring an artistic lens to politics.

However, it’s the activation of these slogans and strategies that will make the difference. We might expect some big, noisy ads–but getting these live and into media will mean they need to be almost instantly ready to go. Any party that’s got ahead here will see a bigger impact.

Communicating beyond slogans

Communicating policies in such a short time frame can seem trickier. On the surface, policies can be more complex and take some time to digest. This is going to be one of the largest hurdles to get over this election. Six weeks isn’t a long time to explain the complexities of your foreign, economic, and domestic policies.

But this too can be done in a compelling way–you can communicate complexity through human connection and by grounding it in people’s lived experiences. This was the approach our US team took when working on the Elizabeth Warren campaign.

We’ve already seen ads launch from the Conservatives suggesting that Labour doesn’t have any policies. That’s a message they feel they can push, as many people won’t have had time to understand these policies.

Labour’s slogan is its response to this in advance: whatever the Conservatives do, Labour stands for change–the opposite, something different. It’s a slogan tailor-made for a short election campaign, as it provides a ready rebuttal. Where parties do get a chance to outline their policies, clarity and brevity will have never been more important.

What really makes the difference?

When news breaks, how can organizations quickly capitalize on it in a way that makes a sustained difference? And when an election is announced, which party can make the best of it in the time available?

The answer is to anticipate. It’s a lesson from PR and crisis management: the unexpected is always going to happen. Plan for it. For most of our clients, we know the next emergency is always going to be around the corner. Floods, hurricanes, famines, surprise legislation–tragically, these things always arrive. So, plan for them.

The news of an election wasn’t really a surprise. It was never going to come with a huge runway, and the date would be opportunistic. You could see that Labour had planned for this scenario. The Conservatives, even as the party controlling the date, may have still been taken more by surprise.

The best way to win is to have started planning for the unexpected years ago. The next best time to plan is today. When time is of the essence, the well-organized will win.

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