‘With a digital campaign it’s all about tweaking the cycle’

Written by What message are you trying to get across when you make a video about AV? on 14 April 2011 in Diary
We interview two members of the team behind No to AV’s digital strategy, Jag Singh and Lara Smallman

JS: We brought Lara on as a video expert. We wanted to use video as the most central medium to get our message across. We figured, quite early on, that no one was going to be interested in the campaign or the issue and doing something on YouTube seemed to be the only way of getting something across, other than setting things up on Facebook, etc. So far we’ve proven right. We’re about neck and neck [with Yes to Fairer Votes] on Twitter and Facebook but many more on YouTube.

JS: The idea was that it’s not going to be just a digital campaign. It’s overlaid on top of our ground war, our media, our research. So the most important thing we want to do is compliment the rest of our campaign. So we had 19 official AV debates across the country and Lara was making sure people weren’t just informed about those debates on AV but also aware of the behind-the-scenes look at organising those debates.

LS: Nothing happens in isolation so there are always ongoing opportunities to get involved.

Are you having to focus a lot on rapid rebuttals online?

LS: There’s no point having an argument on Twitter because only about 50 or 60 people are going to get to see it. It’s a waste of time, a bit of back and forth.

Yes to Fairer Votes are working with Blue State Digital. When you came on board, what was your big plan?

JS: The key behind Blue State Digital is they have a great technical platform that they mould to fit whatever organisation they’re working with and they’ve been doing work with the Electoral Reform Society for a couple of years now. For them it was quite simple, just re-badge a couple of things and they already have a built platform. They are most famous for their email marketing programs and we tried fairly early on to try and go head-to-head with that. But we were starting from an email base of about zero whereas the other guys had about 160 – UnlockDemocracy, Take Back Parliament, VoteforChange, Power2010, were amalgamated and given to them.

How did you cope with that?

JS: It was hard. We had to spend a lot of money on advertising. We decided we wouldn’t talk to people on our side directly or via email, so instead we would have a ‘hub and spoke’ strategy. Our site would be the hub but would have loads of spokes going out where users were already congregating, Facebook, for example. It was about building links with those smaller communities. So we successfully tapped into the Labour FPTP group on Facebook who has a few thousands members.

If we turn to video production: what made you want to come work for No to AV, Lara?

I’d done a lot of things independently and I wanted to get some campaign experience and focus a video into a campaign with a team so as soon as it cropped up. It’s such an important cause and I want to work in something I believe in that’s so crucial.

How are you targeting people? What’s your demographic? Do you storyboard it?

LS: There’s a team of us going through it much like we would any video, so we’re storyboarding it. It’s not just me.

How do you know where to target?

JS: It depends on the message. We plug in to a lot of the focus groups already taking place. We look at the messages and see who they would best fit with. We launched an anti-BNP video last Friday and there’s a whole creative process but when you drill it down, you say these are the points you want to get across. And then you look at what the best way of getting those across are. So a sinister looking candidate might scare people away. Maybe we’ll go with an infographic video. So we need a voice. Who do we get? A celebrity? An unknown voice? Do we put a casting call out? If so, does that person need to be posh, white etc. So there’s a whole lot of decisions need to be made.

How much of what you’re doing online is education? And have you gone negative much?

LS: It might seem negative because we’re saying ‘No’ but for positive reasons!

JS: Occasionally we’re rebutting some of the more ludicrous arguments from the other side but most the time we’re trying to engage with the average voter who is concerned they might not know as much about AV as they ought to. Then there are those who pile on to Twitter but you can’t help that. We’re making an effort to respond to people who email us back. It’s about making sure we’re plugging in to the other parts of the campaign.

Jag, you’ve worked on a lot of election campaigns. How does a referendum campaign compare?

JS: I don’t think anyone in the office has worked on a referendum campaign. The way elections are run in the US, you try to make it a referendum on the person. Over here, because there isn’t that entrenched... the No to AV argument is: we all want fairer votes, we want MPs to work harder but AV isn’t the way to do it. There are other ways we can strengthen our democracy, the right to recall for example. This isn’t a referendum on keeping things the way they are versus AV. It’s more that the alternative vote isn’t right. There isn’t that emotional attachment to the situation we currently have. How did we tap into the Labour No and Conservative No? Because of data information laws we can’t just pass information to each other. The Yes campaign got in trouble for that. We tried to offer an opt-in process on other emails.

What other elements are there to your digital strategy?

JS: Advertising is the key way of getting things across.

Where are you advertising and why there?

JS: Depends on the audience and the message you’re trying to get across. Initially we tried to get our message across to journalists who are the ones that have given us most attention, helping us spread our message through to the masses, undoubtedly through a filter. We don’t have the kind of funding the Yes campaign does to send out the amount of leaflets they do, for example. What we do is very targeted to very specific initiatives. Later this week we’re going to announce we’ve got even more Labour MPs in support so we’re going to be pushing that regionally, so buying add space in the local papers, contacting the regional blogs, and push out the ideas.

Individually, so far, what are you most proud about in the campaign?

LS: The teamwork. It’s the most important thing and we all contributed individually.

JS: We have a few things up our sleeve. Basically everything’s going to happen in the three days before the referendum when 90% of our budget’s going to be spent.


JS: Partly the funding pressure but with every campaign you want to get bang for your buck. If we scatter things out the week before the Royal Wedding then all of sudden the oxygen is going to be sucked out, everyone is going to be talking about Will and Kate and then there’s a vacuum in the three days before. We don’t want to be in that position. We also think most people will make their minds up in the week before.

Have you made any mistakes so far or could have done better?

JS: Everything! It’s not like a leaflet you send out and that’s it. With a digital campaign it’s all about tweaking that cycle. You plan it, buy the ads for it, put it out there, run the campaign, then you go back and look at the analytics and replicating what worked and the only way to do that is by continually testing. Hopefully we’ll figure it out by 5 May.

Tags: AV referendum, Jag Singh, Lara Smallman, No to AV

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