Line Kristensen is a former Head of Strategic Campaign Planning for the Conservative Party. She was closely involved in Eric Pickles’ 2017 General Election Review, has worked on numerous campaigns around the world, and currently works for NationBuilder.
When my husband proposed after the local elections in 2016, it was after we’d gone on a number of dates over the course of two years. We’d met each others’ parents and we’d moved in together. Of course, he didn’t propose marriage after our very first date; it was a series of steps that ultimately lead to our marriage in 2017.
In a campaign context, this is what we call moving up the ladder of engagement. You meet people where they are at—if you get in too deep too soon, you scare them away—and the goal of each step is to get your supporters to do more or something more difficult than at the previous step.
A strong email programme is a crucial part of doing this at scale, and the Conservative Party should seize the opportunity to do this more often. There are quite a few benefits to a strong programme. As a method of deepening people’s involvement at scale, responsive email campaigns build trust, allow the party to control their message themselves, and conduct rapid response in an overall cost-efficient way.
The right ask at the right time builds trust
Studies show that the average voter only thinks about politics for four minutes each week. The party needs to make those four minutes count, and it counts more when they are listening and building a real relationship with people based on their interests and previous level of engagement.
You may not like the idea of targeted emails, but it shows respect for people’s time when you meet them where they are and make the most out of those four minutes. An increase in micro-targeting and the volume of emails also lead to a more successful conversion rate, as supporters get the right ask, at the right time that is relevant to them. For an example, current members shouldn’t get asked to join the party again but rather to recruit a friend.
To make the most of email communication, each email must have one clear ask— not ten different ones— that is relevant to the audience they are emailing. Without getting too techy, this type of engagement leads to greater open rates and more emails delivered into inboxes, not spam folders.
Times have changed for national media and rapid response
We’ve moved on from the time when traditional media controlled the message, and rapid response was only done through press releases and leaflets printed overnight. The party no longer have to rely on the national press to pick up an issue and run with it. Nor do they have to hope they frame it as the party intended. Simply put, emails are a way to get the party message directly to supporters without any media spin, filtering, or editing.
This also holds true for rapid response. The evolution of digital communication enables campaigns to do true rapid response both locally and nationally.
Nationally, the Party can get their own unfiltered message out digitally to thousands of supporters without having to wait until the next newscycle. To do so requires change, however, as it often takes too long to get emails signed off and out the door. To keep up with the times, it simply cannot take four days to send an email about a budget presented by a Conservative government. The content doesn’t have to be War and Peace; it can be something as simple as, “These are our latest social media posts about the budget— please share them with your friends and followers.”
Locally, campaigns have often had their hands tied when they needed to refute a claim a day or two before polling day. Smart campaign managers left room within their budget for rapid response. But the reality was that even with the money available, this form of campaigning still depended on the ability to print leaflets last-minute and required serious man power to get them delivered while also running a get-out-the-vote operation.
Email is cheap
Election spending limits in the UK during the last phase of campaigns makes email a very attractive tactic to communicate with voters, supporters and members. Social media is also great, but paid social and advertising costs money.
If you create a systematic strategy to get people to sign up to email updates from you, then you have an advantage, especially locally where restrictions on budgets are much tighter. Emails are virtually free once you have paid the basic cost of your systems, and they don’t tie up your volunteers’ time. Instead, your volunteers can focus on knocking on doors and making phone calls, which is the most effective way of turning out supporters to vote.
Advice for CCHQ
- Hire talent. Talented digital directors can earn a fortune in the private sector, so if CCHQ wants to attract the best, its salary offer needs to match that of a heavy hitter. I believe that CCHQ has hired someone new, and it is crucial that they are treated as someone with a seat at the table when key decisions are made.
- Create a strategic content grid with a plan for what digital communication looks like in the weeks and months ahead.
- Improve the sign-off process. It’s time-consuming, frustrating, and difficult to get emails out the door when working for the party. The process varies depending on its importance, messaging, and ‘voice’, but a modern political party cannot take four days to sen an email about its budget.
- Vary the email ask and frequency. Planning ahead enables CCHQ to broaden the types of email content it sends out, and ensures that the right content gets sent to the right people at the right time. Asking people to join the party or to donate via email is great, but it cannot be the only asks the Party makes of its people again, and again, and again.
- Run issue-based campaigns and petitions online. 20 per cent of your average email list decays each year, so if you’re not constantly signing people up, your list will decrease over the years. Sending frequent emails about issues is a good thing – people don’t mind getting an email once or twice per week, as long as they are relevant, brief, and clear.