Sunday, June 04, 2017

General election 2017 - pre-election communications review

This is the third year in a row now that I have been collecting all the leaflets that come through the door ahead of an election. Two years ago we had a General Election (review here) and last year we had the Welsh Assembly elections (review here).

With the election less than a week away I thought this would be a good time to blog, except I'm at a disadvantage to previous occasions. Usually by now every party who are going to put something through my door will have put something through my door, but even though there are seven candidates standing in my constituency, I've only seen literature from three of them. It would appear the Tories have given up on trying to win South Cardiff. The Lib Dems are still a dead duck locally. And UKIP have vanished in a puff of smoke after pushing the most stuff through our door just two years ago. From boom to post-Brexit bust, it appears, for them.

Meanwhile, Labour are throwing the kitchen sink at this election, helped by a lot of boots on the ground canvassing. A record 10 items from them, the most from any single party since I started looking at this way back in 2007. More about Labour later. (All the scans later down in this post should open larger if you click on them- sorry that some edges are cut off).

Anyway, this lack of leaflets means I'm not going to do my usual thing of rating them, awarding points for positive promises and dinging points for every swipe they take at the opposition.

First to the real underdogs in the fight to become our MP. I was delighted to get a leaflet from the Pirate Party, mainly because I had no idea who they were and, Arrrrrrr! Pirates! Their candidate is Jeb Hedges, and I like the fact that Jeb does sound like a pirate name. He also has a pirate-ish beard. Sadly no eye patch or parrot. That would have sold me.

I actually agree with a lot of what the Pirate Party stand for. Free knowledge. Open Government. Respect for privacy and concerns about the Snooper's Charter. And I especially like the sound of "Evidence Driven Democracy". They crowd-source their policies and want technology to benefit everyone. That all sounds very sensible, but the silly name puts me off.

Onto the next party, who have put three leaflets through the door, Plaid Cymru. It would appear that Plaid have gone into full tilt Sons of Glyndwr mode, painting themselves as the defenders of Wales against the English parties who are all "London-based". They are going to fight for the best Brexit deal possible and make sure that Wales doesn't lose out when the EU funding that has dragged the country into the 21st Century dries up. Yeah, good luck getting money from the UK Government for Wales.

This is Ian's main leaflet. It's bilingual and this is the Welsh side.

Now, I am very careful about saying anything personal about candidates. What I would say, though, and this is solely from a professional point of view, with a long background in communications, is if you are going to publish your photo on a leaflet and shove it through 9,000 doors you should make sure it's a good quality photo. And you should try to smile. Ian is squinting into the sun in one photo, and barely smiling in the other, which looks like it was taken on a phone. You're with the party leader, man! Look like you're pleased about it!

Plaid are pretty left wing but I have issues with nationalism. I'm not too bothered by the anti-English sentiments, but I don't think pitching your party as the only way to protect your family from those bastards over there is particularly promising. Even if every constituency returned a Plaid MP, those forty brave souls aren't going to achieve much unless they can get on with the Saes.

And so on to Labour. As mentioned, a record-breaking 10 items through the letterbox, seven of them delivered by Royal Mail.

I quite like our MP, Stephen Doughty. I wasn't hugely convinced when he was put forward for the by-election in 2012, but he's done alright in the past five years. Like most of the MPs he hasn't been a fan of Corbyn, but that might change the way things are going. He's also voted against Brexit so good on him.

I like it when he puts positive leaflets through the door, like this:

OK, he does mention the Tories, who have never been anywhere close to challengers for as long as I can remember and I've voted in five general elections here. But it's a nice positive message. The informal photo is OK, it looks like a selfie and he's smiling.

However, we also had this:

I really don't know why they didn't go the whole hog and have someone wearing jackboots stamping all over Wales. Smart shoes and suit trousers could be anyone. The reverse of this warns about people being thrown out of work under the Tories, massive education cuts, the death of the NHS and so on. Never mind that education and the NHS are devolved issues, funded by the Welsh Government. It's a bit of an odd scare tactic. The Tories won't run Wales if they win the General Election. True that might still be able to ruin Wales, by turning off the cashflow to the Welsh Assembly Government (and they probably will, because why put money into a country that keeps electing people who aren't Tory?), but they can't run it without winning a Welsh Assembly Election.

Cathy and I also had a nice letter each from Carwyn Jones. Again, I quite like Carwyn. He seems genuine and like he wants to do what's best for Wales. His key message: don't vote Tory, you fools!

But that wasn't the only letter I've received. I've saved the best for last and it is the last election communication to arrive. My friend Matt had received a copy the day before and sent me photos of it simply because it is a stunning piece of direct mail. The letter is addressed to 'Dear Friend', is printed in a hand-written font, which might even be reproduced handwriting, and is from a lady called Vera in Blaenrhondda. Vera talks about how she remembers the dark, disastrous days of the miner's strike and how village after village had its heart ripped out. Her message: Don't vote Tory, you fools!

As someone who has written direct mail, and looked into the dark science in some detail, I think this is by far the best piece of pre-election communication I have ever seen. (I'm so glad I have my own copy!) I loved this. From the start when Vera talks about how angry she gets when people accuse her of just voting Labour because everyone else does, through to her reminiscence of the "good old bad days" (as Matt cleverly put it). Matt said he thought it would really appeal to the older generation, and I agree. You can forget your Facebook memes, it's the older generation who bother to go out and vote and this is pitched at them. If I get time I would like to talk to some older people and see if this has resonated with them.

Here's both sides of the letter - click on it to get it all bigly:

There's one aspect of the mailing that really lets it down. Again, this is looking at it from a professional point of view, but the envelope is utter garbage.

The hardest thing in direct mail is to get your prospective customer to open the sodding envelope! You can have the best, most perfectly crafted direct mail letter inside, but if the letter looks like junk mail it will get junked.

This looks like junk mail. Vera's brilliant letter, full of emotional hooks, and dire warnings of what might happen again if you vote Tory, is utterly let down by the packaging. Imagine what this would have looked like if it had a handwritten font envelope. Even better yet, imagine if this had a real stamp on it. (People almost always open direct mail with real stamps on.) As a perfect piece of pre-election mail, it's a case of so near, and yet so bland!

If this feedback gets back to Labour, sort out your envelopes. And at the rate things are going, they'll be able to have an even better shot at producing the best piece of election mail ever in 2018. Because elections seem to be an annual event now.

Remember to vote on Thursday.

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