I attended a great GCN Speakers event last Tuesday evening with Kevin Steele from Climate Week (amongst many other great campaigns).

Its safe to say that Kevin is veteran in the world of campaigning, with over 20 years experience running hugely successful campaigns. This is a brief list of some of his past campaigning, there is much more:

  • the anti-poverty Trade Justice Movement
  • Jubilee 2000
  • Ethics for USS
  • Global Entrepreneurship Week
  • The Big Lunch
  • Keep Britain Working

He firmly believes that social campaigning and the techniques associated with these types of campaigns can be applied to public policy needs. He talked through several of his past campaigns, particularly Ethics for USS and Climate Week and drew out a series of 10 key learnings that Government communicators could apply to their own work (when and where appropriate):

  1. Campaigning techniques work best with issues that have a common goal and some sort of moral good argument  - especially where you can claim the moral high ground. These are the types of issues that lots of different groups can all get behind, just one of them on their own can’t achieve change. Its difficult to argue with adoption being a good thing, or reducing the effects of climate change or encouraging more people to start up their own businesses, can you?
  2. Leveraging gatekeepers. Use access to people or organisations who have access to a lot of other influential people. This may be a professional membership body, sector wide bodies (think BMA, nursing organisations, the CBI, the list goes on and on…)
  3. These campaigns are by definition communications activity, but can be done on a much lower budget than traditional advertising campaigns.
  4. Campaigning work can be done at little or no cost.   There is no big ad spend. Instead you draw on PR, digital, mobilisation of partners and other interested groups and individuals  This links back to the idea of using leverage and linking with people organisations who can amplify your message.
  5. Securing support of ‘big beasts’ is essential.  This might be big private sector companies, celebrities, etc.
  6. Be fluid and be prepared to change focus during the campaign if necessary. Campaigning isn’t about process. This does run counter to how government comms often works, but a shake up is always good.
  7. These campaigns are often task based, not focussed on a narrow policy. You are trying to get people to do something.
  8. Campaigns are a catalyst to get others to take action on your behalf. I can see some parallels here with how the Obama campaign used their supporters.
  9. The team should have a few core skills:  PR (focus on proactive work), digital skills, partnership/stakeholder. These are all skills that we have in our teams in government already.
  10. Campaigning work often leads to hybrid innovations. It’s a vibrant, creative, dare I say agile (…) way of doing things.

We had a very lively question and answer session afterwards with questions on what makes a good campaigner? How would you apply this to behaviour change programmes? or intractable long term issues such as obesity and other health issues. Would you use this technique when dealing more controversial, emotive issues (HS2 was used as an example).

This shouldn’t be new to government communicators, it is already happening at department such as International Development who do campaigns on a shoestring, Number 10 and their work around dementia - just 2 that spring to mind that we’ve featured on GCN. And I bet there is much more.  We’ve got the skills in our comms teams already – PR, stakeholder relations, digital and marketing professionals. We just need a little change in thinking and doing but I think these techniques can be applied to some campaigns (not all – it isn’t a panacea for the ills of the world or anything…)

What other things do you think are key to running a good low cost/no cost campaign? Are you doing it? Can you share your experience with us?

 Image used under Creative Commons from Jess Lee Cuizon