Ballot papers for the Labour leadership race have dropped in members and supporters inboxes this week. Despite the fact that there is still 21 days to go until ballots close, some bookmakers have already paid out for Jeremy Corbyn. Whether he wins or not, the rise of the hard left backbencher offers businesses, industry bodies, developers and not for profits lessons in contentious communications.
1. Know where power lies
Many of the Labour candidates thought they knew where power lay, but when time came to wield it that power seemingly disappeared. However, Corbyn didn’t just listen to the conventional wisdom that support of prominent MPs was the foundation of a campaign. He surmised that power within the Labour movement is found in the money, resources and national infrastructure of the major Trade Unions. They could make it possible for him to connect with a pool of left-leaning people who are now permitted to register to vote under Labour’s new system.
Understanding where power lies is vital in every campaign, be it political, consumer or corporate. It is constantly shifting. Knowing who to target, build coalitions with and ignore is not always obvious. Power for you may reside in Number 10, with analysts in the City or the deciding vote on Dudley Metropolitan Council’s planning committee.
2.Know your audience
Jeremy Corbyn is pursuing policy positions which will draw attacks from business, sections of the media and most of middle England. But he understands that these people don’t vote in internal Labour elections. Talk of solidarity, grassroots activism and unity might not gain traction with the wider public but it resonates with the Labour heartlands.
Corbyn has chosen targeted communications such as direct mail, social media and town hall meetings. This has allowed him to control the message the electorate is getting. This is possible in internal elections far more than in a general election where national media drives popularity.
For your organisation it is important to understand what your audience need to hear and how to phrase it for them. You need to keep your messaging simple and consistent to cut through. You must know where your audiences are, and who they will trust when they hear your messages.
3. It’s not all about you
Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a natural insurgent candidate. He’s a socialist from the backbenches who was reluctant to run for leader. However, his campaign has understood that communications is very rarely about you but what you can do for others.
Whilst other candidates spent their time defining their credentials and a shopping list of policies, Corbyn’s campaign used his policies and his background to paint a picture of a new world for his supporters.
Your organisation might only hire the leading researchers in their field. That’s great, but people will only care when you make it relevant to them. For instance, discussing high value jobs and economic growth when talking to politicians, market leading profitable products for the financial markets and personal development for employees.
4. Real people are strong advocates
If you take a look at Corbyn’s campaign literature and social media feeds you will see the faces of supporters much more than you will see his own. His campaign understands that people are cynical and they don’t trust politicians. To bypass this cynicism, the campaign has galvanised people to talk to their friends, share posts on social media, phone bank other Labour members and talk to the media.
Your organisations might not have supporters like Corbyn but you will have staff, customers or third-party stakeholders. Providing them with the collateral they need to advocate for you is a powerful tool to cut through cynicism at all levels.
5. Use small victories
At the start of the campaign it didn’t even look like Corbyn would get the 35 nominations from Labour MPs to get on the final ballot, let alone win. Corbyn’s campaign used that first hurdle to rally his supporters getting them to email, tweet, write, Facebook and call remaining MPs to nominate him. This created an interesting media moment helping to build initial interest. Most importantly, though, his campaign fed success back to supporters to galvanise them. This momentum snowballed as supporters evangelised about his cause, signed up their friends and colleagues and the media took notice. This all started from the lukewarm support from a handful of MPs to “widen the debate.”
These small moments can be found in all comms campaigns. It could be an endorsement from a trade body, a positive response to a local consultation or an online petition hand in. The important thing is to take that small moment and relentlessly build on it.
Measurement and evaluation