Blue walls to giant cannons and all the memes in between

Love them or loathe them – those victory stunts should teach Lib Dem campaigners one thing: clear, simple communications will be key to success at the next election.

There seems to be a new dividing line in Lib Dem WhatsApp groups: between those who are excited for each new stunt, and those hiding behind the sofa, wondering when they are safe to emerge.

Whichever camp you might be in, there is a serious point we all must take from these stunts. They cut through. But why?

Money-can’t-buy coverage

I hate to be the one to break it to you, but these stunts are probably not aimed at Lib Dem party faithful. They are designed to captivate photojournalists, meme developers, social content writers.

These stunts achieve what so many who work in brand communications crave – wall to wall coverage complete with a key message. I cannot count as a seasoned communications professional the number of times the ask has been summaried as “help us go viral”. Whilst there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach, an authentic stunt with a clear message that links to your campaign and that is a bit fun, is the best way to get attention. Authentic really is key to success as without authenticity they flop. If you need proof beyond the political sphere, look at the plethora of Barbie stunts – some very small but all authentic and on-message.

The thing about these stunts is they have media hooked, they all want to know what the next Lib Dem celebration will be, what the photos will look like. This means media turn up, they give us more attention than they might otherwise and therefore we get more coverage.

For local parties, the same principle can be used for social channels or focus leaflets – if you make a simple point in a compelling manner, people will come back again and again. They will want to know what you have to say and you will be seen as an authority.

For all the jokes, the Blue Wall stunt did change the narrative. It introduced the phrase into media vernacular and made it clear, the Lib Dems were back.

Simplicity is key

I make this point as we’ve all seen those focus leaflets – three-line headlines with commas, sub-clauses followed by an article written in 8pt font face and full of every intricacy of a piece of planning policy. This is great for a certain section of Lib Dem members (not me) or an online article for those who are interested. Focus leaflets like this won’t win elections.

Think back to some of those winning national campaigns of late: that Brexit bus we all know so well was a perfect example of these money-can’t-buy photo opportunities that got across a key message and were used again and again.

Now let’s take this principle to local leaflets and photo opportunities. No, every local party doesn’t need to invest in a confetti cannon and place it on a high street to get a photo. But every local party should be able to bring key campaigns to life with photos or using simple props (face masks for air quality could be an example). Every article you should be able to condense into a coherent five word sentence. Three is ideal. If you can do this, your leaflets, social posts and content will all get more engagement. Long, unwieldy leaflets or communications equally will lose readers. We might think we’re being thorough but it often dilutes the message or puts people off from reading them all together.

Humanising politics

Many who are not members of political parties are fed up with politics. The glee radiating from Ed Davey and hordes of tired activists on the morning after an election, with a cheesy stunt shows a lot: we worked hard, we wanted this and we’re proud of what we have achieved.

For all we might cringe at these stunts, where Ed is buoying up a crowd, where a blue brick goes awry or the cannon doesn’t light they show one thing: a human. It’s a fine line between trying to be serious and being human but these stunts sit on the right side of it. The principle applies to us all locally. It’s OK to admit if something hasn’t gone as planned so long as you can clearly explain why. Equally it’s important members of the public see beyond the council motions to the community campaigner the Lib Dems are so well known for.

It’s not possible without a lot of work

The old adage “where we work, we win” has been personified in recent by-elections. Where we’ve not run campaigns we have lost our deposit. Where we have canvassed and delivered to the edge of what’s possible, residents know the Lib Dems are a serious option and understand why they should vote for us.

* Roisin Miller is a member in Kingston and Surbiton and is a senior communications consultant, working with global multi-million and billion dollar companies. She is also the treasurer for Lib Dems in Communications. To find out more about Lib Dems in Communications, email [email protected]

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  • Couldn’t agree more, Roisin.
    First rule of comms: don’t be boring.
    Second rule of comms: if you like the look of something, steal it, file off the serial numbers, and use it as your own.

  • I couldn’t agree more with this article.

  • Robert Hale 26th Jul '23 - 7:44am

    The ‘Blue Wall’ stunt was a good one and has stuck in many people’s minds. Last week’s canon stunt, blowing clouds of confetti down a windy Frome town centre was not and unfortunately has also stuck in many people’s minds. In relation to headlines we were very lucky to avoid a Tory tabloid headline of ‘Liberal Litter Louts’. Many of us will know volunteer litter pickers in our local community and that stunt sent the wrong message.

  • Robert Hale was correct to write, “Last week’s canon stunt, blowing clouds of confetti down a windy Frome town centre was not and unfortunately has also stuck in many people’s minds”.

    Littering the street may be one thing, but I’m sorry to have to say that the Sun Newspaper type slogan, “Get these clowns out of No 10”, was a very long way from being at the height of parliamentary and political discourse – or from that old 1960’s slogan which I can recall of “People who think for themselves vote Liberal”.

  • Presumably somebody has hard figures about stunt by stunt coverage of the victory events (at least the measurable bits). I’m happy to be assured that there is a continuing learning and review process going on with all this!

  • Suzanne Fletcher 26th Jul '23 - 11:14am

    Agree, these stunts are not for us, they are to get attention, for the media to turn up, and even our Lib Dem members that are not able to be part of campaigning and I know one person, very long term member who has been very active in the past, who saw it from hospital bed, and it was wonderful for him.

  • I agree that stunts aren’t for us, and not being boring and don’t be afraid of a prop.

    BUT, please do a check on the appropriateness of the prop. It’s one thing to be seen having a bit of fun. We don’t need to take ourselves seriously to take the issues seriously. But most face masks will do nothing to protect people from air pollution, and people who care most and understand air quality know that. So while that might help you to get in the papers, it risks sending the message that you don’t understand it.

    I know the ‘glitter’ from the cannon was actually paper, and I saw photos from members who came prepared to clean up, but the clean up side of things should have been more prominent, and there’s still time for opponents to argue in bad faith that we left a mess. I am an occasional volunteer litter picker, and while I don’t think the actual stunt sent the wrong message, I come from a place of goodwill and expected that someone will have thought to organise the clean-up.

  • Peter Hirst 26th Jul '23 - 2:49pm

    I belong to the cautious group around stunts. There is bad publicity and they run that danger with some of the electorate. Media outlets will transmit them and allow their audience to come to their own conclusions about what it tells them about our Party. So put them through a Focus Group and think twice or thrice before using a particular one.

  • Ruth Bright 27th Jul '23 - 9:43am

    Very much agree that there is a risk in using humour in politics but it is worth the risk. Colleagues in Eastleigh ran a final campaign FOCUS last year with a “Boris” “Not Boris” headline contrasting pictures of the local candidate and our then PM. I can rarely think of a leaflet that cut through so brilliantly. Everyone in my community, including my teenagers seemed to be talking about it. Technically it was “negative campaigning” but without a shred of nastiness – the stunts Roisin mentions fall into that category.

  • Nick Collins 29th Jul '23 - 2:04pm

    Those stunts seem to be having their desired effect: viz the headline to Matt Chorley’s piece in today’s “Times”, ” Watch out Keir: the Ed Davey cannon is now aimed at Mid Beds”.

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