Campaign Corner: How to make Focus leaflets look better

The Campaign Corner series looks to give three tips about commonly asked campaign issues. Do get in touch if you have any questions you would like to suggest.

Today’s Campaign Corner question: I understand some of the principles of graphic design, but I’m not a professional designer. What are the easiest ways to make my Focus leaflets look better?

  1. Headlines: make your headlines big, short and clear. Put the leaflet on the floor and stand over it. If you glance down can you (a) easily read the headlines and (b) get from them the main messages? If not, make the headlines better/bigger – as a quick glance at the headlines is often all a leaflet will get before someone decides to read more or bin it. Even if they do decide to bin it, with the right headlines they will have got the main messages.
  2. Captions on photos: after the headlines, captions on photographs are one of the most read pieces of text – if they exist. Printing a photo without a caption is like saying “Sod it, let’s just pass up one of the best opportunities to get people to read what we want to say”. A photo without a caption should be the extremely rare occurrence when a moment of contrary design brilliance really is needed.
  3. Less is more: big headlines get more attention. Big photographs have more of a visual impact. White space makes text easy to read. In other words, keep a tight limit on your word count and remember – fewer words usually means a better design and so more words actually getting read.

Got any other tips? Please do share them in the comment thread below.

Want to know more about local campaigning? Campaigning In Your Community by myself and Shaun Roberts should be right up your street. It’s available for only £4 from ALDC and you can read an extract for free here.

Previous Campaign Corners have included:

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  • Old Codger Chris 7th Nov '11 - 5:32pm

    No “Only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories / Labour / Monster Raving Looney Party here”. And no bar charts, especially dodgy ones.

  • I’ve been producing political literature for nearly 44 years now. I feel we at a point now when no one really knows what works any more: should it look professional or amateurish? Should it be in colour because people increasingly expect colour print, or does that make us look as though we’ve got money to waste? Is it better to have lots of leaflets with smudgy Riso photos, or fewer litho’d ones with better pictures? Or does it all come down to not ‘what’ you do, but how well you do it? In which case how do some people carry on winning with mediocre leaflets and others lose with excellent literature? It was so much easier when the other parties wouldn’t be seen dead on the streets outside elections.

  • Cllr Colin Strong 7th Nov '11 - 8:10pm

    @Old Codger Chris. Disagree strongly with your statement.

    The electorate had their chance to scrap tactical voting for General Elections but decided to keep it. Bar charts will now reign supreme. Lib Dems are now either 1st or 2nd in 299 Parliamentary constituencies.

    BTW the Conservatives have been exposed as hypocrites over their use of an AV system to elect the Scottish Tory leader.

  • Tony Greaves 7th Nov '11 - 11:27pm

    The first two tips are very very important. The third is junk! If you treat the voters as thick Star-reading morons they will return the compliment and rightly. White space is wasted space. What determines whether people read your works is whether they find them interesting not how many there are. Community politics is about intelligent communication (explanation) of local things people care about, not tabloid rubbish.

    Tony Greaves

  • Old Codger Chris 8th Nov '11 - 12:37am

    @Cllr Colin Strong
    I don’t think the negative message of “vote Lib Dem to defeat the Tory – or Labour – candidate” will play well in parliamentary elections after 5 years in coalition. Surely the message in 2015 must be – vote Lib Dem for a sane progressive voice in coalition (whether with Tories or Labour).

  • Ed Maxfield 8th Nov '11 - 10:38am

    Tony Hill: that is a very interesting point.

    I have seen some dreadful spot colour and glossy leaflets that communicate very little and we have all seen (and probably produced) ‘traditional’ focus leaflets of, ahem, varying quality.

    In many areas moving to glossy leaflets wont help you stand out in the crowd – it will just get lost in a mountain of pizza leaflets…

    Given the increased competition from junk mail and the other parties, often, too, I suspect the key thing is to target your messages as effectively as possible and then to repeat it often. Risoed focus allows you to do that because the messages can be targeted at a particular community fairly cheaply. Direct mail can do it effectively too because you can target particular groups of voters. So can getting out on doorsteps and talking to people.

  • @Ed Maxfield
    I agree on that pizza leaflet point. My ward gets bombarded with menus and adverts from various different food places and supermarkets and so our leaflets just blend in, whereas riso leaflets look different. I think the occasional glossy leaflet is useful though, especially at election time.

  • @CllrChrisCollins “The electorate had their chance to scrap tactical voting for General Elections but decided to keep it. ”
    The electrate voted no a) to give the Lib Dems a good kicking and b) becasue they where s*** scared about the £250m alledged cost. Bar charts serve a very good purpose in reminding/infoming people that we can win (after all no one wants to vote for the loser do they), BUT they need to be complemented by other squueze techniques/facts.

    @TonyGreaves I agree with you that we need to give the electrate credit, but in our lefaltes more is often better, our leaflets should not look like Hansard or a Parish Magazine that’s wall to wall text, Times New Roman in size 12. It needs to look fresh and readable.

  • Ed Maxfield 8th Nov '11 - 4:47pm

    Neil – I assumed it was one of yours and says “1968…And… Neil was born…!”


    I think Mark is out of the country at the moment so he might tease us a little while longer by not telling us what it says.

  • Tony Dawson 8th Nov '11 - 8:27pm

    Is the purpose of this posting to educate our political opponents? Surely, if the posting was serious, it should be in the private part of the site.

  • Dominic Mathon 9th Nov '11 - 2:45am

    I know what the inside of that leaflet says … as it carries my imprint 🙂

    If others are keen to find out what it says inside, can I suggest they come along to help in the St Mary’s by-election in Islington this Thursday …

  • Tony Dawson 9th Nov '11 - 8:05am

    The key thing to that leaflet is that it is ‘different’ so will have an impact. There is something else very good about it which I am not going to mention here. But, sice we are tutoring the Tories, may one say what seems wrong with it visually?

    1. It is not immediately obvious how it is going to be folded. What is key to a leaflet’s ‘pick-up’ success among the mountains of junk mail is what it looks like from both sides when it’s folded – NOT what it looks like on the screen or as it comes off the printing press..

    2. The eye-line is not clear – it doesn’t draw me to the ‘And’ which is presumably meant to make me turn it over and get the ‘hit’on the other side. That’s something to do with the caption and photo layout.

    3. (marginal but nagging) The font is wrong for the job

    Now I am not, here, going to go into the 95 year argument between Tony and Mark over white space. But I will be interested to hear of the impact of this leaflet in the eventual result, bearing in mind that anyone adult in Islington in1968 was born long before the Korean War began.

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Nov '11 - 12:03pm

    An important aspect of the original “community politics” idea was that you could get people to think about political issues by linking them into what they were experiencing in their immediate environment. In that way you could get the message across to all those people whose reaction to anything overtly political is “oh, that’s politics, and I’m not interested in politics”. That was why what was distributed was titled “Focus” rather than “News from the Liberals” or whatever. This is something which seems largely to have been forgotten as “community politics” is just assumed to be style of fighting elections. We should be using it to educate rather than just to win elections, so while local issues are important in their own right we should also be using them to gently draw wider lessons about more global politics which can be picked up by our readers.

    We should not be afraid to use more detailed messages in Focus so long as they are accompanied by clear explanatory headlines for those who don’t get beyond the headlines. I agree very much with Tony Greaves that we should not talk down to our electorate – not talking down does not mean elaborate sentence structure and long words, it just means telling it straight in good plain English. Those who have worked professionally as educators can probably do a better job of this than those who have worked professionally in public relations or advertising …

  • Matthew Huntbach 9th Nov '11 - 12:54pm

    Following on from what I wrote previously, one of the original ideas of community politics was that we are not faceless salesmen acting on behalf of a national organisation and directed from above, but rather that being members of a political party helps us be more effective as local activists because it puts us in touch with people who think similarly elsewhere. This model of political party as a network rather than a hierarchy was perhaps better understood in the days when more people were members of political parties, but it seems to have been lost amongst most voters now, which I think is a huge shame. Indeed, throughout my membership of the Liberal Democrats and its predecessor I seem to have been making this point and fighting against the tendency to centralise on the grounds that’s more “professional” – and always being on the losing side.

    The nonsensical idea that just because of the coalition situation all Liberal Democrats overnight in May 2010 converted to what used to be called “Thatcherism” shows where this leads to. It really annoys me when I read so much media commentary about “the Liberal Democrats” which seems to assume that the party is just a few people at its top and the rest of us just work as salesmen for them. Politics should not be like that, but the fact that most people now see it as like that is contributing to the failure of politics we now observe in various forms of malaise. It was seeing the signs of such malaise that led me to join the Liberal Party in the first place in the 1970s, because I could see its community politics as a way of breaking it. But we seem to have been pushed into a more centralist top-down model of politics, on the grounds this is “professional”, to the point that few even amongst our own members can any more conceive of doing things differently.

    I have been very much angered by the St Paul’s occupiers and the uncritical adulation they have received in the liberal press because this seems to me to be very much part of the move away from electoral politics which relies on the power of mass membership parties to fight the power of wealth towards one which seems just to assume we are stuck with the politicians that have been imposed on us and all we can do is engage in largely futile acts of street theatre in the vain hope that if we come across as pathetic or pleading enough, that just might influence some of those politicians to feel a bit sorry for us and so change their policies.

    Community politics as originally conceived was far more radical than this because it was based on the assumption that instead of changing the minds of the politicians we have, we can change the politicians. As we sang in the Land Song “Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand?”. So why is it that we have so failed to get this message across to the people, so that those who most need political action in their lives are those most likely to slam the door in your face when you canvass them with an angry “I’m not interested in politics”?

    If I was asked what makes a good Focus, I would say it’s one which counters this tendency.

  • Ed Maxfield 9th Nov '11 - 2:14pm

    Tony (Dawson): there is a risk that by posting this sort of discussion in a public forum that your opponents gain something from it but remember that they have enormous professional resources to develop their campaigning materials while the Lib Dems dont. The gain for the Lib Dems with their shoestring devolved organisation from sharing knowledge is likely to be much greater than any benefit our opponents get from it. Added to which, what we are talking about is the technicalities of producing decent leaflets – which we then stick through our opponents letter boxes so its not hard for them to figure out what we do…

  • Tony Dawson 9th Nov '11 - 5:14pm

    @Ed Maxfield:

    Ah but, Ed, it’s one thing to see something, it’s another completely different thing to be explained how something works. There are other places (not a million miles away from here) for Lib Dems to discuss the theory and practice of leaflet creation – with other Lib Dems alone.

  • “BTW the Conservatives have been exposed as hypocrites over their use of an AV system to elect the Scottish Tory leader.”

    Maybe they thought the matter over and decided ‘losers should get multiple votes’ and ‘extremists should have more say’. I wonder how they afforded all those electronic voting machines which, as we know, are essential for an election conducted using AV.

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