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Effective communication and political campaign strategy

By Paul T Shipale
The general election campaign is barely underway and election fever has just started, with more fireworks expected to come as the election date comes closer. The development of an effective communication strategy is probably the most difficult and necessary part of an election campaign process.

Behind the scenes, political parties are busy plotting strategies, building war chests and marshalling resources for the country's general elections. There is a lot of communication and public relations hysteria in the corridors of political parties' headquarters right now because campaigns always matter during elections. The perceptions that politicians are only interested in the views and aspirations of the public when an election approaches and that their campaigns are specifically targeting those who happen to live in marginal constituencies pose a huge challenge to their campaigns.

Therefore the pre-election period challenges political parties to convince voters that their vision, values, principles, convictions, and aspirations are answers to the country's current and future challenges and opportunities. In this regard, the development of an effective communication strategy is probably the most difficult and necessary part of an election campaign process.

To be effective, election communication should be systematically planned, implemented and coordinated. Political parties and their candidates desperately look for ways to get the attention of the voting publics amid all the distractions of modern life.

Appeal to the voting public
Communication is about messages that are unambiguous and that recipient can readily, confidently, accurately and clearly perceive the intent of the sender. Therefore candidates have to be packaged, presented and promoted to appeal to the voting public. It's not just about dressing well, rhetoric, body language and eloquence - candidates also need to communicate a message that is characterized by consistency, credibility, concern, compassion, caring and commitment.

For any political message to be well received, it must in one way or another connect emotively with its target audience. Candidates' contact with the public should inspire, enthuse, engage and give the public a sense of trust, respect and hope. In most cases, politicians meet the public on their own terms, in their own ways and to tell them what they like, what they intend doing and how they will improve their lives. The general rule is that a good campaign strategy should stress the positives and solutions and ignore or downplay the negatives and problems. The myth that negative campaigning can generate interest and effective coverage for candidates is wrong and self-destructive. The campaign messages should communicate strengths within their parties, and solutions to the current pressing political, economic and social issues based on well calibrated themes.

Attract attention
Someone with a campaign's communication message which says, "I am one of you. I'm willing to listen. I'm willing to work with you. I will prioritize the interests of the nation," can attract the attention of the masses. The fact is that every housewife wants to see her food basket a little heavier, every citizen is hungry for peace and security, every ordinary man wants employment, every business expects an economic friendly environment, every youth dreams of a bright future, and every poor citizen is in dire need of basic services that are accessible, available and affordable. The most powerful fundamental of an election communication is therefore to continually telling the masses what they want to hear and the ability to nail down local issues.

The media has the power to shape public opinion and make or break political ambitions. Some political parties start their campaigns without having a media strategy and plan. Some politicians decide to ignore the media because of lack of trust. Some engage the media to voice their views and visions without being willing to give detailed explanations and answer journalists' questions.

Some are so arrogant that they expect respect and royal treatment from the media. When that is not forthcoming, they blame it on anything from racism, cheap journalism and jealousy to lack of understanding of the bigger picture and hidden agendas. True some journalists really relish the Machiavellian chance to be spin doctors, while others become investigative journalists to rival. Other political parties rely too much on the media and treat reporters like campaign workers. They are then being surprised when their communication messages are transmitted out of context or misquoted.

Campaign advertisements are some of the traditional means used by candidates to communicate their messages. However, when it comes to these, political parties are guilty of producing bad, boring, ineffective and irrelevant messages. A combination of billboards, television, radio, press, posters, live debates, emails, cell phones, slogans, music, events and door-to-door campaigns can be effective in a country with widespread coverage and diverse community such as ours. Only an alien, newly arrived to planet earth from outer space, will be ignorant of the fact that black people love to dance and love to sing and do both with distinction.

Similarly, political battles are fought at a local level where youth dominates, and therefore young people should be central in creating and driving campaigns at grassroots level. They should be trained and taught on how to be effective and need to be made to understand that they are an important part of their parties' strategy to win the election. Effective campaign strategies Figuring out the best political campaign strategy for any one election takes time and effort, and depends on a number of different factors. If you're in the thick of your campaign planning, and trying to figure out the best strategy for your campaign, take a good hard look at these factors: The difference between running as an incumbent and running as a challenger is monumental. Incumbents have records to run on and to be attacked on. Challengers usually (but not always) have trouble raising money, and often must spend time and resources raising their name ID.

The best campaign strategy is also a realistic strategy. Will you have money to spend? If your candidate is wealthy or wellconnected, you'll be able to afford a full time staff, hire professional web designers, and run TV ads. If you're under-funded you'll need to rely on volunteers, grassroots tactics, and homegrown campaign marketing materials. How will people perceive your candidate? Is he/she experienced in politics? How about in business? Do they have special knowledge or experience with a particular issue? Does your candidate have a built in "base" in a certain demographic? Who is Your Opponent? Is he or she well funded or under-funded?

Are they a challenger or incumbent? What's their background? What issues are most important to voters? The best campaign strategy for you will tailor your message to speak to these issues in some way. Once you work through these five factors, you'll have an easier time figuring out the best strategy. In this election campaign only two candidates seems to hit the right notes with the voters because they have done their job. One is the incumbent Vice President and Presidential candidate of the SWAPO Party and current Prime Minister, Dr Hague Geingob. He has an inner circle of campaign supporters active that works to maintain contact with the entire campaign organization.

He maintains frequent contact with his constituents through rallies and is targeting voters who are interested in particular issues. He is using technology to post campaign related information and keep his supporters updated and "in the loop." To stay in touch with the voters, he used the town hall meetings and invites local news media to the events. Besides simple town meetings, he has found it helpful to organize campaign rallies created around themes such as education or health, and use imagery and language that emphasize the theme. He is proactive about speaking engagements and seems to have adopted a strategy to cement a positive relationship with his constituent. He is experienced in politics and business. He has special knowledge and a Phd.

The youthful DTA leader Mc Henry Veenani on his part knew that he was facing an election against an incumbent which is a daunting prospect that is why he started early to define his opponents, drawing a contrast, and defining his agenda. After becoming the leader of his party, he immediately started planning for and campaigning. Many challengers make the error of waiting until the "traditional" election season to begin their campaigns but he didn't commit that mistake. He knew that as a challenger, it was imperative that his campaign defines his opponents before they get a chance to define themselves.

He seems to have carefully researched their record and develop his message early in order to get out ahead of the curve and define his opponents in terms of what is favorable to him. For example, he takes every chance he can to hammer at his opponents and drive some points home. In short, he tries to make his opponents defend themselves. He wants to present to the voters a better alternative to his opponent by showing them why his candidate is different and why that difference makes him a better choice.

He tried to set the tone for the election and show the voters that he is the stronger candidate. Unfortunately for him, he belongs to a party associated with a history of oppression while the incumbent is associated with a history of liberation. He too admitted that he would want to change the name of his party. He also conceded defeat or is realistic enough to admit that he can't defeat the colossus and mighty ruling party; hence his focus on becoming the leader of the opposition while occasionally throwing punches in the air at the ruling party.

Surely, given the chance, in an election, your opponent will turn the election into a showcase of his strengths and your weaknesses. This is where the incumbent has a strong point of a track record and experience versus inexperience and untested leadership, delivery versus promises, continuation versus stagnation, progress versus regression etc. As for others, they seem to trail way behind or have other hidden punches up their sleeves that we know not or some jigsaw puzzle throwing the spanners in the wheel or even some pawns to be used in a game of chess. Well, let us adopt a wait and see attitude but as for now, the ruling Party presidential candidate is way ahead of the pack hitting the right tones with potential voters such as the youth, the urban and rural communities, including the white farmers. Perhaps the biggest moment of his campaign was when he appealed to the nation not to discriminate against others including for their number. He showed that he meant business with his campaign message of inclusivity and service delivery. What else can one say except join the bandwagon and shout; Omake!

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.


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