The seven Cs for a successful campaign

Day two of Future Leaders Connect began with a fascinating discussion on successful influencing, with Matthew Elliott, Chief Executive of Vote Leave; Kajal Odera, UK Director of; and Lord Wilson, former Cabinet Secretary. From the very public to the very private, they were hugely candid in their reflections on what works.

My day job is to encourage politicians to deliver change for children, so this is already something I think a lot about. This discussion inspired me to chalk up ‘Seven Cs for a Successful Campaign’. 

To me, successful political influencing requires you to create one of three conditions. If you are defending the status quo, you must 1) make the pain of changing course worse than any potential gain. If you are seeking change, you must either create 2) a politically exciting and rewarding opportunity; or 3) extract a political penalty for not taking action (or in some cases, a bit of both). 

The ‘Seven Cs’ below provide a guide for those seeking change.  

I’ve used the 2016 ‘Dub’s Amendment’ as a case study. After a year long campaign, this resulted in the UK Government offering sanctuary to hugely vulnerable unaccompanied child refugees who had fled to Europe. 

Save the Children worked on this campaign alongside a number of other organisations – including Unicef UK and the formidable Safe Passage

1) Be compelling; find a way to captivate your audience early on.

Our decision to call for the UK to relocate a specific number – 3,000 children – gave journalists a clear headline and made the ask tangible and specific to the public and politicians: just five children per parliamentary constituency.

2) Be credible; have the evidence, coalitions, and front-line experience to backup your call.

Throughout the campaign, our front-line work with child refugees was at the forefront. The specific number we called for was based on the UK’s ‘fair share’: the number of unaccompanied child refugees in Europe compared against our relative GDP and population size. And we built coalitions with other credible partners. 

3) Inspire compassion; build public support by appealing to hearts as well as minds.

We built pubic momentum behind the cause by using language that, based on evidence and insight, we knew resonated with them – e.g. focussing on children’s individual stories instead of the scale of the crisis. We reminded the public of their human connection with refugees, and encouraged them to take pride in individual acts of British generosity – such as Karen, an incredible mum who fostered a child refugee from Afghanistan, and Awet* a child refugee from Eritrea, who had suffered enormously but found a home in Britain.

4) Build cross-party support for your issue by identifying influential champions from across the political divide.

Lord Dubs himself was pivotal, as a well liked and respected parliamentarian and as a child of Kindertransport. We also worked closely with the influential chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Yvette Cooper who was trusted by Parliament and a powerful media spokesperson.

To build additional champions, we identified parliamentarians and journalists who both had influence over the Government and were amenable to our cause. We took these individuals to see the crisis first hand and meet with refugees. This gave them the credibility to challenge those who were against further action and made them personally committed to the cause.

To ensure the issue did not become politically toxic, we built champions from across the political spectrum. And we connected these champions with one another, so they knew they weren’t alone. This gave them the courage to speak out.

5) Build and deploy specific constituencies as a route to influence.

We built support amongst the public constituencies who were most likely to have an influence on decision makers. In this case, centre-right swing voters. We worked with the media outlets they listened to, and used these outlets as a proxy for public opinion

We also mobilised the public in the constituencies of key MPs – ensuring their postbags were full of letters from concerned constituents.

6) Provide cover for decision makers – ensure they are rewarded and supported for taking action.

When politicians took a political risk and supported our cause, we used the media and our supporters to give them credit.

Combined with constituencies, this made our call the right political choice: political stakeholders not only felt pressure from voters, they could also get credit for taking action.

7) But don’t be afraid to challenge – you build political capital in order to spend it; if you know you’re in the right stick to your guns and wield your power.

We stuck firmly to the principle that everything we do is driven by the needs of children. When key political stakeholders did not act in their best interests, we held our ground. This made it clear that we were a serious actor and forced the Government to meet us halfway.

There are obviously many other ingredients to a successful campaign, which don’t fit neatly into blog-worthy repetition devices… However, I hope this framing provides some useful food for thought!

*name changed to protect identity 


2 thoughts on “The seven Cs for a successful campaign

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