By Emma Hartley, Head of Campaigns, Electoral Commission
Today we have published our evaluation of the voter registration campaign we ran for the snap UK general election in June, but we also wanted to share some reflections on how we got a UK-wide campaign up and running quickly.
Here is the story of how we went from election announcement to campaign launch in just 12 working days…
18 April 2017: It’s a quiet Tuesday in the Electoral Commission campaigns team. We’re back in after the Easter break having just finished our voter registration campaign ahead of the 4 May local elections.
It’s 11am and The Prime Minister is making an unexpected announcement.
There will be a UK general election on 8 June. Seven weeks and two days from today.
The registration deadline will be 22 May, giving us just under five weeks to plan and execute a campaign. We arranged a conference call with our ad agencies before the Prime Minister finished her speech, kicking off the 12 working days to launch.
With so little time to prepare we couldn’t re-think everything so we carried over tried-and-tested elements from previous campaigns, looking for quick ways to keep things fresh. The fact we had carried out thorough evaluations in the wake of our previous campaigns meant we had a really good idea of what would work.
Our focus was on cutting through to under-registered audiences including students and young people, recent home movers, UK citizens living overseas and armed forces personnel.
A standalone UK general election has the advantage of being relatively simple to communicate: people generally know how to vote and are keen to register as long as they know they need to do so. We used the unexpected nature of the poll to our advantage, pushing the importance of registering to vote in the limited time left.
We updated our existing TV ad – it would have been impossible to record a new one in two weeks. We also recorded two new radio ads for students and home movers and created animated GIFs to use on social media.
But our activity didn’t end with the registration deadline. From 23 May onwards we were focused on making sure people had the information they needed to cast their vote, through partners and stakeholders as well as our own social media channels.
Beyond the Electoral Commission
Our advertising was bolstered by social media partnerships with Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Nextdoor, as well as PR work around key campaign milestones, getting us crucial additional publicity.
We called on our well-established network of local and central government, charities, corporate and voluntary organisations. We communicated through regular editions of Roll Call, our public awareness newsletter, and quickly produced resources for them to use, saving time for organisations across the country.
The Cabinet Office mobilised support across government departments to share registration messaging on social media and intranet channels. They also put registration reminders across gov.uk including at the end of passport and driving license applications. The Ministry of Defence and Foreign and Commonwealth Office in particular helped us access channels to reach armed forces personnel and UK citizens living overseas.
Through our partnership with Democracy Club we provided candidate and polling station information on our Your Vote Matters website. Our postcode lookup, which gave users details of candidates, how to contact their local authority, and in many cases their polling station, was used 390,000 times from 23 May.
How we worked
Every member of the team led a work stream, with daily update meetings keeping us on track.
With the amount of work we had to do we dived straight in to help each other out, fuelled by copious amounts of sugary snacks. We were collaborative in talking through issues since we didn’t have a long time to ponder the big decisions so it was important for us to put our heads together.
After a couple of intense weeks we were able to launch our overseas campaign on 28 April and our UK campaign on 8 May, which must be some kind of record.
What we know was a record was the size of the electorate – the biggest ever for a UK-wide poll with an estimated 46.8 million people able to vote.
Thank you to everyone who played a part in delivering this campaign at short notice – we couldn’t have done it without you.