David Prescott on a crowdsourced “shadow communications agency” for the new age

So we’re more than £20 million in debt. £16m in the red with a further £11m in loan repayments.

Short money of £4.5m a year will help the shadow cabinet and their spads with their transition from government to opposition, but we won’t be able to touch a penny of it for party campaigning or reducing the debt.

So Labour’s going to have to think smarter and, well, cheaper if it’s going have any impact against the Tory-Lib Dem government.

But here’s the good news – campaigning isn’t expensive as it used to be.

Take our Go Fourth campaigns against RBS, that private members bill against the minimum wage and abolishing NHS Direct.

All were set up with free online petition software, Facebook groups and simple email mailers. They cost us next to nothing in capital costs.

But all three got results – the £1b payout to bankers was slashed to £175 million, the private members bill was quietly dropped and Andrew Lansley delivered a u-turn (though still no mention on whether the number of nurses will be retained to deal with the calls.)

Go Fourth also created the first Cameron airbrush ad. Clifford Singer was inspired to do his own, set up mydavidcameron.com and a million pound ad campaign was destroyed by the public with wit, good nature and photoshop.

Unfortunately, our greatest idea was poorly executed. I’d suggested back in February that Labour should crowdsource its ad campaign. As Peter Mandelson highlights in his memoir, there was just no money for a traditional poster campaign.

But I argued that you’d still get the coverage – especially through mainstream media – if you did digital posters.

Sadly, we got the wrong kind of coverage because Labour chose the wrong poster – though you must point the figure at Saatchi and Saatchi who helped shape the idea into the final creative. A concept that pins an important political message on a likeable character was never going to work.

In fact I’ll go against the poster’s message completely. We should go back to the 80s.

Philip Gould’s shadow communications agency was revolutionary for its time. Set up in 1986, the cream of the advertising and marketing world gave their time for free or next to nothing to shape Labour’s comms plans.

24 years on, we must assemble a similar body to tackle a completely different media, political and cultural landscape.

This body – let’s call it Creative Labour – should develop a truly integrated offering for the party that works across all platforms and be answerable to the general secretary and the leader’s office. It should help to develop engaging content, create useful apps and suggest better ways to engage with the 30 million plus people already using social media in the UK.

But Creative Labour should be much more inclusive than the SCA. Certain politicians viewed it with suspicion because it was seen as elitist.

And if mydavidcameron taught us anything, it’s that someone will always have a better line than you.

So there should be input not only from the best creative minds in advertising, design, PR and digital, but from members and supporters alike. And it’s the latter who have the potential to be the lethal rebuttal machine that Labour really needs.

May 2010 wasn’t the social media election we thought it was going to be – but the next one will be.

And while Labour’s new media wonk, Sue McMillan, and her team created miracles on a very limited budget, they will need more resources and support now that we’re in opposition.

The party also remarkably doesn’t have a dedicated director focused on driving online, marketing and public relations and developing the big strategic campaigns. Hopefully the new leader will find someone to fill this crucial role and pull all these strands together.

That’s because the best thing about the leadership election is that all candidates have actually learnt how to campaign online and offline.

After four and half months, we now have five prospective shadow cabinet members who know how to best deploy supporters, build campaign capacity and use social media to spread the message.

It will require us decentralising power, trusting those outside the circle and reaching out to everyone to pitch in.

If we’re prepared to do that, we can use crowdsourcing to turn Labour back into the feared campaign machine it once was.

Only this time, it won’t be driven by spin doctors, but by the party’s committed members and supporters.

Right, who’s up for a brainstorm?

David Prescott is former campaign director for Go Fourth and campaign consultant

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6 Responses to “David Prescott on a crowdsourced “shadow communications agency” for the new age”

  1. GBN says:

    So take away all the trendy in-words aren’t you just asking members and supporters to come up with ideas?

    And for a “people’s party” isn’t that the right way to go? More ideas, more cost effective; it’s a much better way imo and something Labour should have been doing before February.

    Social Media does have it’s part but so does knocking on doors and getting involved in the community from day 1 – not just 2 weeks before an election.

    If you have an excellent local MP / councillor I think many people would vote for them regardless of political affiliation. Yes there will still be tribalists that would vote regardless but I think most people want someone they can relate to.

    If you never see or hear from your MP or councillor then your opinion is more likely to be swayed by a Facebook campaign or some messages on Twitter imo.

    Oh and David, think you forgot to add “John’s son” to your profile? 😉

  2. Guido Fawkes says:

    Go 4th was pretty amateurish, not sure that your job application will be helped much by it. It was an old fashioned campaign with a celebrity twitter feed from your dad.

    The best thing Labour did was spontaneous – mydavidcameron.

    First thing you need to do is fire Tangent.

  3. Go Fourth
    The other problem with “Go Fourth” was the obvious response of “Go fourth and…”

    Poster Campaigns
    It wasn’t just the “Back to the 80’s” poster campaign that failed. The “My Dad / My Mum” ones were overtaken by a real car crash and were spoofed mercilessly online.

    In fact anything that is put up can be spoofed – the “David Camera On / Off” ended up with a lot of anti Labour / anti Brown spoofs. How many variations of Tony Blair’s book have we seen (including GLO’s “Under a blood red tie”)?

    The best one of the campaign imo was actually a spoof – the “Step Outside Posh Boy” poster on April 1st from The Guardian. It got a great reaction from all sides.

    A winning campaign? One that gives us the facts on what the party plans to do and points out where the other side went wrong or you’d do it differently and how.

    Anything outside that I think just appeals to party members – great for geeing up the troops but little else.

  4. paul barker says:

    I am having problems with the maths, when I add £16Million to £11Million it keeps coming to £27Million, not £20 Million. Where am I going wrong ?

  5. So three of these comments (or should that be two as GBN/GetLabourOut link to the same site) are from Tory leaning bloggers. (please insert libertarian/anarcho/indepedent/IusedtovoteLabourbuttheyletmedown denial here………………..)

    But hey, I s’pose we must be doing something right.

    Or should that be left?

    However, the airbrush pastiches graduated from the Westminster online village to mainstream media. Not sure the rebuttals of the David Camera On/Off did

    And Guido, I agree – the best online campaigns are spontaneous. But we were acknowledged as being the catalyst for the mydavidcameron posters. We planted a seed and we’re happy with that.

    But seriously, thanks for taking the time to leave comments.

  6. Tony Gardner says:

    “The party also remarkably doesn’t have a dedicated director focused on driving online, marketing and public relations and developing the big strategic campaigns. Hopefully the new leader will find someone to fill this crucial role and pull all these strands together.”

    Got that’s the most shameless plea for a job I’ve ever read. But good on you for having a try!

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