The keys to a successful campaign are real world, thoughtful engagement and not getting too complacent about the apparent reach of social media and email. This was the message brought last week by Green Party European election candidate, Councillor Alexandra Phillips, to a high level audience of campaigners from such luminary NGOs as Greenpeace, 38 Degrees, Action Aid and Amnesty, to name a few.
Speaking on an invited panel of elected politicos at ECF 2014, the digital campaigning conference organised by FairSay at Keble College Oxford, Alexandra Phillips offered some insights from her experience as a campaigning activist, elected politician and EU insider. The panel session was on 'Engaging Politicians' and also featured Labour MP Stella Creasy and Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder.
"Campaigning has changed enormously since I first started electoral work in 2007," says Councillor Phillips. "Then we used social media and online engagement, of course, but not like today. The growth in online campaigning has been amazing and Obama's use of social media to win the US presidency is legendary but maybe, now, we're hitting the point where it's too easy just to click and petition, click and support."
It's a level of overload that, for Alexandra Phillips, should prompt a back-to-basics response in NGOs. "The smart digital campaigners are now expanding offline and starting to re-engage with real people on the streets. Forward-thinking groups such as 38 Degrees, whatever their digital origins, are today leveraging their online success back into the real world – recruiting people online but then asking them to come out onto the streets in the old-fashioned way with street stalls, hand-signed petitions and placards. It's meaningful: getting out and actually doing something shows real commitment and enables those enthusiasts to speak to and recruit a whole new public audience: people going about their daily lives!"
Her advice for engaging with politicians and winning them over to a cause echoes that back-to-basics theme. "It's easy to send an email to every elected politician in the country. But why do it? As a councillor and activist, I get many hundreds of lobbying emails each week. I don't have staff to deal with them and obviously I can't even scratch the surface on my own.
"Where I engage with a campaign, as an elected politician, it's because the campaigners have approached me personally, individually, knowing it's a subject I would identify with. They've contacted me early on, they've had my buy-in from the beginning and I've been committed to the cause."
Campaigning is at the root of Councillor Phillips' politics. She was first elected to Brighton & Hove City Council in 2009 on the back of a campaign for new school places, Action for Kids, and has since campaigned at all levels of government, not least as a significant contributor in Brussels, where the Greens form the fourth largest party, and then in the UK with Green MP Caroline Lucas.
"If I look at this coming summer's campaigns – not least the Euro elections in May – I believe the real successes will be face to face, on the streets and in meetings. Campaigners and supporters may first connect online and may get the facts online but the real difference to public support will be made on the pavements, at the school gates, outside the shops and in the parks. Smart campaigners will congregate where people congregate. And that's where they – we – will really make the difference."
Notes for editors
ECF 2014 took place from 9th to 11th April 2014 at Keble College, Oxford, and was organised by FairSay, which "works with the world's leading campaigns to increase their effectiveness within weeks and help them win via strategy, analysis, training, events, advice and support."
Alexandra Phillips is a Green Party European election candidate in the South East of England, where ten Green candidates, led by Green MEP Keith Taylor, are standing. The full list of candidates may be found at http://www.segreens.com/candidates_list . Councillor Phillips is a member of the Green administration on Brighton & Hove City Council.
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