The lesson of the 2009 BC election is simple but has never been revealed until now. I am willing to part with it as a piece of free advice to our new leader Adrian Dix because, as the papers are already demonstrating, he’ll need it. (the good news is that he’s already following the advice.)
The election campaign has already started. And your job is to define them and define us before they do that for you. They, by the way, have a head start.
How is this the lesson of the 2009 election?
Well, the NDP won that election. Except nobody noticed because we ended up with fewer votes and fewer seats.
But the NDP actually won the campaign. I know. I saw the polls. I saw who moved the most votes and made up the most distance. From day one to day 28, the NDP scratched back somewhere between 14 and 10 percentage points to finish less than 3 points behind the Liberals. Despite a lousy first week, the NDP campaign was far better at winning votes than the BC Liberal campaign.
But when it comes to forming government the 28 day campaign didn’t matter. What did matter was the proceeding six months and specifically December 2008 and January and February 2009.
During these months the Liberal party and its surrogates spent millions defining Carole James and the NDP in a broad based communications campaign – viral, editorial, news driven and anchored by two big paid advertising campaigns sponsored by two business coalitions.
The NDP and its surrogates were nowhere – with the airwar entirely dependent upon QP and earned media. With BC’s media that gets you a big hole and not a dime to fill it.
The results were almost immediate. Over twelve weeks from the end of November 2008 to early March 2009, James and the NDP fell behind Campbell and the Liberals by somewhere between 12 and 16 points. The decline was in complete sync with the Liberal TV campaign.
A year and a half out, as I took on the job of Chief of Staff, I predicted this. It’s not because I’m so smart. It’s just an obvious and straight up function of a fixed election date with advertising windows. And the party missed it.
And it could be worse this time – you can bet Clark has an early window in mind and her campaign will be ready to fill it.
If the same lead up witnessed in 2009 happens again, the same result as 2009 will be assured. That means the first order of business is communication with the electorate.
And what are the elements of that? A direct and real message about them and us; a disciplined effort to deliver it from every mouth; a simple and coherent package that shows we mean the change we talk about; a paid advertising campaign to deliver the message past the media guardians and a pile of cash to pay for it.
Anything less could be not enough.