thoughts on public relations, marketing and a charmed life

What I learned after 126 days of campaigning


Members of the campaign cabinet on election night (by Owen Murray). More photos on Owen’s site.

With Edmonton’s municipal election campaign now a distant memory (in campaign-time, anyway, which is definitely a thing where a day feels like a week), I’ve had some time to reflect on what it was like to be part of Don Iveson’s campaign team, and what the campaign landscape was like. I wanted to share a few observations and lessons that I learned*.

“Social media won’t win you an election, but it could lose you an election”

Occasional political candidate and pundit Ryan Hastman said something along these lines in one of the Google hangouts, and he isn’t wrong. Anyone out there who thinks social media will be a communications silver bullet in an election is completely out of their mind. Social media is one tool in an integrated arsenal of dozens of other tools.

What social media can do (sometimes in one fell swoop) is lose you an election. The media (and voting public) loves a gaffe — or series of gaffes (see #TOpoli and #RobFord on Twitter for a salient example) — and if something absurd is said or done in social media and someone sees it, you could have a crisis on your hands.

Campaign like you’re the underdog

At no point during the campaign did anyone on our team think, “We’ve got this.” Our people were flat-out the whole campaign. Something I repeated to myself and anyone who would listen was, “I don’t want any of us to look back on October 22 and wonder if we did everything we could to get our candidate elected.”

Another thing I heard from one of the other volunteers was, “We’re always 100 votes behind. Let’s act like it.”

No matter what polls tell you, no matter what you hear when you’re out door-knocking, you always have to assume you’re in a position to lose — because you are. So campaign like it.

Mine relevant data

One of the cornerstones of Don’s campaign was data collection and analysis. We needed a strategy to reach voters, but that strategy couldn’t be based simply on intuition. Our team used a variety of tools — both digital and analog — to capture information on voters, issues, and voting behaviour. We used that information to target and communicate with different voter groups and determine the issues that were near and dear to them.

But we had to know what data was relevant and what data was noise. That wasn’t always easy, and I don’t have a silver bullet for figuring that out, except having some of the smartest, most insightful people on our team (see the final point in this post).

No task is too small

Another thing I kept telling everyone during the campaign was something an old high school drama teacher said once: there are no small parts, only small people. A campaign is a business that has to coalesce very quickly and with as few conflicts as possible for it to be effective. That means everyone often has to do a bit of everything, from greeting visitors to the office, to writing website content, to taking out the garbage each night.

As a volunteer, you need to approach a campaign with one of the key rules of improv: don’t say no to anything.

Find the best people

This doesn’t mean finding the most well-known or famous people. It sometimes doesn’t even mean finding people with experience working on municipal election campaigns. It means finding smart people who can overcome challenges. We had those people in scores, from our door-knockers to our writers. Outstanding people were key to a successful outcome, from a great candidate candidate to the people making phone calls on E-day.

Great people powered Don’s campaign. Great people are the reason why Don is now Edmonton’s mayor.

*I was a single person involved in a very large machine — Don’s campaign had over 850 volunteers who signed up online, to say nothing of the dozens who wandered into the office to lend a hand. There were hundreds of people managing important tasks, and it was my distinct pleasure to work with them. I imagine some of them will disagree with my thoughts below — and if they do, or they have anything to add, I’d love to hear from them in comments.


  1. I miss you all already:(