Thursday, August 14, 2008

Permatang Pauh: Five Don'ts for Campaigning in Tough Times

This is my tongue-in-cheek marketing take on the Permatang Pauh by-election. This is dedicated to all party workers:

1. Be smart and thrifty, but don't panic. This, too, shall pass.
I guess, the first lesson comes in the wake of the Elegant Advisory saga. Parties need to watch out for the suppliers of party paraphernalia. This works both ways, for the party as customer and the supplier company. Make sure there is a Purchase Order (PO). Make sure the PO contains sufficient description of the quantity, per unit cost, total cost and, oh! the description of the item ordered.
Try not to freak out with the delivery times. While we know these items are time-sensitive, despite the nomination day and polling day, stay cool. After polling day the stress will be gone.
2. Campaigning is muscle, not fat. Be careful about cutting it.
Just as the savviest investors view down markets as a time to buy when everybody else is selling, the savviest campaigners know that tough political climates are a great time to pick up new voter support. They understand that by maintaining their campaign budgets (or even increasing them) they may not come out ahead during the down times, but they can pick up voter sentiment that will pay off in the long run. Cutting the campaign spending is a sure way to give ground to the other party who may be more aggressive during the political turmoil.

3. Don't lose focus by chasing voters you wouldn't normally want.
When voters get nervous about the political climate, they may cut back their ceramah attendances. For political parties that could mean fewer face-to-face sessions. But if parties try to broaden their appeal to please a wider voter base, chances are they may make their best and most loyal supporters even less satisfied, giving them one more reason to stay home during polling day. There's a reason parties don't pursue certain types of voters when times are good, and that reason probably hasn't changed. Parties must best to stick to their knitting and enhance the value they provide to their best voters. The other party may decide to make their cutbacks in areas other than yours.

4. Don't discount the party campaign manifesto.
It's easy to rationalize discounting during a periods of political turmoil, for the party's sake as well as for the sake of the voters ("they're struggling and need the help"). But whether times are good or bad, discounting the party campaign manifesto won't look good in the eyes of voters. There was a time after GE2004 when BN handed out subsidies so often that they trained the voters never to pay full price. Recently BN removed much of the subsidies. That created a margin problem from which it is paying the price today. If you need to make your manifesto more moderate (to generate voter volume, goodwill, or both), do so carefully and deliberately.

5. Don't neglect the elephant in the room.
We live in a 24-hour information cycle. When news breaks, people know it, and political news breaks every day. You don't have to be a politician to know the political environment isn't in the best shape right now, and the point is brought home to your voters in a personal way every time they go to the ground or, fill up their petrol tanks. Even if your party's support have held up, your supporters know there's trouble afoot and they're nervous. Make sure they know you're on top of things and have a plan.

There's no telling what lies ahead over the next few weeks. Malaysia may pull out of its political rut more quickly than anticipated, or we may be in for a prolonged rough ride. But voters will still need to eat. They still need transportation. They still seek entertainment, clothing, vacations, pet food, perfume, office supplies, computer servers, tractors, and fertilizers. As the constituency tightens up, the best positioned political players will survive and thrive. Avoid the mistakes above and you're more likely to be one of them.
The above entry is loosely based on a Businessweek article written by Steve McKee. You can read the original article here!

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