Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Writing good leaflets

David Semple and Cath Arakelian are both critical of the quality of Labour's leaflets in the Norwich North by-election. There is a link to some of the leaflets here.

Writing good leaflets is actually quite difficult, and I have seen many horrendous ones produced by the central party and local activists alike. So to kick off a discussion, here are some thoughts about what makes for a good leaflet:

1. The most important thing is to get some kind of leaflet delivered to people regularly, all year round. A leaflet which people get 1 year before an election, or better yet once every 2-3 months, is more effective than one which they get one day before an election. Even if you don't have the design skills to make a really good leaflet, just a side of A4 with some local information about what Labour is trying to do and how to get in touch is much, much better than nothing.

2. Leaflets don't have to be expensive to produce. I am always astonished at the amount of time and money which political parties spend on making leaflets look to the casual observer like they are advertising pizza for delivery or collection. Some of the very best leaflets are in black and white, and look authentically like they were produced on a home computer by a local resident who cares about the area - because they were. There is a time and place for glossy leaflets, but you don't need them to win elections.

3. Write about what your readers are interested in, not what you are interested in. There was a bit in one of the Norwich leaflets about how Labour cares about jobs because Yvette Cooper came to visit - this is a daft thing to write because no one except for total political obsessives knows or cares about who Yvette Cooper is. There was another bit about the 'Australian-style points based immigration system'. Using jargon like that is a sure sign that the author knows a lot more about what people in Westminster are preoccupied by than by what local people in Norwich care about.

4. 'Localise' the leaflets as far as possible, with different versions and different stories for different areas, and make them an interesting source of news about the local area. People will read a story about their local park, but won't be so interested in a story about improvements to a park on the other side of town. To do this, you have to know about the local area, which is why we need to make better use of the local knowledge which our members and supporters have.

I'm sure there's much more, but I think those are some of the key points and where we often go wrong.


At 7:17 am , Anonymous Paul said...

Yup, think that's about it.

I prefer to call then newsletters, not leaflets.

All I'd add is that the news doesn't have to be Labour's news. Don't be slow to congratulate others for their achievements, even though you may have had nothing to do with it. Over time, just reporting it makes it 'our' news by osmosis

And don't forget to come back to issues with updates - lots of 'As we reported in the July edition.....' goes down well as it smacks of continuity.

It's not rocket science, never has been. And I agree - the cheaper looking the better. No gloss is the new gloss.

At 12:44 pm , Anonymous Robert Brown said...

I agree with you completely, but it is a bit too optimistic to expect some of the tiny parties in Tory safe seats to be able to get thousands of leaflets out every 3rd month. In my local party, we only got 2500, in the whole of the european election.

At 12:55 pm , Blogger donpaskini said...

Hi Robert,

Good point - it's a matter of 'every little helps' (e.g. if it's not possible to do the whole constituency, try and get a smaller area done, if you can't do it every 3 months, try and do 1 per year and so on).

At 11:42 pm , Anonymous tim f said...

All good points - I'd add that a leaflet shouldn't be something that stands on its own, but be part of a plan to hammer home particular messages and themes. Regular leaflets are a good thing, but once you've got a certain degree of regularity it's better to have a reason to put a leaflet out rather than just doing it because we have a grid that says we have to have six leaflets a year.

A subset of 3) is not to use New Labourese (a particular dialect used by lazy leaflet-writers) without a very good reason. It is good to use repeat words and phrases, though.

Completely with you on pizza leaflet lookalikes. The best campaigns have a mix of professional-looking and homemade-looking materials, and there's nothing wrong with going for bold designs alongside traditional-looking leaflets, but designs that get easily confused with junkmail are daft.

At 4:19 pm , Anonymous Peter N said...

Small hint - When you're out campaigning and talking to voters it's good to keep notes of interesting or unfamiliar turns of phrase they use when talking about the results they want from or the issues they have with government policy. They are often appropriate for leaflet writing and can resonate with the part of the community the voter comes from when you target that segment. Noone can write for every demographic in an area (especially in London and big diverse cities) in their own particular manner, but they'll write it for you.


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