Time for the Liberals to revive the Supporter membership category.

Liberal Supporter GraphicA little over a year ago, the Liberal Party was in the midst of a bold initiative intended to bring a lot of Canadians into the Liberal Party fold. The Supporter category of membership in the Liberal Party was conceived as an easy way to sign up a really large number of new ‘members’ by eliminating a membership fee, and conferring the right to cast a vote in the Leadership contest. The Leadership contest provided a lot of publicity for both the category, and for the Liberal Party, as well as for the actual Leadership contenders themselves.  The creation of this category implicitly acknowledged that possessing the means to communicate freely with large numbers of people who held an affinity for the Liberal Party was more important than collecting a $10 membership fee from a much smaller group of members. This acknowledgement is important, because it really strikes to the heart of the disparity between the Conservative Party, and the Liberals and Dippers in the fundraising arena. The Conservatives raise more money per donor, from a considerably larger number of donors than the other two party’s combined. So if the Liberals tried something quite innovative, and a genuine departure from past practice, so the obvious question SHOULD be: ‘So how did that work out for you?’

Over the course of the Liberal Party leadership campaign, there were a total of about 294,000 supporters signed up, a large proportion of which provided email addresses. Of those 294,000 additional new contacts, 127,000 went through the registration process and were eligible to vote. Over 100,000 of those registered to vote actually voted, so I would say that the whole exercise was a great success. I think that an influx of several hundred thousands of new names and email addresses is no mean feat, and there are continuing benefits. In the months since Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberals, the Liberal Party has had access to all those new contacts, and the results have been pretty impressive. If you head over to The Pundits Guide financial contributions database, you can see from the quarterly results that not only are the Liberals raising significantly more money than last year, but they are doing it by winning over a lot more donors. In other words, new donors with first time, or smaller ongoing donations are stepping forward by the thousand. In the first quarter of 2013 there were 24,068 donors contributing M$1.70, while in 2012 there were 22,867 donors contributing M$2.33.  Q2 2013 saw M$2.96 from 38,014 donors, vs 2012 M$1.81 from 22,611 donors. Q3 2013 saw M$2,17 from 30,108 donors vs 2012 M$1.44 from 20,259 donors. The first quarter was anomalous, because of the ongoing Leadership race, but the growth in number of donors accelerated from 5% (1201 donors) in Q1, to 68% (15,403 donors) in Q2, and kept well ahead of year ago results in Q3 with an increase of  49%(9849 donors). We will have to wait until year end results are publicly posted in 2014 to see what the annual numbers are, but the quarterly numbers are painting a compelling picture of supporters opening their wallets to the Liberal Party.

So why is it that when I mention the supporter category to most Liberals, they refer to it in the past tense? It is as if they can only envision it as part of a leadership contest. Signing up lots of supporters in one short period was and is a godsend to the Liberal party bank account. Guaranteed it will produce a bumper crop of election volunteers come 2015. I should think that brighter minds than mine would be burning the midnight oil working out the details of an ongoing supporter drive. There really is nothing more fundamental to a political party’s success than the ability to communicate via email to large numbers of their supporters, so how about it?

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Whither the Green Party? Probable Strategy for 2015

I just took a gander at the Elections Canada databases to see the current state of the Green Party EDA`s. Like them or not, the Green Party remains a factor, and their 2015 campaign will play a role in determining the outcome of the 2015 election. I have a couple of general observations to make, and I have to say that the Green Party has some very impressive strengths, and some very telling weaknesses. It will sound like I am talking out of both sides of my mouth, but I will demonstrate why I expect that the GPC will have a very successful 2015 election, while at the same time they will have a greatly reduced impact on the outcome of the next general election. Be patient with me, and I will amply prove both points.

Back in January, I posted on the cynicism of Elizabeth Mays offers and entreaties for electoral co-operation with the Dippers and Liberals. The crux of my argument was that the Green Party will have a much smaller impact in 2015 because they will probably not be running a full slate of candidates. Every electoral district that they fail to field a candidate in will not have a single ballot cast for the Greens, so their impact in those ridings will be limited to a small number of disappointed Greens who fail to vote at all, while the balance of their voters cast a ballot for their second choice party. For those ridings where they do field a candidate, they will not have anywhere near the kinds of resources that they have had in the two or three past elections. That is primarily due to the loss of the per vote subsidy, which represented the lions share of the money accumulated in local Electoral District Associations coffers. (The Green Party used a fund sharing formula which forwarded a generous chunk of the subsidy funds to the EDA in which the underlying votes were earned). In fact, I can tell you with certainty that the majority of Canada’s GPC EDA`s were only incorporated for the purpose of receiving those per vote subsidies in the first place. The loss of the subsidy will result in folding up the EDA in a great many instances.

A second significant loss of resources was that a great many EDA`s spent relatively big money on the last general election, but then failed to achieve the 10% threshold to receive a 60% rebate of their electoral expenses. This had a dis-proportionate effect on the financial resources of some of the strongest EDA`s in the country. That impact will show up in the next general election in the form of weak campaigns in many places where  the GPC was once strong. These dozen or two ridings will deserve special attention by the Liberal Party and the NDP because there will be approximately 5%-6% of the electorate up for grabs there. In my books, that big of a shift in that many ridings has national significance.

The third factor to take into account is the lack of field organising infrastructure within the GPC, and the related lack of incentive to expend resources on recruiting and assisting a full slate of Candidates in 2015. Elizabeth May has done many good and effective things at the GPC. The greatest failing of her version of the GPC is the total lack of interest in building local infrastructure. I will not go into the facts that underly this conclusion, you can search the archives of this blog if you want names, dates, and details on the lack of field organising. Suffice it to say that I was intimately aware of the circumstances, and this conclusion is not idle. The main reason why the GPC has run a full slate of candidates in the past was to earn the per vote subsidy that came along with every vote. That is why there were so many `ghost`candidates, whose names appeared on the ballot, but who spent $200, and canvassed a few people at their favourite coffee shop, while calling it a campaign. The loss of the per vote subsidy eliminates the incentive for the Green Party to field a full slate of candidates, and the loss of the subsidy removes the incentive to even have a local EDA. I seriously doubt that the Party will create a field organising team, and dedicate real resources to run a full slate minus the incentive of the subsidy.

There is one piece of  objective evidence that my contentions are true. The number of registered Electoral District Associations has been in a steady decline since the last actual real field organiser was fired back in 2009. (She did her job TOO WELL! She actually formed a lot of EDA`s and the head office wanted to keep the per vote subsidy in their coffers, not flowing to Quebec EDA`s). I have updated the table below to reflect the 5 Electoral District Associations that have been de-certified by Elections Canada so far in 2013. Believe me, the trickle is going to turn into a flood by the end of this year. Please note that there have been a grand total of 10 EDA`s formed since 2009. That is pretty serious evidence that there is zero field organising capacity at the GPC, given the hundreds of ridings with no organisation at all.

  GPC EDA formation
Year Registrations Deregistrations
2004 96 1
2005 35 5
2006 24 13
2007 56 3
2008 16 5
2009 48 9
2010 4 44
2011 2 19
2012 4 18
2013 0 6
Total: 285 123

So that summarises my case that the GPC will have a greatly reduced impact on the outcome of the 2015 general election. Now I shall move on te the case that the GPC will have a very succesful 2015 election result.

The Green Party has had an internal conflict between the centre, (The HUB), and the peripheries, (The EDA`s) just about forever. The conflict was over general election strategies. One side arguing that the Beachhead strategy which should be to focus resources on a small number of key ridings, and actually getting a member of Parliament elected there. The other side argued for a `rising tide`strategy, which supported building electoral capacity in EDA`s across the country. This strategy anticipated ever stronger EDA`s with ever-increasing financial, and volunteer capacity to fight future elections. A key argument in favour of field organising,a nd building the EDA`s was that the per vote subsidy could be leveraged by collecting as much low hanging fruit as possible across the whole nation. It was easily proven that spending $1000 in a small riding would win more votes than adding an extra $1000 to the campaign budget in a strong riding. Well this argument is over, done, dead. beachhead wins hands down, so the GPC strategy for the 2015 election is as predictable as the rising of the sun.

Starting 4-1/2 years ago, the Green Party adopted the sole and over-riding objective of getting Elizabeth May elected to Parliament. These were not empty words. they did something radical (for the Greens) and actually spent some resources polling, and investigating target ridings. They then started throwing money, big money into opening multiple offices, and hiring staff located in Saanich Gulf Islands in BC. They spent well over $1million in the pre-writ period. They put the finishing touches on a database application that allows volunteers from across the country to telephone canvas into a specific riding. The 2010 election proved that ground game plus money talks, and Elizabeth may quite convincingly won the seat.

The recent by-elections in Calgary, and Victoria demonstrated the Green party has gotten pretty darned good at focusing a widely distributed National volunteer base on a specific riding. I am still on their mailing lists, so I received a lot of emails asking supporters to participate in the National Phone bank, canvassing Calgary, and Victoria in an ID-GOTV campaign. Having run such campaigns in the past, I can tell you that telephone canvass is the perfect way to ID the vote on the cheap. Volunteers are free, and the cost of long distance telephoning is pretty damned cheap too. Focusing hundreds, maybe even thousands of volunteers on a handful of ridings during a general election will instantly make the GPC competitive locally.

Elizabeth May has a very impressive network of environmental activists in her Rolodex. While local candidates are not as important as Party affiliation, and the Leadership factor in electoral outcomes, the difference between a Candidate with a nationally (or internationally) recognised name, and a 19-year-old student in a coffee shop is pretty obvious. Elizabeth May can personally recruit a handful of high quality candidates for carefully selected target ridings in 2015.

The formula for winning in SGI is not a fluke. It is a predictable outcome from having a high credibility candidate, and pouring huge money and boots on the ground into a small riding campaign. The most important criterion is the availability of money. Despite the loss of the per vote subsidy, the Green Party is growing their fundraising capacity in a very impressive manner. I blogged about it a few weeks ago, and what impresses me the most is that the increased cash flows are coming from a very systematic and disciplined fundraising process. Process is important, because it is not subject to vague fluctuations. What they are doing guarantees that they shall continue to raise ever-increasing quantities of the mother’s milk of politics, namely ca$h. They no longer need to pay the Salaries of Elizabeth May, and Adrian Carr, both of whom have salaries courtesy of their elected positions. Even local office expenses, and personal staff for those two people are being borne by taxpayers, so there is a chunky 6 figure annual savings for the GPC. Remember that the GPC does not spend money of field organising outside their target ridings, so a large chunk of the money they raise can be devoted to pre-writ spending in target ridings. Then there is the likelihood af raining a substantial loan for the next general election. Any ridings that they target with significant writ period spending will definitely exceed the 10% threshold for getting 60% of the campaign expenses back. They can borrow quite a chunk of dough, provided they can demonstrate a steady and dependable cash flow from fundraising, and they can pay much of those loans off using the proceeds of the electoral expenses rebates.

So put all these factors together, and the strategy of the GPC in 2015 becomes as clear as this mornings blue skies. They will focus on a small number of winnable ridings. Based on past history, I would bet folding money that the ridings they target will be currently held by Conservatives, and will disproportionately be located in BC, and Alberta, the GPC `strongholds`. I would guess that they will shoot for official party status in the house, but they may just rein in their ambitions a little and go for 4 or 5 certain seats as opposed to 10 maybes. With maybe a quarter $million or more in pre-writ spending per riding, a National campaign that focusses resources regionally, plus fully funded local campaigns, they will win in a number of ridings. If they limit their ambitions, there is no reason why they could not slam 5 ridings. If they want to roll the dice, they could possibly break through and achieve the coveted official party status in the H.O.C.

To wrap up this post, I will draw conclusions for the Liberal Party, and what all this means for them. When the GPC makes their target clear, (and they will long before the election), evaluate their chances carefully. If it is a smaller number of targets, then sit down and talk co-operation with the Greens. We cannot stop them from winning if they are prepared to spend millions on a small number of targets. Deal with the reality of it, and squeeze an advantage. The advantage on offer will be an endorsement of numerous Liberal Candidates by Elizabeth May and the GPC. It is true that the GPC will probably not run very many candidates outside their target ridings, for the reasons outlined above. The problem for the Liberals is that the abandoned GPC voters are more likely to vote NDP than Liberal wherever there is no GPC candidate. Elizabeth May does not like the NDP, so her instinct is going to be to cut a deal that favours the Liberals. Her endorsement could be a significant factor in attracting the lions share of the stranded GPC votes to the local Liberal rather than the local Dipper. Then of course, the post-election Parliament will hold the promise of a biddable coalition partner in the GPC. That could be critical if the Liberals achieve a strong minority, or even if they want a buffer of a few extra members to support a bare majority. If the GPC over-reaches themselves with too many targets, then the Liberal Party should think about it first. The targets will almost certainly be Conservative held ridings, so if the Liberals believe that the targets are winnable for the Liberals, then they should consider contesting them. Altogether though, I suspect that Elizabeth May is going to engineer an electoral coup in 2015, and make some form of electoral cooperation between the GPC and the Liberals a fact. And what makes this doubly impressive is that she will achieve this outcome whether she gets cooperation or not, and it will happen despite the significant reduction in the overall number of votes won by the GPC.

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Trudeau’s ‘Call to Action’ needs to focus on building the Riding Associations.

In the very few weeks since Justin Trudeau was elected leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, there have been some pretty big things going on. I guess the most obvious, and I mean IN YOUR FACE obvious is the launch millions of dollars worth of ‘attack ads’ by the Conservatives, and the launch of a million dollar ‘anti-attack’ ad by the Trudeau Liberals. We have all been treated to a phenomena that we have seen time and again. scads of

It's Off To Work We Go

It’s Off To Work We Go

instant communications ‘experts’ opine on whether one ad or another is ‘working’, and arguing the finer points of negative vs positive. Are the Cons shooting themselves in the foot? Is Trudeau a ‘Mr. Positive’, safely inoculated against negative ads? The yardstick against which the relative merits are judged are voting intentions as revealed by public opinion polls, which in turn unleash lashings of commentary on the accuracy, and relative merits of polling methods and companies. While all of this is, to be sure, very exciting and certainly gives us all fodder for blogs and comments, I cannot recall seeing a single news article on the yardsticks and measures of success that actually matter.

The objective of the Liberal Party of Canada is to win a plurality of voters in a general election expected sometime in the fall of 2015. I think that it is universally acknowledged that the biggest obstacle to overcome is that the Liberal Party does not currently have the ground organisation, or the resources to achieve that objective. Visit the Liberal Party website, and you shall be greeted by a banner stating simply: “HOPE and HARD WORK”. That is a pretty tacit recognition that there is some way to go, else why the word HOPE? I will take a leap of faith, and assume that since Justin Trudeau, and the Liberal Party recognise they need to rebuild the Party, that they have a Plan to achieve that objective. It is not rocket science, and Trudeau’s team have proven that they know how to plan. It is about setting an objective, acquiring the resources to achieve that objective, and then effectively deploying those resources to achieve the objective.

I do not think there is much doubt that the resource which matter most. The resource from which all good things flow is a base of committed supporters. Money, skills, volunteer hours etc. It follows that building up this asset is the interim objective, and this is the yardstick against which success should be measured. I guess that the rising fortunes of the Liberal Party in opinion polls measuring voting intentions is not a bad thing. What I am having trouble with is in answering the question, ‘How does spending a million dollars on an Ad campaign help to build the supporter base of the Liberal Party?’

I have spent enough time marketing goods and services that I understand the importance of a brand. Basically, all those Mr. Positive adverts are a brand building exercise. But Holy Crap! A million dollars on building the brand? The fundamental issue I have with that is that building the brand does not leave any room for a ‘call to action’ in the ad campaign. It is all sizzle and no steak. You can argue that Trudeau has leveraged the brand building campaign, by twinning it with a call to action to support the exercise with donations. That is certainly a valid point. Over a two-week period, I saw many a call to action in facebook ads, and various keyword based ads online to donate funds to the Liberals for the Mr. Positive ads. The effectiveness of that parallel campaign is proven by the obvious metric. The Liberal Party raised about $1million over a two-week period.  It is less obvious how effectively the Liberal Party has built the supporter base on which future success depends. For all those monetary resources expended, there has been very little in the way of calls to action to join, or Support the Liberal Party. I believe that the Liberals are playing their hand in a very disciplined and systematic way. I am thinking that the primary objective is going to come to the forefront over the coming months, and we shall see communications focused on calls to action that capitalise on the brand building campaign currently underway.

Trudeau is a wizard at gaining earned media. Earned media is at the discretion of journalists, editors, and the media in general. As such, it is very difficult to ensure an effective ‘call to action’ is included in published articles. Consequently, the focus of the earned media campaign is likely to be the continuous building the ‘Mr. Positive’ brand. We can hope, especially in online media channels, that the occasional ‘home run’ will be earned with links directly to Liberal, or Trudeau ‘landing pages’ intended to harvest supporter, donor, and volunteer names and email addresses. Those instances will be few and far between though. So earned media will probably focus on creating a positive environment for the ‘Hard work and Hope’ to take place in. Where the true objective will be achieved is on the paid media, and field organising fronts.

On the paid media side of things, the focus needs to be far more directly related to garnering the key resource, to whit recruiting supporters, voters, and building the volunteer base to make our EDA’s competitive. The reason is simple. Paid media is 100% at the discretion of the buyer. Connecting the message to the call to action is normally the entire purpose of a paid ad. This is the reason that I am bothered by the current $1million ad campaign. Delivering calls to action is EXPENSIVE, and every dollar spent on Mr. Positive ads, is one less dollar asking someone to join the Party, attend an EDA building event, sign a petition, or any of a myriad of useful and effective calls to action. Since future revenue streams are dependant upon a growing and ever more dedicated supporter base, the focus of the paid media campaign must shift to effective calls to action. That will directly grow the capacity of both the central Party campaign apparatus, and the local EDA supporter base.

On the field organising front, Justin Trudeau is a one man organising machine! I follow the news regularly, so every time I read a comment about Justin Trudeau missing in action in the House of Commons, a muted ‘Bwah ha ah’ rises from deep within. You see, rather than hanging out in the HOC standing in a futile exercise of voting against Government motions that will pass, Justin is out in the field stuffing the coffers and recruiting scads of supporters one EDA at a time. The Parliamentary reporters can fret away the days until Justin returns, which guarantees that his infrequent appearances on the Hill will be well attended. The result being solid national media coverage on themes more or less of his choosing (see ‘earned media wizard’ comment above).  In the past week, Justin spent time in Labrador addressing and motivating supporters in the by-election contest currently underway. He showed up in Edmonton, meeting with Edmonton area EDA’s, and drawing hundreds of new supporters into the local Edmonton organisations. Then he moved on to Winnipeg, where he glad handed his way through the food court of a local mall, once again addressing crowds and drawing more people into the Liberal Party’s arms. The guy makes the Energiser Bunny look like a freakin dilettante! I am starting to believe that Trudeau can practically rebuild the Party all by his lonesome, but I am thinking that the Liberals have to do better than that. This is where you and I come into the picture. ‘HOPE and HARD WORK’ means exactly that. When Justin moves on to the next EDA, what he is leaving behind has to be organised, and welded into a campaign capable group that can win the next election. Liberalist is being steadily populated with new supporters across the nation. It is pretty important that there is a local connection for all those new supporters. Engaging with them and soliciting their time, money, and effort needs to be happening in every EDA, or the opportunity Trudeau has presented the Liberals will be lost. There is probably a two-year time frame in which we have to act. If we are to overcome the CPC, and growing NDP organisations, then Justin is absolutely bang on the money. From a basis of HOPE, it is up to you and I to put in the HARD WORK, and put the puck in the net in 338 ridings in 2015!

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Liberal Party Organising: Integrating Facebook with Voter contact lists means GAME OVER for the Conservatives

I have blogged repeatedly on the Importance to the Liberal Party of ‘building the database’ and populating Liberalist with as many Liberal Party supporters as possible. That is step one of the critical three-step of Building the database, Engaging supporters more deeply, and effective Calls to action. Until about an hour ago, I thought that using social media like Facebook was a side-show. Basically, as far as I knew, you could do events, spread messages, and do a bunch of nifty things, but that it was a completely different data silo that was basically useless to the main task of enriching Liberalist with data about what truly motivates individual electors and supporters. BOY WAS I WRONG!

I was going to post about how I tracked back this fundraising email 10000 donors Apr26, addressed from Katie Telford, Co-Chair of the Trudeau Campaign. The email was an effective ask for $$, but it did not have any clickable html links to share with friends, to network, and help the Liberal Party to build the contact database. That was missing a great opportunity. Surely their email service providers could have provided these services for them? I wanted to learn more about the email servers, and back-end data management of the Trudeau Campaign, and by extension, what we can expect from the Liberal Party as the Trudeau Campaign spreads its influence at head office. With a little help from Google and GMAIL, I found myself on this website for NGP VAN, which is a Progressive / Democrat Party affiliated data and communications management firm based in the States.

As so often happens in the information age, following a lead put me squarely in front of something related, but un-expected. You see, I have been overly dismissive of the uses of social media for campaign purposes. Facebook is a great way to spread a message, invite people to events, and a myriad of vitally important campaign related stuff. Until about 1 hour ago, I thought that there was a fundamental problem that the data about social media contacts are isolated within a world effectively controlled by third party data vendors. In plain English, Facebook controls their users data. I did not see how all that wonderful data about the preferences, causes, friends of each individual supporter and contact could be linked directly to Liberalist. As I have posted repeatedly, engaging Canadians more deeply, and building an ever more detailed picture of what motivates our supporters allows us to target our communications, way more effectively. It is going to be an integral part of rebuilding the ground game of the Liberal Party by building up donor and volunteer lists at the National and EDA level.

So now I get to the point. NGP VAN has a social organising component that integrates Facebook friends and contacts with compatible Contact Databases! I figuratively drooled all over my keyboard as I watched the promotional video embedded below. If you are a Liberal Organiser, you need to ENSURE that your EDA has a nice Facebook page, because every like, every friend of every supporter can be quickly and seamlessly integrated into Liberalist utilising this tool. HOLY CRAP! The Liberal Party is going to freaking BURY the Conservatives in 2015! Imagine what will happen when 75% of Liberal voters are magically profiled and accessible to the local field organisers in the year leading up to a general election? The Conservatives have spent literally tens of $millions building a partial and spotty database on supporters and donors. The Liberal Party can acquire a much richer dataset in one tenth of the time. Don’t believe me? Watch the video below, and get to work with that Facebook page!

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It is time for the Liberal party to start ‘Doing’ policy.

Attack ads, counter attack ads. Lots of earned media so far, and with some actual media buys happening, I am sure there is going to be some movement in opinion polls, and very early voting intentions, but seriously, what does it mean 2 years out from the next general election? Lets take stock of what the practical results of the first two weeks of Trudeau’s leadership are. The most obvious practical outcome is the incredible success of the Supporter category of membership in the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party raised a nifty half a million dollars in the first 7 days after the leadership race ended. I suspect that by the end of this weekend, the total will be approaching a cool $million. Not too shabby for the third place Party, two years away from a general election! And how did the Party do it? Well two words encapsulate it: Trudeau & Supporter. Here is a copy of one of Trudeau’s ‘asks’ that tells us there were 7,000 donors last week.

First Look at our Ad

When Justin Trudeau was faced by an immediate barrage of attack ads, the Liberal Party was able to send out mass emails to an enormous number of recipients, largely because the supporter category had added somewhere around a quarter million names to Liberalist. I am sure that the social media networking drove more than a few donors into Trudeau’s arms, but the lions share had to be in the form of click-throughs from the emailed communications.  I am thinking that the skeptics about supporter category are taking a sober second look at the concept right about now, as I do not think that the Liberals have ever really seen anything like this. But here’s the thing. People are motivated right now. There is a lot of excitement still in the air over the recent Trudeau win, but those Conservative attack ads are going to start to have an impact. It will not be long until the existing lists start to suffer from donor fatigue. (Not to mention bumping up against contribution limits). Without something more concrete than excitement and enthusiasm for Justin, the edge will come off. The need to replenish Liberalist with fresh contacts, and the need to motivate and engage people who have not yet contributed will become an ever more pressing concern.

I will never stop believing that a great event is nowhere near as good as an effective PROCESS. I know it sounds ridiculous to say that the Leadership race, and this huge fundraising boom is not the best thing that could happen, but that is exactly what I believe to be true. To put this most excellent fundraising week into perspective, the Liberal Party blew the doors off, and raised $500,000. At an annualised rate, this would yield $26 million, assuming the same level of excitement and engagement were sustainable year round.  The Conservative Party raises between $17 million in 2009 and 2010, up to a high of $22 million in 2011 from about 100,000 donors. They do this dependably, reliably, and repeatedly because they have systematized their fundraising and outreach efforts. They tap into people motivated by specific policy prescriptions, or ideas, and that is why their donors dig deep into their pockets again and again.

So how do you go about building a reliable process to recruit, and engage new donors? Well the answer is to appeal to people based upon something more reliable than excitement and pizzazz. That something is, and always will be to appeal to deeply held beliefs, which means policy. In a sense, the Conservative attack ads are highlighting this fact for us. They are absolutely correct that without any policy substance, the Liberal party is not going to forge any kind of real relationship with the electorate. I think that Justin Trudeau is also correct, that policy that is delivered from on high is not the best way of forging that relationship, and engaging more Canadians. The Trudeau campaign has actually started a process of soliciting policy input from Canadians, utilising a tool called soapbox. The website is ok I guess. It definitely has been envisioned as both an idea factory, and a tool for harvesting resources, but there is something missing from it. To my jaundiced eye, there is a proliferation of disconnected ideas, and no real way to pull the threads together into common themes, and ultimately serious policy prescriptions. I am not an expert in website design, or social networks/forums, but to my mind, what is missing is a stronger guidance and structure, so that people can actually assemble online clustered about policy themes and statements. For example, The Liberal Party has several prominent advocates, and scholars of democratic reform in our ranks. I am thinking Stephane Dion, and latterly Joyce Murray. If they were invited to build an online community addressing electoral reform, then we could be assured that there would be some solid policy prescriptions being presented for debate, and a tool like soapbox can form the meeting place where Canadian proponents of electoral reform could engage ever more deeply with the issue that moves their hearts and minds. With a few thousand dollars of seed money, plus a plethora of social networking tools, I can pretty well guarantee they could build a community of many many thousands of Canadians around this issue. And naturally, there are many policy fields that could engage large and small groups of proponents, each with a few prominent Liberals providing the steady guiding hand. Periodically, they could be asked to contribute funds to an advertising campaign to promote their policy prescriptions to all Canadians, thus drawing in new participants, donors, volunteers, and members, whilst forever banishing the public perception that Trudeau, and the Liberal Party is bereft of ideas.

As I said earlier, I am not an expert in forums or social networking, but I guarantee that Liberals exist who ARE. I can also guarantee that without processes to draw in, and ever more deeply engage Canadians with the Liberal party, it is ony a matter of time before the Conservatives, and the NDP stomp the Liberal Party. Because the fact is that the Liberal Party IS at a policy crossroad. And both of out opponents are ideologically driven, with ideas and policy at the heart of  their party’s. My ideas along these lines may be fatally flawed, but it is definitely time to start the hard work of building the Party, and policy formulation has to be front and centre in this effort.

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Justin Trudeau ‘Anti-Attack’ ads released

OK, so I just got an emailed ‘ask’ to help pay for airing this 30 second spot. I am not an advertising expert, so I do not know how effective it will be. In essence, Justin tells us he is a Teacher and proud of it, Canadians deserve better than attack ads, and he is going to work hard. The budget so far is for $500,000 but the objecteive is to raise another $500,000 for a total buy of $1,000,000.

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Attack ads are not the issue for the Liberals. It is the lack of money.

All this focus on attack ads!

I do not normally have much to say about Air War aspects of political campaigning. Broadcast and media aspects of campaigns are important, but they are really outside my area of expertise. What I do know is that when the public gets engaged, money and volunteers flow into Party coffers, so naturally I always want to see the Air War driving traffic to websites and events where money and people can be solicited. What I can say positively is that earned media (meaning press coverage) that drives traffic to websites is unequivocably GOOD, while paid media (meaning paid advertising) seldom, if ever brings in enough resources to cover the costs. That paid media had better be performing some really vital function, because advertising has an impact only for so long as the money is flowing, and the money is NOT small. Lesson number one, media buys COST money, they do not generate it.

Earned media galore

Earned media galore

So my question now is how Trudeau should respond to the CPC advertising campaign just starting this week? Trudeau knew it was coming. He spent the entire leadership race, with absolute SHIPLOADS of earned media inoculating against it as best he may, by defining himself as an ‘anti-politician’ all positive and sweetness, with just a hint of  ‘tough as nails’. There are a number of polls say that it has worked pretty well as he might have hoped for, because for his supporters (and they are legion), they are so far calling foul instead of doubting. Trudeau shall continue to get earned media and will do his best I am sure to counteract the attack, but undoubtedly he will still suffer from those ads, and those yet to come. In fact, we can count on it, because it is easier and cheaper for the CPC to suppress support than it is for Trudeau to build it up.

There are people whose professional opinions I respect who call those polls rubbish. Warren Kinsella, arguably one of the Liberal Partys most succesful war room operatives and communications experts has said repeatedly that those attack ads are going to be devastating, and that the only solution is to fight fire with fire, and quickly. I guess he earns the big bucks by being right about his trade. I do have to ask a simple question though. For everybody calling on the Liberals to ‘counter-attack’, I am scratching my head and wondering what do you call 6 months of inoculations that have gone before? Are you suggesting adding paid attack ads into the mix, going against the grain of everything Trudeau has uttered to date by suppressing Conservative support? TWO years before the next election? With money that the Liberal Party does not really have? I am dead sure that Stephen Harper can be attacked effectively, and his support suppressed. But if and when that happens, Trudeau’s’ promises to stay positive, and all that earned media that went with it are gone, gone, gone, along with a large chunk of $$. inoculation effect vanishes, and Trudeau sinks like a stone. And the payoff? The CPC drops a couple of points in the polls, TWO YEARS before the next general election… Mulcair chortles and says ‘Thank you very much!’ Lesson number two, genuine attack ads will hurt the ‘anti-politician’ image so carefully built.

Maybe fighting back means that Trudeau should drop a few million of paid advertising into supporting his ‘anti-politician’ meme built with earned media? With TWO years to go until the next election? It is true that the only way to reach many of those seeing CPC attack ads today is to respond in the same media, in the same time slots. Normal people do not read blogs like this, or avidly consume media reports about Trudeau, or any other politician. They are emphatically NOT inoculated against anything. Those millions of people are getting their first strong impressions about Trudeau from the CPC spots they are seeing now. That is quite a dilemma for the Liberals isn’t it? They need to reach those folks who are less engaged, but they are lacking the basic requirement for a sustained effort. To whit, a steady supply of money.

If you ask me, the fundamental problem is that the Liberal Partys options are limited by their relative weakness in fundraising. Trudeau has popped maybe a $million into the bank to ‘fight back’ against those inevitable attack ads. The Conservatives are holding their breath and hoping he will respond to them in kind. Why? Because $1 million is chump change for them. They will see his million, and raise him two, and bleed the Liberals dry. The CPC do this because their donors deliver like clockwork. The Liberals are on an upwards trajectory in their fundraising, but they are not ready to compete with the Conservatives in a sustained Air War. If there were $2mm rolling in per month, then there would be any number of responses possible. The Liberals could while away the months beating the crap out of the CPC and the Dippers, or build gold statues of Trudeau in every city, lol, so job number one is creating the systems to systematically fill the coffers. I see some very positive signs in that direction, so positive that I think it may be possible to go toe to toe in an Air War next year. Time will tell.

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