Tuesday , March 28 2023

Opinion: Lessons learned from St. Maarten elections campaign

In March 2015 there will be elections for for our local government. For those interested, there may be some lessons learned from the recent elections on St. Maarten.
The Daily herald published today the following “Letter-to the Editor” from student.
To whom it may concern:

Dear Editor,

I’m a third year marketing in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. For new, innovative, practical approaches we are taught to observe our surroundings. Being from St. Maarten (by way of Suriname) I keep my eye on advertising campaigns and such at home. In many cases St. Maarten is still using old methods, but I know a few friends who have returned to the island, trying to do new things in our field. This brings me to what I observed during the last election campaign.

I was truly impressed with the innovation, organisation, speed and ability to pivot on the fly of the UP party. They employed new approaches to reach people. Most notably they made social media into their playground and reacting to anti-UP attacks into an art form. As a student it was amazing to see, so good that I’m using it as part of my thesis.

The PR campaign of the UP was so good the other parties built their campaign to mimic. This was most noticeable via social media with the UP Facebook page was followed by others at every turn. When you can get members of another political party monitoring and commenting on your page while neglecting their own, you know you have something special. I heard political opponents refer to the UP Facebook page over and over. The UP used Facebook as a weapon to point out other party flaws because it knew it had the most popular political outlet online; that’s called taking advantage of your strengths.

The content was well planned; the distribution of the content well timed; the use of visuals was off the chart. Responding to attacks was short and to the point. The writing was professional and had flair and fire. It was the perfect storm.

As a student in the field I expect that the UP’s plan will be studied and copied, but that was the other genius aspect of the PR campaign. When others copied what they were doing the UP adjusted on the fly and came up with something new, just like that. Judging from what I could tell from across the Atlantic they applied the same organisational principles in public at their meetings, banner placement and so on.

After the elections it continued and what is “it” you may ask? The most important thing in a marketing campaign: staying on message. The Facebook page is still active whereas others have fallen dormant. They are still keeping their followers updated and involved. I don’t know who the marketing and PR people of the UP are or even if they employ a company, but one thing became very obvious: the team must have been young and if so, the party was smart to take on smart, creative people. I’ve been taught that campaigns (all kinds) should opt for newcomers that can bring fresh thinking.

In brief, if I was handed the assignment to elaborate on how the UP set itself apart, my summary would be as follows:
1. They employed compelling digital marketing
2. They spread likability and popularity of the party
3. They differentiated themselves from the competitors
4. They worked across different sectors
5. They had active print marketing
6. They made favourable, popular announcements
7. They made public appearances into mega events
8. They let people be the voice of the party
9. They maintained transparency and communication
10. They had a non-convoluted, catchy slogan

While you can pay to market politics online, it is arguably better to engage your network of supporters and let them spread the message for you. Their reach and trust value far outweigh anything you could broadcast or pay for. Once you have their attention, little calls to action can go a long way.

The UP recognised this and seized upon it with dubbing a day “Green Friday,” green watches, capitalising on the word “UP” etc. When people become your mouth-pieces mission accomplished.

As businesses have known for some time, the social web can be a cost-effective medium for targeted advertising. Whereas expensive television and print ads might blanket a wide swath of voters with uncertain viewership and impact, social media engagement costs pennies on the dollar and can deliver highly targeted and measurable results if executed properly. Just as social media has opened a dialogue between businesses and consumers, its value is apparent to those in political office, whose work and very professional survival hinges on the needs and perceptions of their constituents.

The UP understood that a campaign is something to be won. It’s a contest. People tend to flood parties with calls of “too much flair,” “talk about the issues.” All fine and
well, but as Ronald Reagan once said: “First you win, then you govern.” You don’t try to govern in a campaign. You try to win.

No political party in my opinion understands this value better than the UP. They have raised the bar in political marketing on St. Maarten and its team deserves credit by the boat loads. Had the PR campaign not been executed so brilliantly I believe the campaign would have been somewhat closer. Perfectly done.

Kenneth “Ken” Sitalsin

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