When running and supporting a political campaign, engaging with voters is vital for a healthy democracy. To achieve this, political parties, campaigners and candidates will communicate with voters using various methods of marketing. This may include a range of more direct marketing strategies, such as sending addressed post, emails and making direct phone calls.
If you intend to incorporate direct marketing methods into your campaign, then it’s vital that you understand the rules and regulations involved, to do it successfully.
Under the Privacy and Electronic Communication (EC Directive), Regulations 2003 (PECR) and the Data Protection Act 1998 (the DPA), there are specific rules which you must comply with when it comes to direct marketing for a political party.
What is meant by ‘direct marketing’.
Section 11 of the Data Protection Act 1998 defines direct marketing as;
"…the communication (by whatever means) of any advertising or marketing material which is direct to particular individuals’’.
Direct marketing covers communications ‘directed to particular individuals’, whether it be by post, email, text or phone call. Therefore, mailings and leaflet drops which are unaddressed, or addressed merely to ‘the occupier’, do not fall within the statutory definition of ‘direct marketing’.
It’s also worth noting that direct marketing also includes the promotion of appeals for funds or support for a campaign, so basically, anything which encourages individuals to take some form of action.
Additionally, candidates, political parties and referendum campaigners have a right (depending on the type of election or referendum) to send an ‘election address’ by Freepost, either addressed to an individual or unaddressed, to every postal address. This type of Freepost mailing does not constitute as ‘direct marketing’.
If you would like further information on what is classed as directing marketing then check out the Direct Marketing Guide by ICO (Information Commissioner’s Office).
Collecting personal information.
The Data Protection Act 1998 requires processing of personal information to be fair, which generally requires an organisation to be transparent and tell individuals how it intends to use their personal data, including who the information will be shared with.
It’s vital that anyone campaigning for a political party ensures that any personal information obtained for direct marketing purposes are gained fairly to comply with this act. This would also ensure that you gain a more positive response from voters. As you can imagine, if people have asked not to be contacted and suddenly they’re gaining phone calls and emails from you, this may frustrate the individual and prevent them from voting for you.
Marketing by post.
If you intend to send promotional messages by post then you must ensure that you respect any requests from individuals who do not wish to be contacted this way. Plus, if there is a case where you will be collecting information directly from the individual, it’s vital that you let them know that you intend on sending them marketing materials and gain their consent to do so.
However, don’t let this deter you from including election leaflets within your marketing strategy, as voters require this information to fully understand what your party stand for and what you promise to do if in power. Election leaflets are an extremely effective strategy for pushing your campaign and shouldn’t be left out due to the marketing rules and regulations. If you ensure to comply, then most people who receive your leaflets and flyers will be content to gain this information via post.
Marketing by phone call.
If you’re going to ring an individual to push your campaign then you must ensure that they’ve given you permission to do so. Most people probably won’t respond positively to being contacted over the phone without their consent, which is worth considering when making phone calls as part of your campaign strategy.
Even when the information has been obtained by a third party, you must ensure that the individuals which you intend to contact are aware that you will be contacting them and have some expectation for your promotional call. Otherwise, you will more than likely frustrate voters and could potentially lose votes.
If you intend to use phone calls as part of your direct marketing campaign, then you must ensure to screen against the Telephone Preference Service – calls can only be made if the individual has registered with the TPS.
If you are to ring someone who has consented then you must ensure to:
• Identify yourself at the beginning of the call;
• Ensure your number is not withheld;
• If requested, supply a number (which would be free of charge) where the individual can contact for their name to be removed from the list.
The rules for automated marketing calls are even stricter, as many people find automated calls intrusive and disturbing, so it’s worth considering that first of all when deciding if you want to include this as part of your direct marketing plan.
You must have specific consent from the individual if you intend to send them an automated marketing call. If you do gain consent, then you must include the name of your organisation, a contact address or Freephone number, and ensure that your number isn’t withheld.
In 2010, The Guardian covered an article on Labour breaking the rules with automated phone calls.
According to the article Labour had;
" …breached privacy regulations by making unsolicited automated phone calls featuring a recorded message from Coronation Street actor Liz Dawn to almost half a million people, the information commissioner ruled today.’’
Labour had to then stop the campaign, meaning a loss of money, time and voters.
Therefore, not only is it unlawful to break the rules, but it could also create negative press around your campaign and ruin your chances of becoming in power.
For further information on marketing calls, read the ICO Telephone Marketing Guide.
Marketing by ‘electronic mail’.
Electronic mail includes email, text message, social media, video message and voicemail. You must ensure to have specific consent to contact individuals through these channels.
Plus, like other methods of direct marketing, the organisation must state who they are within the electronic mail and provide an address so the individual can ask to not be contacted again if they so wished.
If you’ve collected individual’s information from previous campaigns, then carefully assess if it’s suitable to contact those individuals again with a different campaign.
If you have gained individual’s information fairly and with specific consent, then all forms of electronic mail can be a fantastic way to communicate with voters.
An example of what not to do, political party Britain First broke the advertising code in 2016 by, according to the ASA, sending unsolicited messages. An article from The Guardian said;
"One recipient complained to the watchdog because the message – which included links to sign up for membership – had been sent unsolicited.’’
"…the ASA said there was no evidence to show that the recipient had given explicit consent to receive marketing emails. It therefore ruled that the ad breached the advertising code and told Britain First not to send marketing emails to consumers without their explicit consent.’’
Therefore, it's important that you ensure all the personal data you receive has been gained fairly, otherwise, it may frustrate voters and create unwanted, negative press.
Why must your party comply?
Firstly, it goes without saying that campaigners should be respectful of individual’s personal data and to only use their information fairly and with care. Plus, failure to comply with an enforcement notice is a criminal offence and could result in fines of up to £500,000 for a serious breach of the DPA or PECR.
Furthermore, these rules have been created to ensure that individuals don’t feel exploited and pestered, so, more than likely, it would be harmful to your campaign to break these rules as it may upset voters.
On the other hand, it’s important that your party coherently communicates their message with voters and direct marketing, when done properly, can be an incredibly efficient way to do so. The main point to take away is to ensure that you’re not contacting anyone who doesn’t want to be contacted and to concentrate on those that do want to be.
How can you get your message across best to those who want to be reached? What election campaign prints do you need?
If you’re seeking further inspiration for pushing your political campaign then check out our post on ‘What You Need to Run an Effective Election Campaign.’