This article is an overview of the foundations of building effective campaign narratives, the key elements, prompts to support the development, and suggestions for dissemination.
Your campaign narrative is the core message of what you’re fighting for. It’s crucial to make sure your narrative is clear, effective and inclusive. If people have even one interaction with your campaign, they should be able to understand what you’re about.
Your campaign narrative consists of your personal stories and the key messages that combine to form the narrative of your campaign. You should be able to articulate the problem you are trying to solve, how you will solve it, and how joining your campaign (through voting, supporting, joining as a volunteer etc.) will contribute to that solution.
People join causes and shift their perspectives through connection, and the strongest way people connect to each other is through stories. It’s important to make sure this is actually a story, and not a retelling of your resume. Stories tap into a different part of the brain than facts and lists of details, and while people want to know the candidate is qualified, personal connection and knowing the candidate's CARES will always trump anything else. Instead of saying “I’ve been a lawyer for eight years so I’m the best with the legislature.”, you can say “
Story of me/story of us/story of now - Particularly in speaking in longer format, such as in a rally speech or a campaign video, this is a great format for tying together 3 stories to build momentum and engagement by actively connecting your audience to you, the current time, place and cause.
Story of me - This is your personal story.
Story of us - This is how your audience has come together as a community and is working together to build something or change something.
Story of now - This is how the current moment is unique and what is at stake right now. This is an opportunity to inject moments of urgency.
Prompts to help develop “story of me”/personal narratives
These are key points that describe what you’re fighting for with an election campaign. They should answer what your campaign is about and what your priorities are. You should have 3 main messages, and further ones related to different topics. It’s powerful to use these to paint the picture in people’s mind of what you’ll do if you’re elected.
“As your Green representative, I’ll hold the other parties accountable on climate.”
“This campaign is about ensuring youth have a voice in Parliament.”
“It’s time for empathy and evidence to drive political decision making.”
Framing is the angle from which you convey your messages, with specific focus on a particular aspect of the problem you’re trying to solve.
Examples of effective framing:
Audiences - In certain mediums - like mainstream press interviews and rallies - it’s difficult to divide your audience so you want to choose the stories and messages that appeal to the greatest number of people. But when you can - through targeted ads, one-on-one conversations, specific outlets and more - you might want to tailor your narrative to your audiences. You can ask people what issues they care about, and choose which key messages to convey to them based on their answers.
If you have the budget and the time, it’s worth considering paying for focus group research to determine which stories and key messages resonate the strongest among different audiences.
Note: while you can focus on different things for different audiences, be sure to never contradict yourself.
Once you’ve determined your campaign narrative - your personal stories and core messages - you need to ensure these are disseminated throughout all your campaign materials: scripts for volunteers, ads, flyers, press releases, speeches, media interviews, everything.
And you need to: Repeat, repeat, repeat. If you’ve said something 100 times, it’s like the average voter has heard it once. The more people hear something, the more it will sink in and resonate.
Notes on communicating your campaign narrative:
Authenticity - One of the most important aspects of effective storytelling and communications is authenticity. If you’re young, don’t act like a mini old person to make people take you more seriously.
Mythbusting - Be careful not to validate your opponents’ narrative by repeating their messages or using responsive messages. Example: “Migrants don’t steal.” validates their premise, whereas “We all deserve safety and contribute to society”
Show not tell - As much as you can, prove what you’re saying, using stories and examples, instead of just claiming something without backing it up. When a volunteer or candidate is speaking to potential voters, instead of saying “I care about the environment” or “I care about the community”, you can help to show this by describing a time in the past that you lobbied to protect a community river, or did some other service to the community.
Rapid response - New information or a recent event can provide juice that will refresh conversations around a certain topic. If you can successfully speak about current events (quickly - within a couple hours ideally) and explain how they relate to and prove your narratives, you will expand the reach of your narratives.
Unite us/divide them - When deciding on your core messages and framing to use, it’s important to consider what will resonate with the largest number of aligned people. What will unite us and divide them (your opponents)? If you realise you’re fighting a losing battle on a certain issue or frame, pivot to where you’re strong and with what you know resonates.
Never talk down to or condescend to your audience. Treat your audience like they’re smarter than you think they are, but have less context than you think they have. If people feel like there’s something they’re missing, they’ll likely tune out and are less likely to engage/share/join/participate. Be sure to use words that are not too over complicated, and that don’t offend or alienate your potential voters.
Your campaign narrative is how you communicate what you’re fighting for. It’s important to know your 3 core key messages, key messages for different issues tailored to different audiences, and which stories back up what you’re saying, by connecting to people on a personal level. Then, repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Last updated: June 2022