It is important to plan out the best path towards our destination (a campaign victory!) and define important dates along the way so that everyone involved in the campaign knows what needs to be prepared.
Campaigns tend to be hectic, especially closer to election day. Campaign scheduling helps keep sight of the bigger picture despite the chaos of the day to day. This article discusses the importance of knowing when to peak, working backwards from your goals and setting up a ‘master campaign calendar’.
To run a campaign to the best of your abilities, you need to organise your resources so you can peak at the right moments. So what are moments where you should peak and how do you plan ahead to make sure the resources are ready for when they are needed?
The 2013 Italian general election saw a huge shift in voter preferences in just the last week before the election, with the social democrats (PD) on a rapid downward slope and Beppe Grillo’s populist left party (M5S) on a sharp rise. Research now shows that about a quarter of the voters decided which party they would vote for in the last week before the election. Close to half of the voters (46%) decided only in the last month before the election, up from one third (33%) of voters from the preceding elections in 2008.
We can see this development across Europe. Voters often decide who to vote for closer to the elections. This also coincides with media attention. The closer we are to the elections, the more media coverage there is. Therefore, the closer we are to elections, the more important it is for a candidate and a party to shine. Similarly, this is when advertisements and canvassing are most impactful. And when journalists are most likely to report on an event or activity you are organising.
Therefore, you want to consider a variety of efforts such as a televised debate, a polling moment, a primary, or a congress in the lead up to the elections. These are moments that have an increased likeliness to create media attention and thus influence voters.
When scheduling a campaign, it helps to start with the goal, aka the endpoint or the finish line: where do you want to be on a specific date, such as election day? How many votes do you strive to get; how much media attention do you expect to receive; how many doors will you have knocked; how much money would you have raised; how many volunteers would have signed up; and petition signatures received; etc.?
The trick here is to set ambitious but realistic goals and move backwards in time from there. Research has shown that such retrospective planning enhances the sense of control and the success rate over forward planning in many different settings, from studying to campaigning. Moreover, retrospective planning is a great way to organise conversations within the team. Together you can come up with ambitious but realistic goals, utilising the diversity of experiences within the team to assess the necessary resources and come to a realistic timeline.
Here’s an example: Say you want to have knocked on 100.000 doors by election day. How many doors do you need to knock on two weeks before the elections, and how many doors a month before? Who should you talk to within your team to assess if this goal is reachable and what is needed to achieve such a goal? Obviously, you will need volunteers, so how many will you need and on which dates? What should the set-up be beforehand so you can organise the needed number of volunteers?
Once you have identified the peak moments in your campaign and have conducted a retrospective plan of its goals, you are ready to create a calendar. By creating a ‘master campaign calendar’ you can create a birds-eye view of the campaign that is understandable for all team members. On the calendar, you can find important dates such as the peak moments, administrative deadlines, and dates to have achieved sub-goals.
Such a calendar can be as extensive as you want it to be and can be updated as you go along. Imagine you are planning to organise a council ahead of the elections, but you don’t have all the details yet. You can go from ‘Council in March’ to ‘Council on March 17th’ to 'The “Time for Change”-council on March 17th’ once details of the council event become clearer over time. You can also differentiate the calendar between different elements of the campaign (political, media, social media, events, fundraising, organising, administrative) to create a more extensive birds-eye view.
Assign one person to be responsible for keeping the calendar up to date and distributing it to everyone in the campaign who needs to keep abreast of the activities. This could be a role for the campaign manager itself. In regular team meetings, try to use the calendar as a way to keep everyone updated on what is happening and what needs to be done. That way, you’ll never miss an important date and never lose sight of the steps towards your end goal: a campaign victory.
For campaign scheduling it is important to have:
Last updated: June 2022