John Moss: How and why you should consider incorporating QR codes into campaign literature

30 Jul

Cllr John Moss is a councillor in Waltham Forest and spent seven years as Deputy Chairman and Chairman in the Chingford and Woodford Green constituency, seeing Sir Iain Duncan Smith re-elected three times. He now works for College Green Group, advising on campaign strategy and management. In this occasional series, he offers advice on campaigning tools and tactics used
by the best campaigns.  

Our volunteers’ time is precious and as the recent three by-elections have shown, should be used wisely to have the most impact. The “rusty machine” referred to in a recent article on this site can be oiled with the right tools and can be brought back to life. Here is an example that costs nothing.

A QR code on your literature ensures you will get responses quicker and are more likely to collect email addresses. Here’s what might happen.

A leaflet has been delivered and the busy elector scoops it up with the rest of their post as they return from work.

As they cook their evening meal, they sort through the mail and discard the menus and estate agent fliers, but your leaflet catches their eye, because there’s a plan for a new housing development near them and the option to fill out a survey.

After trying three times to type “www. housingdevelopmentsurvey” into the browser on their phone, whilst chopping the carrots, the busy elector gives up and tosses the leaflet in the recycling with the other discards. The alternative to this scenario is a QR code like this.

“Open the camera on your phone and scan here to take our survey” takes up no more room than the long url quoted above. But the busy elector is taken straight to the survey on your website, where they can complete it. Hopefully, they also give you their email address and mobile number and confirm that you can use their data to contact them about this and other campaigns.

QR codes have been a quirky addition to marketing campaigns for some time, but with near ubiquitous smartphone use, especially amongst those hardest to canvas by traditional methods, they are a tool all campaigns should be using to maximise data capture.

Innovation in this area has gone as far as an online gaming company using hundreds of drones to form a huge QR code in the night sky which, when wowed crowds below pointed their cameras at it, opened their browser and took them to the site where they could buy the game. Perhaps a little bit of a stretch to see how this might replace the banner flown behind the light aeroplane on Polling Day, but it could be on your GOTV literature and take people to the Council website so people can find their Polling Station, or on GOTPV literature and take people to a YouTube site where your candidate takes them through how to use their vote.

QR codes can also be designed to match your company or party logo, adding to brand awareness. They can even spell out a candidate’s name.

One further advantage of QR codes is that they do not just take electors to your website; they also provide you with tracking information. So you will know how many times it has been scanned. If you are sophisticated, you can use different QR codes on different leaflets (say, for different wards), which even if they take the electors to the same survey, will give you a result by ward for the level of response. This can tell you about the electors, but also about how well you’re covering the ground with your deliveries.

As we try to work out the best ways to gather information from the electorate, whether past vote history, voting intentions, or issue positions, we need to make that as easy as possible for our precious activists, but also for the electors themselves. QR codes are a quick and simple way to do that.

John Moss: Digital campaigning must be constant. Not just for a few weeks before an election.

25 May

John Moss is a Councillor in Waltham Forest and works as a Campaign Manager at the College Green Group in Westminster. He was Sir Iain Duncan Smith’s Constituency Chairman at the last General Election.

Henry Hill makes valid points in his piece about how easy it is for council and parliamentary seats to slip away if they are not given constant attention. However, I think his appeal to CCHQ for action may be misplaced.

My experience as Sir Iain Duncan Smith’s Chairman after the 2017 election was of a CCHQ that was extremely supportive of our efforts to retain the seat, and whilst sometimes that involved the constituency doing what CCHQ wanted, there was reciprocity.

Working with the CCHQ team, I was able to secure support for targeted surveys, and as a result we considerably strengthened the digital arsenal available for IDS’s re-election campaign. This style of “incumbency campaigning” is now the norm, and the opportunities for it are many. For example, I am currently promoting a campaign to MPs to help them show public support where councils in their seats are making Levelling Up Fund applications. Not only does this highlight a popular Conservative policy to the voters, it also captures data which can be used in future election campaigns.

Next year, 147 Councils in England will hold elections. Many of these would usually hold elections every year – the delay to the 2020 elections has meant that it was the first time these councils did not hold a vote. The downside of this cycle is the perpetuation of a pattern; immediately after an election, teams are too exhausted to campaign and may be preoccupied with settling into new council roles. Then it’s summer and the holidays, then conference, then it becomes too cold to canvass. Christmas comes and goes, and suddenly it’s a mad panic, with thousands of leaflets to deliver and doors to knock in a short space of time. This can mean that by Polling Day, everyone is exhausted once again…

This is clearly an over-simplification, but consistent motivation is an inherent challenge of being a voluntary movement. Teams have lives outside of politics, we work, we have families and friends. We like to ski or lie on beaches. There is a danger that in the seats and councils thought to be ‘safe’, incumbents slip into a complacent mindset, only to be usurped by a better organised and motivated opposition. These are the cracks Henry highlights, which can quickly widen into chasms and result in parliamentary seats being lost.

In this digital age, constituents expect their elected representatives to be regularly available and in constant contact with them. They are not the loyal Tory, Labour, or Lib-Dem voters they might once have been. They are fickle, and may change allegiance if they feel ignored or taken for granted.

Maintaining a high level of contact with electors is proven to deliver results at council level, and where turnout is low, this can mean the difference between winning and losing. Historically this took the form of leafleting and canvassing, door-to-door or by phone, but increasingly leaflets go straight in the recycling and fewer people are willing to engage with canvassers. This is where digital tools become game changers.

I recently ran an online petition across two wards about an unpopular housing development, securing over 600 responses and gathering more than 400 voting intentions. The vast majority of people also gave us emails, phone numbers, and permission to contact them. To gather that kind of data from door-to-door or phone canvassing could take upwards of 50 hours, with what I suspect would be very few contact details obtained.

The data gathered was all GDPR/TPS compliant. Together with other data gathered from similar campaigns, this enabled us to send almost 10,000 GOTV emails in support of a by-election candidate and our GLA candidate up to and on Polling Day. We also had a solid bank of over 600 telephone numbers to call in the by-election ward, which we held with a swing to us, compared with the 2018 elections.

Looking to next year, councils can easily see their message lost behind that of the government. A dedicated council group website with supporting social media platforms is an investment. It can host online surveys and petitions, while also being the platform on which to showcase your policies and your candidates all year long, not just during the election period. Making that investment now will allow the cost to be spread over a longer period, meaning minimal impact on your legal expenses limit, and is a sensible part of planning for those elections next year.

So, however tired you are after this month’s elections, I urge you to think now about preparation for next year’s elections. It is never too early to prepare to win.

John Moss: Khan has failed to deliver on housing. The Government should switch to funding the London boroughs instead.

10 Aug

Cllr John Moss is a councillor in Waltham Forest and a former Parliamentary Candidate.

Sadiq Khan has failed miserably to deliver on the building of new homes in London. We are now three months beyond the point that his term of office was supposed to come to an end. But he has not even begun to build half of the 116,000 new homes he promised to deliver at the beginning of his Mayoral term. This despite getting a record grant from the Government of almost £5 billion to do so.

He now has his begging bowl out again, asking for more money to keep these projects alive. But why should the Government throw even more money at him when he has clearly failed?

Instead, the Government should look to organisations that are actually delivering homes. Councils and Housing Associations.

Councils in London have received more than £2.75 billion from Right to Buy sales since the scheme was re-invigorated in 2012. However, they have only built just under 10,000 replacement homes with this funding. And the delivery rate is slowing, down to under 400 from a peak of nearly 900 in 2017/18. Councils were badly affected by George Osborne’s policy of cutting rents by one per cent a year announced in 2016 and this played a big role in councils shelving many of their plans. But a bigger factor is that they are barred from funding more than 30 per cent of the construction cost from these receipts.

I argued with Gavin Barwell in 2016 that the effect of the rent cut could be offset by allowing councils to fund 50 per cent of the cost from RtB funds. Even with the rent regime restored to sanity, this is still a good idea.

In addition, the Government should give grants directly to councils. Cut out the middleman Mayor. These grants, together with the long-term, low-interest rate loans that councils can access, would comfortably cover the other 50 per cent of construction costs.

Specifically, for London, I would also remove the cash cap of £112,300 from Right to Buy discounts, but limit this to 50 per cent of value. Against this, a stronger and stricter clawback policy would need to be included in the terms of those sales. However, this would potentially increase the number of sales in higher value locations and in doing so increase the funding available to build new, available homes where they are most needed.

The Government should also offer a similar deal to Housing Associations. If they can build, give them the grants directly that they now have to apply for from the Mayor, and offer them the same long-term, low-interest rate loans that they currently give to councils through the Public Works Loan Board.

The Government could then lever another policy off this offer.

There have been valiant attempts to extend Right to Buy to Housing Associations, but these have fallen foul of Government accounting rules and a concerted effort to lobby against the change. However, it remains a good thing to allow people who want to buy the home they live in, rather than forcing them to incur the cost of moving. The Government could, as a condition of those loans, require HAs to offer a Right to Buy scheme of their choosing.

One option that could be explored is a “rent to buy” scheme operating like a repayment mortgage. In simple terms, tenants would be encouraged to overpay their rent by a small amount, say £100 a month. This amount would be matched by the Government and the Housing Association and converted to an equity stake at the end of each year. This, in turn, would reduce the amount of rent the tenant was liable for, so helping to increase the overpayment. Overtime, the tenant transitions through shared ownership to being a full owner, the Housing Association has, probably, got its money back and the Government has helped another household fulfil the dream of home ownership.

Cut out the middleman Mayor, go straight to the people who want to build, and help people who want to buy their home. What’s not to like?