As someone who has worked as Campaign Strategist and Consultant on numerous campaigns dating back 25 years, and with a near perfect success rate in getting my candidates elected, I felt the compulsion to share some broad strategic insights this month on the keys to success.
The 10 keys to winning an election in Nigeria today are:
1. HAVING A CREDIBLE AND CAPABLE CANDIDACY: What makes a candidate credible is a function of the personal pedigree, the party platform chosen, as well as the geographical, socio-cultural, and political space he or she occupies at the time of running for office. Someone who would be a very credible candidate for local or state office may not be credible for national office. Likewise, someone who would make a fine candidate at a particular time in history may not be a credible candidate at another time in history. That is why some candidates may have to run for the same office two to three times to succeed.
For instance, a candidate from “the South” aspiring to win the Nigerian Presidential election in 2019 will not have a “credible” candidacy simply on account of his background, due to geo-political factors bordering on fairness and equity as perceived by the other regions of the country – especially those who have never tasted the Presidency since Nigeria returned to democratic governance in 1999.
Also, even when a particular candidate is credible (perhaps because he or she has served creditably in other positions), that candidate may not be financially capable to win an election. Running for political office in any country requires tremendous financial resources – Nigeria inclusive. Thus, the first step towards success or failure is the assessment of the candidate’s credibility and capacity. Mere desire to run is not enough.
2. HAVING A STRATEGIC BLUEPRINT DRIVEN BY A COMPETENT AND COMMITTED STRATEGIC TEAM, LED BY AN EXPERIENCED STRATEGIST: Ours has become an intriguing political terrain with many twists and turns. As such, there’s no substitute for experience. All successful political campaigns must have a very competent, committed, motivated, and dynamic Strategic Team, headed by a Strategist. It is this Team which will craft a winning Strategic Blueprint for the campaign, laying out the command hierarchies, strategies, objectives, targets, budgets, and processes to be followed by everyone involved in the campaign – including the candidate.
The Strategic Blueprint is the most important tool in a campaign. It is both a manual and a compass. Without a Strategic Blueprint, a campaign will meander without direction and ultimately flounder. Gone are the days when candidates can afford to run helter-skelter from one meeting or rally to the other, reacting to issues instead of pre-empting them. Winning requires a solid plan backed up with preparation.
Once adopted, the Strategic Blueprint will be driven daily by the Strategic Team and other Staffers, who collectively will be able to schedule, to communicate, to promote, to educate, to respond, to adapt, to innovate, to pre-empt and to overcome challenges encountered along the campaign trail. This Strategic Team must be different from the Political Party machinery; but the two should work in harmony.
3. CRAFTING AND SELLING A CONSISTENT CAMPAIGN MESSAGE WHICH CONNECTS WITH A BROAD SPECTRUM OF VOTERS: A good campaign must craft and successfully sell a consistent message which connects with voters of various strata of life. Some campaigns thrive on a message of “continuity or consolidation”. Other campaigns do well with a message of “change.” Yet others succeed with a message of “transformation.” The type of message that a campaign adopts and deploys is a function of multi-faceted factors, including the pedigree of the candidate, the political climate at the time, and the socio-economic demands of the time. Adoption of the wrong message can doom a campaign even before it takes off.
4. BUILDING A FORMIDABLE CAMPAIGN STRUCTURE AND INFRASTRUCTURE TO DRIVE THE CAMPAIGN: A political campaign is a lot like a corporation. When running for office, a candidate needs a lot more than ambition and cash. To win, he or she also needs a structure, a team, a budget, and a brand — just like a company. History and experience teach us that the degree to which a candidate succeeds depends to a large extent on the type of campaign structure and infrastructure he or she can establish and the competence and commitment of the people selected to drive that structure. One sure way to fail is to run a campaign like a sole proprietorship. There must be a chain of command and division of labour.
5. BUILDING STRATEGIC PARTNERSHIPS AND ALLIANCES IN UNUSUAL PLACES TO GAIN LEVERAGE:
As stated earlier, no one individual (or cabal), no matter how talented, can run a successful campaign – encompassing organizational, fundraising, logistical, strategic, publicity, mobilization, and security demands and challenges – alone. The need to build strategic partnerships and alliances in unusual places to gain leverage is critical. Like a good battle plan, a good campaign strategy must involve collaborations and alliances.
6. DESIGNING A STRATEGY TO ACHIEVE GRASSROOTS PENETRATION AT MINIMAL COST: Those of us who have been involved in successful campaigns understand that those who make the most noise on Radio and Television before the election often do not vote. The stress and strife involved in our current voting process in Nigeria often proves too much for the affluent class to bear on Election Day. Therefore, a winning campaign must design strategies to achieve grassroots penetration at minimal cost. Those who talk and pontificate may not actually be those who will make a difference on the day of election. Also, keep in mind that what worked in previous elections may not work as well in the next one. Election dynamics change from year to year and from election to election. Therefore, grassroots penetration and acceptance are vital to success. But beware that grassroots voters can be fickle. It takes finesse to manage them.
7. RECOGNIZING HOW TO ENERGIZE AND EXCITE VOTERS TO SUPPORT YOU AND TO USE THEIR TIME AND RESOURCES TO MOBILIZE FOR YOU: Generic rallies and generalized promises hardly win elections these days. To have a serious stab at success, a campaign must find time-tested and novel ways to energize and excite voters and turn them into stakeholders. I remember how a certain political party in Nigeria in 2015 was selling the message that you should vote for their candidate because he will lock up anyone and everyone who had looted public funds. That message, delivered at the time it was, had the impact of energizing and exciting a lot of people not only to support that candidate personally but to mobilize further support for him nationwide.
To be successful, a campaign must find a way to energize and excite a large chunk of voters. In a developing economy, a message of empowerment and poverty alleviation can energize and excite (unless the proponent or party has sold that message before and did not deliver).
In more developed economies, a different type of message will resonate better. For instance, during the last American Presidential Election, Donald Trump sold a message of draining the swamp in Washington (fighting entrenched political corruption) and putting America First. That became an energizing and galvanizing message for his base.
8. UNDERSTANDING THE POWER OF YOUTHS IN A DIGITAL AGE; HOW TO CONNECT WITH THEM; AND HOW TO LEVERAGE ON THEIR POWER TO ACHIEVE SUCCESS: Youths are more powerful in any election than most candidates recognize. The manner in which the candidate and his campaign team can interface with, connect with, co-opt, sensitize, mobilize, motivate, and activate Young Voters before and during the election can translate to victory or defeat.
Besides their voting power, youths have other ways of affecting the outcome of an election given their digital savvy and their courage. Properly harnessed, youths can tip the scales in favour of a candidate.
The methodology and tools required to harness the youth vote are different from those required to harness the adult vote. Understanding the nuances can make a huge difference on Election Day.
9. UNDERSTANDING THE MECHANISM AND MAGIC OF SEGMENTATION AS THE GREATEST CAMPAIGN TOOL FOR SUCCESS: The era of relying on mass rallies to win elections is over. Voters need more than one-size-fits-all rallies these days. A good Campaign Strategist understands that human beings are grouped in segments. He also understands that the candidate who can reach the greatest number of people with his/her message and agenda, in the shortest amount of time, utilizing the least amount of resources, wins.
Properly categorized, the voting population can have as many as 100 segments. A good Campaign Strategist should be able to identify the segments and also design strategies to win most of them over. What works for one segment might not work for the other because no two segments are the same. Understanding the mechanism and magic of segmentation is important. Deploying the strategies in a masterful manner is the greatest weapon that a campaign can unleash for success.
10. UNDERSTANDING THE IMPORTANCE OF POLICING AND PROTECTING YOUR VOTES TO CHECKMATE RIGGING AND FRAUD BY YOUR OPPONENTS:
Given the state of politics in Nigeria, no strategy is efficient and effective unless it also makes provision for policing and protecting your votes to checkmate rigging and fraud by your opponents. Unfortunately, for some politicians, winning at all costs is still all that matters. Therefore, a good campaign strategy must not stop at how to get votes; it must also involve how to protect those votes within the ambit of the law.
In the past, some candidates have relied on snatching and switching ballot boxes, writing their own results, or compromising officials to win election. That era is over. A candidate who is serious about winning election in 2019 and beyond must have a well crafted Strategic Blueprint, driven by a competent and well motivated Strategic Team, supported with adequate resources and structures, and deployed in a timely manner. Winning an election is not a matter of chance.
In this article I have focused on what must be done to win an election in an emerging democracy such as Nigeria. For a deeper insight on how to do the above 10 things successfully in a campaign or how to craft a winning Strategic Blueprint, you can contact me via email at Johnosonwa@gmail.comor by phone at 08067452227.
Dr. John U. Osonwa