By Evie Eshpeter

It’s been a heck of a week – a heck of a few months truth be told. I’m finally sitting down to write this blog as promised I would, what feels like eons ago now. I’m in the wake of the post-election storm and happy to say, some order is returning to my life.

I suppose that’s the first piece of wisdom I can bestow on this page: campaigns are crazy beasts; they’ll hijack your world and take you on a journey you won’t soon forget.

I’m writing this as a member of the Mayor’s re-election campaign team, officially part of his “cabinet”, supporting his communications. You’ll know then that my candidate Naheed Nenshi won, admittedly making this reflection a bit sweeter.

I was just one of a group of communicators whom together made up just a faction of the army that pulled this thing off. A campaign team is like any organization: an assembly of experts, in a variety of roles, working simultaneously towards a common goal. A notable difference however, is that this organization was a start-up with only months to prove its principle.

Originally lured in by an offer of a leadership role, in the end I never did take a driver’s seat.  Rather, over time, my position morphed into that of a generalist helping with whatever, whenever needed. There are a number of reasons for this but one, I believe, was the incredibly fast pace of the campaign, necessitating that a few bright minds pull most of the strings.

The advantage of this, is while 100% engaged, I was removed enough to observe the brilliance of those who were at the helm. Not my first foray into politics or a newbie in my field, I still learnt as much as I contributed, the experience a crash-course in a multitude of disciplines as well as a lesson in life in general.

Although, in retrospect, I’ll ascertain much more from my time as a Team Nenshi member, there are some truths I can acknowledge now: that you can move mountains in a minute; that while communications planning is great to have, some of the most incredible work can be done on a whim; that as a communicator, the broader your toolbox, the better equipped you’ll be – especially in this context; and, the most important thing of all, that communications is an incredibly powerful mechanism that, when executed right, can have the most profound effects.

In the context of a campaign, I learned that communications:

  • Is highly strategic: A campaign’s goal is simple – win. But, it’s no small task for sure. You have mere months to sway public opinion, which is tough enough without detractors attempting to derail your every effort. You have to stay ahead of the game, anticipating your opponent’s moves while being agile enough to respond if you’ve calculated incorrectly.
  • Is executed extremely fast: As with any communications strategy, you must know your audiences and how to reach them in order to be effective. In a campaign, you have to decipher this quickly and execute strategy even quicker. There isn’t time for months of market research or trial and error. Therefore, while still reliant on evidence and data, a team that can make great gut-calls is critically important as well.
  • Is highly comprehensive: Over the course of a campaign you are tasked with delivering a multitude of messages. Whether you’re making a fundraising ask or delivering a piece of policy, constant, clear communications, using a variety of platforms and mediums (e.g. social media, press, microsites, videos, email, etc.) engages your audiences, keeps them informed and, in the end, builds your support.

Aside from the tactical demands of campaign work, there were some contextual challenges too.

Campaigns are emotionally exhausting. Most everyone signs-up for personal reasons – reasons that amplify as time goes on. Compounding this is the fatigue that the long days elicited, as well as the seemingly endless things to do. And, as a volunteer, you can tack on the pressure of your everyday responsibilities that begin stacking-up faster than you can take them down.

But more than this, was the emotional toll the tone of this election took on us all.

Having done time in government relations, I’m no stranger to the harshness that ideological divides can provoke. Though, this experience was particularly challenging. For those of you who were paying attention, you’ll know the mayoral contest was more about personality than it was about policy. Being on the inside, I was privy to how dirty the battle got.

The racist, homophobic and generally hateful discourse that proliferated in the final weeks of the campaign was alarming, not to mention disheartening. I was shocked, though I shouldn’t have been – one of life’s lessons learned. That I thought our city was mostly immune to this sort of thing was incredibly naive.

To my earlier point however, I was reminded of just how powerful strategic communications can be. In this case, it was integral in surmounting the negativity that political maneuverings had unleashed. All said and done, the 2017 municipal election saw the largest voter turnout in 40 years. Among the thousands of voters, I’m very pleased, was a majority intent on the Mayor succeeding.

Evie Eshpeter is director of Jelle Public Relations. For over a decade, she have worked extensively in both the non-for-profit and corporate sectors. Evie loves every aspect of working in public relations, and founded Jelle because she wanted to contribute her experience and global perspective in a way she felt only possible on her own, with a team of experts who share her professional ethos. Find out more at jellepr.com, or follow her on social media @JellePublicRelations.

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