By Jenica Foster

Participation was down. Fewer people were campaigning and fewer voters were turning out. Seats were empty on the Executive Board, causing increased workload and lower morale.

The University of Calgary Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) was struggling to maintain interest in the GSA Executive Board. Then participation started to pickup in the last two years, proving that a full board was able to accomplish more and better represent the students.

Led by Andrew Smith, formerly the GSA’s communications and marketing manager, the GSA team focused their efforts to create a video that showcases former board members and their experience. The video and communications campaign were so successful that the GSA saw the most people running for an executive position AND the highest number of voters in the last 10 years.

IABC Canada awarded “GSA Annual Elections: Run for an Executive Position!” a Silver Leaf Award of Merit in the audio visual category to commemorate its success.

The video was one component of an entire election re-brand, including redesigning the online newsletter, utilizing social media channels, and designing banners and swag. Smith said the goal was to encourage more graduate students to run for a seat on the Executive Board because, “people’s campaigns market at the ground level better than we could.”

To do this, they put faces to the cause by incorporating former board members in the video. It was a purposeful decision, Smith said, to ensure the faces showed several ethnicities to reflect the general graduate student population at the University of Calgary.

One challenge Smith encountered was the length of the video. The GSA wanted to ensure adequate representation of executives in the video, causing what was initially supposed to be a two-minute piece, to jump to five and a half minutes. “Unfortunately, the length of the video was out of our control,” Smith said.

The video was shown on six TVs throughout graduate student areas, causing another problem – someone could walk up at any point in the video and may not know what it was about. This is why, Smith said, that at all times the GSA Elections banner could be seen in the bottom right hand corner of the video.

Coinciding with the video, banners were created to help promote the election at events, such as Graduate Representative Council meetings, that were held monthly with 250-300 people. Their strategy, Smith said, was targeting people who were already involved with the GSA in some way.

“The success of this campaign proved that good communications planning and implementation works,” Smith said, even amidst a zero budget scenario. Smith performed all of the filming, editing, and animations of the video himself using a Canon Rebel camera and the audio from his cellphone.

With the assistance of a communications coordinator acting as the video’s producer, and an events coordinator, Smith proved you don’t need fancy equipment or large budgets to be successful.

The 2018 election campaign will be used as a baseline moving forwards to assess the success of future Executive Board elections.

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