News Analysis: A Vote for Creativity

Article excerpt

London's mayoral hopefuls must innovate to stir an ethnically diverse city that is disinclined to vote.

With Boris Johnson vying for the chance to go head-to-head with Ken Livingstone, the forthcoming London mayoral elections look set to be the most high-profile yet.

The main political parties are yet to finalise their candidates, but with polling day less than eight months away, those entering the race will have to work in earnest to win over London voters.

As in the 2004 mayoral elections, marketing and PR will play a crucial part in helping the hopefuls woo the masses. However, the London electorate is younger and more ethnically diverse than ever. This, coupled with the pounds 420,000 spending cap imposed on campaigns, means candidates will have to be more creative with their promotional strategies. Instead of relying on the staple of national newspapers, billboards and radio ads, the political big guns will have to cast their nets wider if they are to communicate with youth and minority voters.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that nearly a third of London's 7.4m-strong population is 'non-white', while 37% are aged between 25 and 44. The capital is also home to a rapidly expanding migrant workforce from Eastern European countries including Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

'Winning the hearts and minds of ethnic, youth and migrant Londoners will be vital to success in the forthcoming mayoral elections,' says Ralph Jackson, director of public affairs at Lansons Communications. 'Candidates will have to throw the rule book out the window.'

Minority focus

Livingstone has already got the ball rolling with a re-election bid recognising the capital's burgeoning Polish community. Last month, he embarked on a charm offensive that saw red cabbage and Slavic dumplings added to the menu at City Hall as, in a bid to win the Polish vote, he held a reception at his London headquarters for key media and community members.

This was diligently followed by a visit to POSK, the Polish cultural institute in Hammersmith, that resulted in appearances on the front covers of foreign-language newspapers Nowy czas and Dziennik Polski.

If Johnson is successful in his attempt to become the Conservative's mayoral candidate, he too will have to take his campaign to ethnic, youth and migrant voters. Despite his high profile, the flamboyant MP for Henley will have to work hard to get the black community on side following press reports of allegedly racist comments.

The Electoral Commission, a body set up by Parliament to promote democratic involvement, claims the best way to do this is by tapping in to communities through field marketing, door-knocking and local media. The government-funded organisation last week appointed Farm and BLM to develop an integrated campaign to boost participation in the mayoral selection process, following a disappointing turnout of 36% at last year's local elections. The first phase will specifically target ethnic minorities, students and other groups with a low propensity to vote.

'Advertising on the Tube and in free-sheet newspapers will always be an effective way of reaching Londoners,' says Nina Ziaullah, head of campaigns and public information at the commission. 'It is also increasingly important to harness the power of foreign-language newspapers and digital channels, such as social networks and blogs.'

The fact that 7.4% of Londoners fall into the 20- to 24-year-old age group means that digital marketing is likely to form a major part of the mayoral campaigns. …