How to contact an MP 2011-style: Do it 1911-style

Alex Hern reports on the lessons we can learn from Edelman's survey of Westminster campaiging


If you want to get your MPs attention, write them a letter. Don’t “like” them, don’t give them +1s or retweets, and certainly don’t post comments on their YouTube videos. Dust off your primary school textbooks on whose address goes where, and don’t forget to end “yours sincerely”.

This is according to a report released by PR firm Edelman, who surveyed 91 MP’s staff members to find out the best and worst ways to get their attention.

Although the majority of the report is concerned with campaigning methods, from twitter to face-to-face meetings, the most interesting results were those for the question, “How important are each of the following in turning a policy issue into a policy priority for you?”:

Politics remains, fundamentally, local. For some, this will be common knowledge, but it is instructive for those fed up with the ineffectiveness of campaigns run through appeal to weighty national interests: appeal to the economy, or tell your targets how it affects their local area.

But once you’ve written your perfectly targeted campaign, how should you get it to your MP?

The response to the question, “When constituents contact your member, how effective are each of the following modes of contact?” can help.

% Total effective 2009 2010 2011 Change from 2009
Written letters 97% 92% 98% +1
Constituent sent e-mails 94% 86% 97% +3
In-person visits with constituents 92% 88% 95% +3
Through a member’s [2009] blog/[2010-2011] website 18% 70% 89% +19
Telephone calls 89% 78% 87% -2
Newspaper columns 75%
Press releases 55%
Television appearances 55%
Radio appearances 53%
In-person visits with a professional lobbyist 51%
Through a member’s Facebook, Orkut or other social network profile 15% 26% 41% +26
Op-eds 41%
Through a trade association 40%
Through Twitter 9% 22% 34% +25
Print advertising 32%
Mobile interaction through applications or text messages 24% 23% -1
Television advertising 14%
Radio advertising 14%
Comments posted on YouTube 14% 12%

Largely, the old methods remain the best. All the various forms of personal contact – writing, phoning, or meeting in person – are head and shoulders above the rest.

Social media is noteable less for its effectiveness as it is for its rapid rise. While two years ago, less than one in ten surveyed could could Twitter being effective or very effective, now it is over a third.

Whether this rise will tail off or continue is anyone’s guess; however, based on track record, it may not be best to listen to staffers’ predictions on that matter.

Not a single staffer surveyed last year thought they’d be using twitter by 2013, but this year over 40 per cent think they’ll be using it by 2014. Politically aware they maybe, but when it comes to predicting technological trends, MPs and their staff seem just as swayed by fads as the rest of us.

So to be an effective campaigner, the old rules remain as true as ever: work on a personal, local level.

Don’t be distracted by new tools which seem to make life easier to contact many people at once, because even if the politicians themselves like them, chances are they’re more likely to read a letter or listen to a phone call.

And don’t invest in start-ups on the advice of an MP.

See also:

What kind of “civil disobedience” tactics will the unions use?Dan Whittle, September 15th 2011

36 hours in Old & SadDave Roberts, January 15th 2011

Fighting the cuts: The false choice between networks and organisationNigel Stanley, December 2nd 2010

Suffragettes remain campaigning role-models a century laterDeborah Grayson, October 10th 2010

Community campaigning is Labour’s messy futureDr Jon Wilson, September 30th 2010

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.