SFSS ELECTIONS HOW-TO: Designing and executing a strong campaign

Written by: Corbett Gildersleve, Alumnus

You want to run for the SFSS board. You found and built a slate, or you’re going it alone with a campaign team. Now you have to design your campaign.

Your message needs to be positive, clear, and relevant to student needs. You need to know what students want and have a decent idea of how to get it. Once you have the information, you need to take that knowledge, construct a platform with it, and present it in a way that appeals to SFU’s student body.

So, once you’ve figured out what your team is going to look like, the first step to creating your campaign is to do some research. (You’ll really, really want to divvy up this workload among your slate members and/or campaign helpers.) Historically, conducting that research has been difficult, because of how little useful information the SFSS actually publishes.

Thankfully, over the last few years, the SFSS has done a better job of gaining information about student needs at Surrey, Burnaby, and Vancouver with specialized surveys. The SFSS board recently agreed to publish the general survey results, for the first time ever. It’s not clear in what format the results will be, but if the report is too summarized to be useful, remember that you can and should request more information.

There are a couple of ways to do this, from submitting a question through the SFSS’s website at the bottom of the main page, to contacting an SFSS board executive. You might have to set up an appointment to view documents in-person as not everything is publicly viewable.

Also, there’s actually quite a few useful reports to be found in in the SFSS board, financial, and executive committee minutes. But you need to scroll through a lot of junk and probably jump through some hoops.

For example, when it comes to finances, you have to look at last year’s audit (which really only tells you how the previous board did financially), and this year’s budget estimates. Then, because the SFSS isn’t always so straightforward, you’ll probably need help going through and understanding the audit and budget. This means meeting with a current board member, or someone who knows finances. This kind of information will allow you to have a better idea on what things cost so you don’t come up with and push for an idea the SFSS can’t actually afford.

Now that you and your team have suffered through the SFSS’s financial documents and minutes, you have a few good ideas on how to make the student experience better. How should you market them?

Humour is a wonderful tool. It can be very effective at bringing up SFSS and student issues and pointing out the weaknesses in the work record of any Board members running as candidates. You can’t make personal attacks on your opponents, but you can bring up flaws in their work or their overall Board decisions.

Eric Hedeker, running under the name Eric Hadekaer, ran a great “joke” campaign in 2015, where he brought up multiple rarely discussed issues, such as (but not limited to) the lack of gender representation on the board, concerts that only appealed to a small portion of the student population, and misuse of board hours. Brady Yano, running under the name Brady Wallace, used funny memes to great effect in all of his campaigns. They helped show his character, wit, and views around issues he cared about.

Do remember, though: don’t be silly just to be silly. Use humour, sarcasm, and irony to make people think and to send a message.

Finally, what to do about posters. Every March, like magic, a bunch of multicoloured posters appear in the AQ, WMC, and other areas. They’re full of smiling faces, buzzwords, and vague promises. Every candidate receives $50 to spend on their campaign, with most of that going towards posters and flyers.

If you’re a faculty representative, you don’t often need that many and can go full-colour as you’ll mostly poster areas your faculty members hang out in. If you’re running for an executive or at-large position, you often needs to go with quantity over quality, usually with greyscale on coloured paper. Make sure your messaging, images, and design look good in greyscale before submitting it to the SFSS Copy Centre.

Not all posters need to have your face, especially if you’re trying to raise awareness about certain issues as part of your campaign. But, it’s important for people to know your name and slate (if you have one) as that’s what’s visible on the online ballot.

Concerning placement, because you’re restricted to placing posters in certain areas (residence and the library are off-limits) and only on cement, you need to be a little strategic. Some people have used posters to spell out letters or words, others have placed their posters in odd spots, like the side of pillars that face the washrooms in WMC. That way, everyone who exits sees the posters. Be creative, but also don’t break the rules.

Posters are just one piece of your campaign, and over time have less and less relevance. Together, all these competing posters just create visual spam, which is easy to ignore. Make sure to also talk to people and engage others through social media up until the campaign period ends.   

It also really helps if you have an experienced campaign manager and a team of volunteers to help campaign for you at other campuses. Make sure to campaign on all three, as every vote counts and candidates often overlook Surrey and Vancouver. The more help you have, the better, though you do need to make sure they don’t campaign badly and get you in trouble. Past candidates have been fined or disqualified due to what a volunteer did.

A well-designed, well-executed campaign will make you stand out. It needs a solid set of ideas backed up by research, which need to be communicated in a clear, positive, and smart way across multiple channels (posters, social media, and signs). Humour can be very effective, but only if it’s focused on current issues. Silly for silly’s sake doesn’t resonate. But students are not electing a poster, so make sure you and your team are out talking with people and being visible.