The Effect Of Elections On Small Business

Here in Australia we are heading into a Federal election in the near future. Over the years both in my office bearer roles in our local Chamber of Commerce as well as in my business consulting part of my business, I have closely observed businesses on the lead-up to an election.
There are some very clear business trends that smart businesses need to know and work within. Elections also provide businesses with a money-can’t-buy education on the latest in marketing trends.
Lets start with the business trends. The most obvious is a business to government slow down – by that I mean in the lead up to an election the incumbent political party goes into caretaker mode and generally will not make any significant decisions or grant major contracts. If your business is one that relies on government contract you need to plan for this slow down to kick in at least 6 months before the scheduled election due period.
Depending on the election result, you can face a few months of transition as Ministers and senior executives swap chairs before finally having your project see the light of day again. Smart businesses never just rely on government contracts as their sole source of income and plan to share the revenue load during an election year (or at least allow for an extended holiday at that time!)
One less obvious impact is on business to business trade. Many businesses tell me that in the lead up to an election their business to business trade also dries up. The effect doesn’t appear to be limited to particular industries only.
There is no apparent logical reason for this to happen. Perhaps it just reflects the uncertainty businesses feel about election results and potential changes of government. Businesses may be choosing not to invest in new machinery, business services or new technology until after election results are clearer and they know the potential impacts on their business. All of this is purely conjecture on my part as I have yet to see any formal studies of this impact.
So how should small businesses cope with these fluctuations? You know that there will be Federal elections within certain spans of time every 3 years.
Savvy business owners factor this into their marketing plan for that particular year and offer special promotions to keep their business to business market buying at that time.
They also take advantage of the ready made marketing theme for their promotions. For example one local plumber in my area has had a banner made “Vote 1 Bell Plumbers” and then shown a ticked ballot paper style of features of his business that appears on local street poles around election time. Because it is different than the normal Vote 1 posters, people stop and look at it. What could you do along those lines to use the election theme to market your business?
The other thing elections do for small businesses is to give you a free lesson on the latest trends in marketing. Take a very close look at the major parties campaigns and dissect them for ideas and strategies that they paid hundreds of thousands to acquire.
This election is hotting up as the battle of You Tube with the Prime Minister and the opposition using You Tube as a way of promoting their election platforms. This tells businesses that they need to consider social networking sites as well as adding video streams to their marketing arsenal.
There are a whole range of new groups onto the media market where you can add a video clip to your site taken from your webcam. You don’t have to pay big $ for studio time (although it does give a better edge). Video blogs are starting to make a real presence in the blogging world.
And speaking of blogs,they have also made an appearance in this election with many candidates using blogs as a way of feeding the media and the electorate about their views. Blogs are a great tool for businesses to consider building relationships with potential clients as well as boosting your search engine rankings.
Next you need to listen to what the major candidates say. They have carefully rehearsed sound bites about their major policies. I liken this to the political version of an elevator speech where your business gets 3 minutes to sell what you do to someone when you meet them for the first time. Listen carefully to how the politicians are structuring their sound bites this election for some tips for your next elevator speech.
Smart businesses will also have seen over the past 2 elections the increase in branding of political party how to vote signs. The major parties now all specify background photo colours, fonts and layout to provide a consistent feel even though each candidate is different. It is a great technique you may want to adopt to provide a consistent theme across your diverse product range.
Take a close look at photos used in political marketing material. It gives you an instant education on how to build credibility from a photo. You will notice all major candidates are wonderfully neat with no hair out of place, immaculately groomed, exceptional make-up and generally a warm but not cheesy smile.
Check who the politicians are photographed with and in what locations. You will notice many of the photos of the smarter politicians show both men and women, and a mix of racial diversity as well as age diversity in the shots. What that does is to create instant rapport with the viewers “the politician is with people just like me so they must be OK”. What do the shots on your website and your marketing material say about what sort of clients you work with?
As yet the junk mail blizzard hasn’t started. I love election junk mail – you can get a fantastic headline swipe file from the mail as well as tips on layout and design of your copy.
However, the blizzard of politicians visiting every committee, networking group and shopping centre has started in earnest. At times the candidates outnumber the actual committee members in some local groups. But it highlights the importance of networking as a marketing strategy. I love chatting to all the local candidates to hear their views on things and to pass on my two cents worth of ideas (and forming networks of my own).
I must admit I am not convinced about the marketing effectiveness card tables with the vote 1 signs on the side of the road combined with people under umbrellas reading books. I know pizza companies have adapted this strategy by having staff wave discount placards at cars going past. However, you may want to consider the traffic safety aspect of this before adopting it.
So as you can see, elections have a mixed effect on business. Plan for the negative impacts and embrace each piece of political marketing you see as a priceless education. It makes surviving the lead up to an election a heck of a lot easier.

Ingrid Cliff is a Freelance Copywriter, Business Development and Human Resources Consultant to Small and Medium Businesses. Ingrid has just published Instant HR Policies and Procedures for Small and Medium Businesses www. heartharmony. com. au