What makes a good campaign…Plan for the Unexpected


I am sometimes asked what makes a Campaign work. I usually say go and read Chris Rose’s How to Win Campaigns, and if you are really serious about winning, What Makes People Tick. Most people don’t bother, but if they do I will say something like:

“Detailed plans – useful up to a point
NGOs and corporates are united in producing detailed plans. The plan is the guide that will win them their political goal. Anything outside the plan is an irrelevance, and is ignored.
Plans are great for giving structure to the campaign team, whether the budget adds up, because however hard you try you can’t get a million € campaign on a €50k budget.

But, sometimes very clever people think the plan is the be and end all. And, when things don’t match the plans reality, they follow the plan and not political reality.

Good research – the first step

It is good to test your assumptions. Is what you think is happening really the case, and if it is, what are the causes. Even clever and dedicated people sometimes get it wrong, and in my experience, more frequent than you would think.

Good research is not cheap. I’d put it at 10% to 20% of the budget. It makes the plan robust and most importantly allows you to stop a campaign at the very start if your assumptions are just wrong.


I remember commissioning a study to know where UK north cod was being sold. We discovered something unexpected, and we stopped a campaign. It is best to see this is as €20k saves, rather than €20k wasted, because if the campaign had gone ahead on false assumptions, a lot more money would have been lost at sea.

I think plans and budgets should have a big gap called chance or serendipity.

During the reform of the CFP two players entered who made a profound difference to the political and public debate.

Chris Davies MEP created a pan political group of MEPS “Fish for the Future” who helped bulldoze reform through the European Parliament.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall TV documentary on fish discards, shown first in the UK, and then across the EU, made support for discards politically untenable.

Campaigns should have financial resources, around 30% of the total budget, to harness the opportunity that these unicorns present.


At the end of the campaign, everyone is looking to move on to the next thing. I think this is a mistake. I think it is the time to look at that what went well and less well.

No plan ever goes perfectly, and that is fine. But, it is important during the evaluation not to deceive yourself or most importantly who is paying for the work.

I would recommend bringing the client/ donor to the meeting. Their voice is most important as they allowed for the campaign to happen.

People should be contacted before and interviewed off the record  interviews and a report prepared by an evaluator seems to be a good way to go. It helps by pass group think and covering up mistakes. The mistakes are the best thing, because then you learn from them.”