Election 2015: Whoever wins, print’s role is crucial

Things are getting heated in the Thanet South constituency, where UKIP leader Nigel Farage is making a make- or-break stand in his attempt to become an MP.

On the BBC’s ten o’clock news, a woman with pink hair is shouting angrily at Farage as he goes on a walkabout in Ramsgate with his entourage. In the surrounding crowd, people are brandishing UKIP placards and posters.

Farage is seen autographing one of his campaign posters for a fan. Or maybe it’s someone who just wants something to sell on eBay. 

The anti-UKIP campaign also has stickers (a dog wanders by adorned with one) and posters. A Labour activist, complete with branded messenger bag, delivers leaflets. 

The Conservative party also has stickers, and rosettes. And posters – someone has attached one to their boat. 

The full might of the major party machines has descended on the area, and a veritable blizzard of print is involved – whether it will help frustrate Farage’s ambitions come 7 May is yet to be determined at the time of writing. 

What we do know is that, even in less-high profile constituencies and in this ‘digital first’ age where it seems that every day a new election-related hashtag is trending, ink on paper still plays a vital part in the campaigning. 

PrintWeek’s highly unscientific analysis of the printed collateral received at our various households suggests that the Conservatives appear to have the biggest print budget by far. 

Print managed by St Ives, the individual printers are not named, with the exception of an A3 promo for candidate Stephen Hammond who appears to have sidestepped the official print management channel via Shoreham by Sea’s Gemini Press.

The Conservatives have achieved something of a first, in PrintWeek’s estimation, with an A5 mailer where the voter’s christian name appears in the key election messages on both sides (see above). 

This could be a tactic that is used for greater impact in key marginals – as it happens one of the PrintWeek team lives in just such a seat. 

The Tories have also gone large, with a folded A2 poster door drop. The Labour equivalent (printed by Anton Group) was A3.

Labour also produced a 4pp newspaper-style communication, printed by Trinity Mirror. 

The Conservatives also deployed at least two variants of a mini 8pp A5-format magazine-style promo, with a design that draws upon jaunty women’s weekly titles and doesn’t initially look like a Conservative Party promo at all. 

Elsewhere, Portsmouth-based Bishops Printers has produced mailers and leaflets for the Liberal Democrats, as well as the Green Party.  

“We have done a quite substantial amount of work relating to the Election – both directly for principally the Lib Dems and Green Party, but also indirectly for all other parties through our trade customers,” says managing director Gareth Roberts.

Roberts says it is clear that all the parties see the printed word as a really useful and cost-effective way of reaching the electorate. 

A door-drop leaflet, for example, can reinforce the merits of the candidate at a local level in the constituency with details of what they might have achieved as the incumbent, or what their personal merits are as a challenger, “as opposed to just the national party lines”, he notes.  

“The candidates and their teams can do all the tweets and Facebook messaging they like, but I think knowing they have delivered concise and key messages through the doors of, say, 50,000 residences gives them great reassurance.  I would expect every party in every area will have spent as much on print this campaign as they did in 2010,” he states. 

Predictably the Green Party is keen on the provenance of its print, choosing to assert that its promos were printed on recycled or FSC-accredited paper stocks. It also used billboards for part of its campaign.

Red faces as air turns blue

We’ve also seen some election leaflets that are veritable crimes against graphic design and typography. In the interests of championing the power of print at this crucial time, we’re drawing a veil over those particular examples. 

Other calamities highlighted in the national media include typos, mix-ups over constituency names and a plethora of mis-placed apostrophes and grammatical errors. 

In the local and European elections last year PrintWeek revealed that both UKIP and the Labour Party had dropped something of a clanger by having election materials printed at Saxoprint in Germany – oh, the perils of web-to-print purchasing, where the factory behind the web portal could be absolutely anywhere. 

This time around, it looks like the Labour Party machine has stamped out such embarrassing and easily avoidable errors, but UKIP is the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to egg-on-face incidents – the party managed to print ‘Believe in Britain’ leaflets delivered in Cheltenham in Germany (again), this time via web-to-print specialist Onlineprinters. What’s more, the printer doesn’t even have the sort of UK limited company address that caused confusion five years ago. Oh dear, oh dear. 

Talking of cock-ups, an unfortunate fold on an election leaflet for Conservative candidate Matthew Hancock (not much imagination is required to envisage what word appears next to his face when it is folded in half) caused widespread amusement in the West Suffolk district. 

Perhaps the pièce de résistance (thus far at least) in terms of election-related print gaffes comes via Signcraft in West Drayton, which hit the headlines after greeting VIP visitor, budding local MP, and current Major of London Boris Johnson with a bespoke printed poster that proclaimed ‘We love you Borris’.

A hasty reprint ensued amidst much hilarity, not least from BoJo himself who in typical man of the people style said “he preferred it that way”.

Now, with just days before the election itself, the postal votes have been cast and come Thursday 7 May all attention will be focused on millions of boring-but-important polling cards and ballot papers. 

An example of the scale of the print that surrounds the actual voting operation comes via Adare, one of the printers tasked with producing a chunk of this collateral. “We’re producing 1.2m postal voting packs, 5m polling cards, 7m ballot papers, 100,000 ballot books and 600 different types of envelopes across 40 councils,” says the firm’s chief executive Robert Whiteside. 

Power to the people when it comes to choosing this country’s next government is facilitated by the power of print. 


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