1…2…3… Have I lost your attention already? Three seconds is short, but it’s the average amount of time we pay to political leaflets which come through our mailbox. I visited the Conservative-Labour battleground of Lancaster and Fleetwood to shadow a Conservative campaign day in the constituency and learn more about what makes a good leaflet, and even more practically, the top tips on how to deliver those finished flyers.

Conservative MP Eric Ollerenshaw won the seat in 2010 with a majority of just 333 votes. A former teacher and Conservative Group Leader in the Greater London Authority, Ollerenshaw now faces a tight fight to retain his current job, which means many days on the campaign trail and lots of campaign literature. Leaflets are valuable to campaigns because they enable a candidate to reach a large audience quickly, and their power is not constrained by who happens to be in.

On the mid-November day I was in Fleetwood a pamphlet called “My plan for Fleetwood,” containing the MP’s endorsement of six local policies, was being delivered. The improvement of local roads, the payment system of the tram connecting Fleetwood and Blackpool, and the restoration of the pavilion on the Mount, a raised piece of land in the middle of the town that Fleetwood was planned around, were the top three of the six issues.

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The leaflet we were delivering on the day.

In Fleetwood, the schedule for the morning was to deliver the pamphlets to houses across the town before returning back for lunch at the Conservative Association Club. The local association were joined by volunteers from Lancaster University Conservative Future, a youth wing of the Conservative party, and members of LGBTory, an organisation affiliated with the party which promotes LGBT rights and supports the campaigns of out LGBT Conservatives such as Mr Ollerenshaw. Local association members were paired with those not from the area, resulting in about five smaller groups, all of which had someone with knowledge of the town in order to effectively distribute the leaflets.

The campaign team in Fleetwood.

The campaign team in Fleetwood.

As long as you are prepared for a brisk walk for a couple of hours, delivering leaflets is not too challenging. However, there were a few pitfalls which I stumbled into. It is a pipe dream to think you can preserve the flatness of an A5 leaflet when trying to put it straight through a letterbox full of bristles. Folding the leaflet in half will mean that it slides through the letter box with much greater ease. My first few attempts of pushing the leaflet through unfolded resulted in scrunching leaflets. To make matters worse, I cut my finger on the paper. Oh well, all to the cause of learning more about practical politics.

Letterboxes vary, and when you spend a morning fixated at different styles, noticing the nuances between them and the comparative ease of delivering a leaflet through each type becomes a minor obsession. A letter plate located in the middle of the door and spanning horizontally across was easy to deliver through (well, not forgetting the bristles). Then you have those letterboxes which are orientated horizontally but then are situated right at the bottom of the door – you need to get on your knees for those. My least favourite of all had to be the vertically orientated letterbox (see picture below).  My sheer inability to lift the flap of the letterbox up, and then push the leaflet through, was exasperating.

But then, re-reading the last couple of paragraphs, I appreciate my fixation with comparing letter plates may be slightly more involved than others. With war wound paper cut in tow, and returning back to base camp at the association, I had been given an insight into what I had considered a comparatively mundane aspect of political campaigns. Never judge a book by its cover…

The vertical letterbox. My nightmare.

A vertical letterbox. My nightmare.

But actually isn’t that we should do with the presentation of the leaflets themselves? To go to the effort of assembling a team to distribute your campaign material, it makes sense to create something that will help win votes.

As on many occasions where I have questions, I turned to Twitter to gage opinion of what makes the perfect pamphlet. Here are some of the responses:

I wouldn’t go as far as Luke: cleverly crafted campaign communications can create a captivating circular. The key goal is to keep people’s attention; too much detail combined with small type is bad news, and interesting pictures is good. A unifying theme, such as Ollerenshaw’s “My ideas for Fleetwood” creates an overarching purpose for the leaflet, which makes it clearer to the voter why it’s being presented.

So if you want a punchy pamphlet, rather than a bin-bound leaflet, remember the three second rule: you have to reach the voter in that time and get them to want to read more. As for delivering the literature, just hope you don’t come a cropper with a vertical letter plate.