Don’t let your campaign get a bad wrap

Notice something a little… off about the federal Liberal campaign bus wrap?

Somewhere between the designer’s monitor and the printing press, a font went missing… and with it, the metrics information that keeps a typeface’s spacing from looking wonky. (And this isn’t a little problem with kerning; “CHANGE” has broken into two separate words.)

Designers and politicos alike have been snickering about this, and rightly so.

Amateur-hour flubs on a national campaign should be embarrassing—and not just because graphics nerds might laugh at you. Good, professional design inspires confidence and reinforces your message. Sloppy design mistakes do the exact opposite, especially if they play into a Conservative narrative that the Liberal leader just isn’t ready to be prime minister.

Even if someone has no design training, and even if they only catch a glimpse of that bus wrap, they’ll know something wasn’t quite right… and it’ll undermine their confidence.

How can you avoid the same mistakes? Well, you can avoid the biggest one by voting NDP on October 19th. But in the meantime, here are four key lessons to make sure your design works for your campaign, instead of giving it a (cough) bad wrap:

When the stakes are high, work with professionals.

You want your campaign’s design to be in the hands of people who eat, drink and breathe well-executed communications. They may be in your communications department, or in an outside agency—but you need to be able to trust them implicitly. And in particular, your graphic designer and production coordinator should have the experience and expertise to catch this kind of error (and the thousands of others that can creep in along the way).

Just as important: the print shop you work with. You (or your professional staff) should have a strong relationship with them… strong enough that when a printer sees something out of place, they feel comfortable alerting you to it.

Use a checklist.

Bus wraps by now are old hat. So are brochures, TV ads, websites and lawn signs. And when you’ve produced a product many times before, you know the steps you need to take—and the goofs you need to watch for.

So create a checklist. They’re tremendous timesavers, and they can keep familiarity from making you complacent. We’re religious about our checklists at The NOW Group… and we update them constantly. (We’ll be using one on this very blog post before clicking “Publish.”)

One crucial step on your checklist: see the product as it’s being applied. (See #4, below.)

Plan in advance, and put a premium on project management.

In campaign after campaign, we’ve found the scarcest resource is time. Rigorous, careful planning can help you make the most of it. Good project management can keep production on track, and can help you avoid the kind of 3 a.m. scramble that can lead to big, dumb mistakes.

And the early election call is no excuse here. Harper’s timing was cynical and calculated for partisan gain, but the one thing it wasn’t was unexpected.

Give the proof a lot of scrutiny… and give the final product just as much.

No piece of client work goes out our door without being carefully proofed by multiple people, each of whom knows exactly what to look for. One of them is almost always Jillian, who is the most detail-oriented proofreader you could ever hope for.

Find your Jillian: someone who knows spelling and grammar as well as design. And give them the time and space to scrutinize every word, and every element; this isn’t the time for a quick skim and an “Eh, close enough.” Then have someone else do the same. And when the finished product comes back from your printer, do it again. You know that old saying “There’s many a slip twixt cup and lip”? It actually means “Things can get screwed up between the proof stage and the final print run.”

And don’t just look for typos and obvious design boo-boos. Is there an unfortunate combination of graphics that accidentally delivers an unintended message? Look at the design in its final context: will the bus’s components create an awkward juxtaposition? (That happened to Alberta’s Wildrose Party in 2012.)

Test the lettering for distance viewing. Look at the strips of the wrap graphics hanging from the top of the bus before they’re tacked down. Make sure you have the exacting standards (and the time!) to fix whatever isn’t right. Summon your inner perfectionist, because it has to be perfect.

Mistakes happen to all of us. But errors like this one should never see the light of day in your campaign. And with planning, professionalism, proofing and a liberal (sorry) dose of checklists, they never have to.

Got a favourite election campaign design failure? We’d love to hear about it! Share it in the comments.

P.S. — Not that Conservatives should gloat about design fails, Prime Minster.


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