The role of communications during an election – what’s really happening?

Written by Olivia McDonald

We all know a provincial election is looming – we can feel it in the air. Campaign promises are in full swing and communication professionals province-wide are in overdrive. Party leaders and campaign organizers are readying party ads, kissing babies, and traveling from Yarmouth to Cape Breton trying to win over voters. Have you ever wonder what it’s like to work for the government before an election? As a previous Communications Officer for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and as a current Marketing Officer for Communications Nova Scotia (CNS), I have the inside scoop. No, I don’t know when the election is being called but I can provide insight as to what this exciting time means for a communications professional.

It’s important to note that Communications Nova Scotia is a non-partisan, full-service agency whose role is to help Nova Scotians understand what their government is doing and why. It is not my intention to favour one party over another in this article but to outline the work of PR civil servants.

You may have noticed that Premier Darrel Dexter and the NDP have been holding event after event and making announcement after announcement, attempting to fulfill as many possible campaign promises before the election is called. Internally, communicators are going all out.  Securing site locations, writing speaking notes and event scenarios. Soliciting attendees, media calls and booking photographers. As well as pitching to media and traveling, all of these tasks are part of preparation for a 20-minute announcement. Often times, all of this needs to be completed with little notice. The rush is exciting but very stressful.

What happens once the election is called?

When the call for a provincial election is officially made, all announcements, events, press releases, and ministerial participation must cease for the 30 days. This allows all parties to campaign fairly without help from the communication agency. Projects that are already in the works are still allowed to continue, however, government members of the party in power (in this case, the New Democratic Party), aren’t allowed to be publicized or participate as a member of the party. This allows CNS to maintain their non-partisanship. In other words, government officials names cannot be mentioned in news releases and they aren’t allowed to be in photos or make any new announcements.

Ministers and party leaders no longer use their titles and must go by their names (e.g. Minister of Education and Early Childhood Development, Minister Ramona Jennex would then become Ramona Jennex). Internally, once the election is called, operations slow down quite a bit. This down time allows communicators the chance to catch up on routine assignments. From there we wait for the new government to be elected.

Election period is absolutely an exciting time and a chance to gain a significant amount of experience in a very fast-paced setting. I’m looking forward to the coming weeks and to watch internally and externally the dynamics of politics unfold.

Who will you be voting for?