How do candidates get their names out?

Posted by on Nov 13, 2011
Media

Getting a name out a sign of the times
Kim Westad, Times Colonist

Shellie Gudgeon is the owner of two successful restaurants in a city known for eating new places alive.

But those challenges aren’t nearly as daunting as running for Victoria council, said the 48-year-old restaurateur who is running for one of eight seats.

“It’s absolutely the most courageous thing I’ve ever done,” said Gudgeon, who owns Il Terrazzo and Fifth Street Bar, both in Victoria. “It’s like running down the street naked. This makes opening a restaurant look easy. It’s a steep learning curve but it gets better every day.”

She’s one of dozens of “newbies” throughout the region vying for a municipal seat, all facing incumbent councillors who have that all-important name recognition. It can be an uphill battle for newcomers, says University of Victoria professor and political expert Michael Prince, especially when only about 20 per cent of voters cast their ballot.

“The often conventional wisdom is if you’re an incumbent, it’s hard to knock you out. Some research tends to support that,” Prince said.

Gudgeon thought she had the jump when it came to election signs. Hers were out first, with many lining the pedestrian routes she wants to increase if elected.

The problem? They were deemed too low-key, her name too narrow and hard to see from a passing vehicle.

“Boy oh boy, I’m getting a lot of advice about signs now,” Gudgeon laughed. She has since added more signs with her name in bold white letters. And she has learned a key political lesson – to spin an experience into a positive.

“It shows my willingness to listen and make changes immediately.”

Most candidates now have websites, and most invest in brochures and mailouts. Signs, old-school as they seem, still play a role, even though many candidates don’t like them.

“It’s like advertising in general – you’re not sure if it works, but everyone does it so you don’t want to miss out,” Prince said.

Incumbent Saanich councillor Dean Murdock knows that feeling. Murdock doesn’t like the proliferation of signs cluttering neighbourhoods and public proper-ty. But he’s wary of opting out of one of the most expedient ways of getting your face and name to the public, all the while cognizant that the signs don’t say anything about what the candidate stands for.

“With so many cluttering the natural beauty of the municipality, the effectiveness is lost and it ends up being a cacophony of advertising,” said Murdock, who first tried for a council seat in 2002. He wasn’t elected then, so he continued working with the various community groups he was involved in, attending public events and asking people what they wanted Saanich’s future to look like. He was elected in 2008.

Murdock does plenty of door-knocking, the most traditional form of campaigning for newcomers and experienced campaigners alike. That, and online exchanges with voters, allow two-way conversations, Murdock said.

Not all residents like having their door knocked on, and will let the candidate know it. On the other hand, Murdock said, he’s had conversations with residents that have helped form his campaign platform.