Communication for political parties workshop




Objective of the two days workshop were to:

  • Promote youth cooperation in political parties
  • Enhance communication skills with an emphasis on social media and campaigning


The workshop was attended by 26 of the 27 member parties of CMD Kenya with each being represented by 2 participants. As requested in the invitations, the parties sent representatives responsible for communications functions in their parties. Thus the participants included Secretary Generals, Secretaries in charge of information and publicity, Executive Directors and Communications Officers.

Opening session

CMD Kenya Executive Director Njeri Kabeberi officially opened the workshop with remarks emphasizing on deepening youth participation in political parties and processes. She also introduced the Danish team- Mr. Soren Toft and Mr. Jens-Kristian Lutken, Hanne Tornager-DIPD/DLDP project consultant and DIPD to facilitate the workshop.

In their introductions, Ms. Tornager asked participants to state issues that their parties considered significant in the forthcoming general elections for Kenya. Among the issues stated include:

  • Peaceful campaigns
  • Tolerance of political opinions
  • Use of social networks for mobilization
  • Resources devolution to grassroots
  • Women mainstreaming in governance
  • Youth involvement-proactive youth participation not as youth wingers, ‘security ’
  • Transparency
  • Full and sincere implementation of the constitution
  • Non-violent political campaigns
  • Role of media in promoting positive ethnicity
  • Level playing field
  • SMART campaign pledges
  • Issue based and fair campaigns
  • Unemployment/economic empowerment
  • Fair media coverage
  • Civic education/voter education
  • Free and fair party nominations
  • Appreciation and respect for diversity
  • Good governance and rule of law
  • Food security


‘Political campaigning and social media’ by Jens-Kristian Lutken

Mr. Lutken concentrated on tips to effectively utilize social networks in political campaigning after a brief discussion on participants understanding of social networks and their practical use in their respective political parties. The tips included

  • Social media is fast, cheap and easy. It does not need editorial services and it’s effective at reaching new target groups
  • Make your page on social networks interesting and attractive
  • Involve audience by promoting two way communication through responding to issues posted on your wall
  • Brevity and getting to the point quickly are skills you need to hone in using social media; use short and clear messages preferably (100-150 words)
  • Utilize social media to ask the public on issues to address in your campaign speeches and give them feedback promptly
  • Social media is for ‘fun purposes’- therefore mix between politics and  other interesting topics such as sport
  •  Use simple language
  • Ask questions and be ready to follow advice
  • Block out negative comments on your wall
  •  Make live updates on your party and campaign activities such as debates
  • Social media is good for teasing political messages
  • Photos are important on social media because they are more dynamic and can tell more than words in a short text.

Mr. Lutken also discussed the use of SMS to communicate political messages. He however cautioned against spam which puts off mail recipients.

Exercise: Based on the issues cited during introductions, participants were asked to prepare a message on their political party issue for the forthcoming general elections. The message was to be short and clear working with a maximum of 150 characters.  The messages were pinned on the wall with all participants voting for the best message. In this exercise, participants were able to understand how to prepare a catchy, simple, memorable political message and what to include and not include in the message.

‘How parties can deal with Media relations in a democracy’ by Mr. Soren Toft

Mr. Toft discussed this topic from two perspectives; what is good media-political party relations and what kind of principles are needed in media relations. He also outlined tips, advice and best practices of media relations with emphasis on the importance of striving for the truth as well as the central role of a communications person in the angle of a news story on his/her political party.

The following are the best practices for media relations as outlined by Mr. Toft:

  • Be quick (not fool hardly) especially in returning calls
  • Know the media-each one is different
  • Prepare a plethora of questions and answers
  • Media coaching for candidates
  • Make your news events interesting
  • Correct every mistake in the press
  • Never speak off record
  • Get the journalists agreement on/for review of quotes before publication
  • Prepare 80% of the story before pitching

Toft also dealt with the critical questions of what is important for the media and how can a political party get increased coverage by the mainstream media. He discussed news criteria and news triangle to explain ‘what is important for the media:’

  • Newsworthy
  • Identification
  • Importance
  • Conflict
  • Closeness
  • Sensation 
  • Start with the ”ending”, i.e. the conclusion
  • Refer to existing discussionsn and hot issues
  • Provide facts and documentation for your message
  • Provide a concrete solution to a specific problem and issue that their readers are concerned with

He gave the following advice on getting media coverage:

  • Concrete policy solutions is a great way of getting media coverage
  • Proposed policy solutions should be factual with relevant documentation and financing plans

‘Communicating in politics’ by Mr. Soren Toft

Toft introduced this topic by alerting participants on potential political goofs that might be costly to a campaign:

  • Very important thing in politics is DON’T LIE
  • Don’t say something ideal then do exactly the opposite
  • Don’t communicate something fantastic you’re not about and then wait and see if they (media/public) discover it
  • Don’t say something that just saves the situation today. President Richard Nixon’s handling of the Watergate scandal and President Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky saga were the relevant examples highlighted.  

Toft also discussed how parties can package their political message using the ‘message temple’ format which has a main message (vision/ambition) and sub messages which are (acts/themes).


Figure 1


The Obama campaign was used as an example to practically illustrate the message temple.

Obama campaign

Main Message            -             Change

Sub messages -             economic crisis, healthcare, safety and security    

To execute the political message in the campaign process, Toft advised as follows:

  • Combine national, local and the managed mass media and the digital networkflow
  • Involvement-everyone can be a campaigner
  • Repeat, repeat and repeat the message
  • Empower your language by use of metaphors, letter rhyme, repetition etc

Exercise: following the presentation on ‘ communicating in politics’ participants were challenged to prepare a Message Temple for the key messages that their party will try to communicate for the up-coming election in December 2012.


Day two started with participant presentations on Message Temple assignment.  The presentations were on voluntary basis with the following picked out as main and sub messages:


Main message

Sub messages


Social Justice

 Economic empowerment (VAT lowering, rainwater harvesting to boost agriculture)




(fair hearing and justice, no to extra judicial killings by law enforcers)

Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)




(teacher-student ratio to improve quality)


(implementation of the constitution to devolve power and resources)

Democratic Party (DP)

A New Dawn



Communication and education

National Labour Party (NLP)

Equity and equality (workers’ rights)



Safety and security


In the ensuing plenary discussions participants were advised to use simple comprehensible language and ensure policy solutions suggested that support the main and sub message are clear and concrete.

‘Relationship between media and political parties in Kenya today’ by Alex Chamwada

Mr. Chamwada gave a general overview of Kenya’s media industry operations, practices and his understanding of the media and politics in Kenya after which he fielded questions from participants on the topic of presentation.  In specific, he discussed the following issues:

  • Politics and democracy interrelate with lots of development agenda thus political parties should re-align their philosophy with these issues to be considered relevant
  •  Political parties are more interested in TV because of glamour at the expense of radio which reaches to more people.
  • Political parties should establish rapport with editorial team members of media organizations to be able to get coverage. They should understand the news room structure and develop a relationship with managing editors and assignment editors
  • It is a fact that personalities are still much more powerful than their parties
  • Timing- parties should try to incline their activities with current developments making news headlines
  • Parties should be media savvy- hold press briefings at less active times like Sundays, holidays etc
  • Spokespersons should be good speakers and articulate
  • Report journalists demanding bribe for news coverage. Cooperate with and provide assistance (e.g. transport) to genuine freelance journalists on ground
  • Political parties shouldn’t target news only because there are other opportunities such as talk shows
  • Media in Kenya is highly influenced by politicians because of ownership
  • Candidates campaigning for political seats should be active and visible to necessitate media coverage of their campaigns
  • Commercial interests forcing media to entertain rhetoric instead of concentrating on issues of substance

‘Youth and political parties’ by Jens-Kristian Lutken

Mr. Lutken made a brief introduction of the topic by highlighting reasons why youth may join a political party. They include:

  • Ideology
  • Networking
  • To utilize their competencies
  • Socialize – know people

After introducing the topic, Lutken moderation a plenary session with participants discussing two questions which were: How can you attract young members to your party? And how can your party strengthen the role of young members in your party? (Which role)

How to attract young members to political party

  • Making manifesto, policies, programs attractive to youth
  • Sustainable platforms for networking
  • Enabling environment for social relations
  • Attractive slogans
  • Use of social media
  • Attractive forums to engage youth e.g. road shows
  • Ensuring participatory leadership
  • Encouraging active participation in decision making
  • Social education
  • Social activities- seminars, workshops, sports, drama, music festivals
  • Educate, sensitize on party ideology
  • Youth wing-young democrats- structures favoring youth participation
  • Activities appealing to their interests
  • Being cool not rigid- ‘personality’
  • Addressing economic issues, youth empowerment
  • Exchange programs with other countries –UG, TZ, SA
  • Regular programs in constituencies
  • Encourage MPs to pursue policies affecting youth
  • Youth Barazas
  • Structures accommodating the youth
  • Democratic youth elections
  • Affordable party membership fee
  • Recruit points convenient to the youth e.g. campuses
  • Establishing structures that recognize and reward youth
  • Avoiding old guard party patronage
  • Affirmative action
  • Frequent interactions
  • Opportunities to participate in political forums-become vibrant
  • Realizing talents and tapping them
  • Volunteer centers- Obama campaign


How to strengthen the role of young members in the political party

  • To be a watchdog – to keep politicians remember pledges
  • Mobilize/solicit votes
  • Better ideas on relationship
  • Join group for empowerment
  • Propagate policies
  • Leadership –contest in party elections
  • Info dissemination
  • Policy formulation
  • Decision making organs
  • Grassroots leadership
  • Informing top elderly leadership on new trends-communication
  • Establishing party chapters in higher learning institutions
  • Training
  • Networking
  • Continuity, succession, fresh ideas
  • Strategy
  • Mentorship by ‘snr’ members
  • Volunteers-fundraising, human resource
  • Marketing party

‘Crisis communications’ by Mr. Soren Toft

In crisis communications for political parties, Toft pointed out the following issues:

  • A crisis isn’t one if it’s not in the media
  • There’s something that permeates every organization-political organization should be vigilant on such issues
  • Identify and keep close contact with someone that can help in handling crises

‘Strategies and tactics of modern political campaign’

The presentation dealt with creative, fun ways of attracting voter’s attention. Stating that politics had no copyright and politicians were free to ‘steal’ on campaigning ideas and strategies developed by others, Mr. Lutken shared some strategies he had employed in his campaign for a seat in the Danish parliament such as:

  • Popcorn and candies accompanying leaflets containing his message. He was able to indirectly capture the attention of parents whose kids were attracted by free popcorns and candies.  
  • He also organized countryside trips –cycling, bus tours

Exercise: working in groups, participants were challenged to develop ideas for political events and ideas of communicating political messages.