This week saw Marcus Rashford’s campaign to extend Free School Meals. The England striker was the driving force behind a Downing Street U-turn, which means 1.3 million children eligible for free school meals in England will now benefit from a ‘Covid summer food fund’ and will continue to receive Free School Meal vouchers over the summer break.
Obviously the story was eye catching, as it involved a prominent footballer, a Government U-turn and the Health Secretary in a pickle. Looking past the twists and turns of this, there was a slick and well-run campaign that was a masterclass in how to communicate, use social media and engage Government. Here’s why Rashford’s campaign was so successful.
1) Have an ‘ask’
A problem with many celebrity fronted campaigns is they do not have a clear ‘ask’ of Government. Laudable as many of these types of campaigns are, too often they call for ‘action’ or ‘justice’ on something. In short, they identify problems, but don’t offer solutions. Rashford’s campaign was different. It identified a problem (i.e. children on Free School Meals would lose access to them during the summer break), and presented a clear, tangible, and simple to implement solution to Government, and called on Government to act accordingly.
2) Be civil and build broad support
Identifying an issue – and an ask – is one thing, but it’s another to get backing for your cause. It didn’t hurt that Rashford picked an issue that few would oppose, but he built a broad base of support across parliament (and the media) for the cause and won bi-partisan support.
But it was also a campaign of civility. When the Government first said no to the ask, Rashford did not follow up by condemning them or railing against the individual politicians involved with pejoratives, but instead calmly looked to try again, build up further support, and put pressure on the Government. He did this through social media with the hashtag #maketheUturn, an open letter to MPs and coverage in the media. And when the U-turn did come, Rashford was gracious, not gloating.
3) Keep politics out of it
We live in partisan times when it comes to politics. That is the pit fall many campaigns of this type fall into. A celebrity fronted campaign should not end up being a by proxy endorsement for one party or another. Once a campaign picks a side, it risks losing support from the other. Rashford’s campaign was conscious of this. He expressly stated that this campaign was not about politics, calling on MPs to come together for a higher cause, drawing parallels with how Premier League players put rivalry aside when they put on the England shirt.
4) Made good use of his personal story
In campaigns of this nature, a personal story tends to go further than statistics. Rashford was able to speak movingly by outlining his own life experience, and how important Free School Meals where to him, when he was using them ten years prior. By speaking about the importance of the policy to him and his family, he made what he was talking about personal, and therefore real. Campaigns of this nature are always striving to “be authentic”. This one nailed it on the head.
5) Novelty factor
There was undeniably a novelty factor to this campaign. Rashford acknowledged that himself, when he wrote in his Times op-ed on Monday that “ten years ago if someone said I would one day be writing in the Times, I would have laughed”. An England and Manchester United footballer writing an open letter to MPs and calling on the Government to take certain actions is not exactly an everyday occurrence.
But crucially the campaign handled and used the novelty factor well. The campaign knew this would be a ‘front page issue’ and made the best use of this, which enabled the campaign to gain both momentum and support and achieve critical mass quickly. It shouldn’t be underestimated how influential novelty can be in campaigns like these.
So, a big congratulations to Marcus Rashford and his successful campaign, and an outcome we can all get behind. And for any other celebrities looking to front campaigns in the future, you would do well to take a leaf out of Marcus Rashford’s book.