A member of the Students’ Representative Council has hit out at ‘That’s Union’ campaign, describing the awareness campaign as “empty” and “ridiculous”.
As part of the campaign, members of the SRC stood in high-traffic parts of the St Andrews (in front of the library, for example) and reached out to students one-by-one. Fliers and stickers were distributed. Social media was flooded by members with videos and articles about what the Union does for them.
Doubts were raised over the efficiency of the campaign because of the way the budget was spent, and because, given that there were no hard numbers on Union awareness before the campaign, there can be no objective bar of success.
One member, who spoke on condition of anonymity pointed out endemic problems with the campaign. They said: “The campaign quickly lost any effectiveness it had by the first day of leafleting.
“We were ‘trained’ in leafleting in a new dynamic fashion. It did not engage the student body as well as we were told it would. The only students to stop and ask questions were friends who just wanted a chat about other matters.
“We were instructed to blitz people’s Facebook feeds with statuses and tagging people in cover photos and profile pictures… I fear that students just ignored it and found it irritating rather than illuminating.
“The Facebook campaign created a form of reverb where we would get 80 notifications a day from other Association members and feel like the campaign was being effective in reaching the student body. Talking to friends about it, they were just annoyed about ‘That’s Union’ but didn’t get the message behind it. I think the only people who did were Association Council members.”
The social media campaign did not have enough depth to it, according to the member. They said: “I think that the multimedia created (the video, the logos, the infographics) were very stylish but ultimately felt very empty and vapid.
“Especially, the video, which I felt was ridiculous in the campaign and ultimately undermined the entire message of the campaign by being so flippant.”
The member also was ultimately unimpressed with the reusability of the campaign, which was a significant selling point. They said: “The campaign raised awareness of ‘That’s Union’, not the Union. A selling point of the campaign was its reusability. I highly doubt ‘That’s Union’ is coming back in its current guise and so it has failed in that regard.
“I think the people who were very active in the campaign, are going to use this as a platform for election in March or as a legacy builder,” they concluded.
The campaign ran in week six, and was headed by Joe Tantillo, Association chair, Ondrej Hajda, director of representation, and Ali West, who served as the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) member for gender equality in the 2013- 2014 academic year. The goal of the campaign, according to the website of the Union, was to help students better understand the inner workings of the Union and how students might be helped by it.
Mr Tantillo was quick to point out the uniqueness of the campaign. He said: “We recognize that there is a problem in that the students don’t fully understand what we do as an organisation. The ‘That’s Union’ campaign was a proactive response to our recognition of that problem. It was very much an experiment to see how students would react to this kind of outreach.”
Some controversy has been born of the fact that approximately half of the budget for the campaign was spent purchasing t-shirts for the volunteers. In its organisation phase, Mr Tantillo pitched the campaign to the SRC. According to the minutes of the meeting, he explained the expense by noting that the t-shirts could be reused and that this campaign could be repeated. He noted that 40 t-shirts were needed for all members of the councils and any volunteers and that buying high-quality shirts ensured that they could be reused. Buying 40 t-shirts also ensured that in case of loss, the campaign wouldn’t suffer. The SRC voted to allow the expense nearly unanimously, with only two of the 22 votes cast dissenting. Three members were not present for the vote.
The critical anonymous member said: “I think we could have pitched in as volunteers of the campaigns and kept our t-shirts (which we don’t own at the moment because we’ve given them all back to [Mr Tantillo] and [Ms West]) or simply bought fewer shirts.”
Other members of the SRC agreed with Mr Tantillo’s assessment that the campaign, while imperfect, had been a good effort and an important experiment, with at least moderate success.
SRC member for mature students, Mel Turner, noted that while she hoped the campaign was successful, there was no way of measuring that.
Ms Turner said that the campaign “allowed for personal input.” As part of her effort to reach mature students specifically, she introduced some members of the council to the commuter room, and some of its occupants.
The member for first years, Jo Boon, was hesitant to pass judgment either way on the efforts made as part of the campaign. She said: “we haven’t had a full conversation about how everything went yet so I think it’s premature to criticise it too heavily.”
Ms Boon also made a point of acknowledging that while it may not have been perfect, the campaign did reach some. She said: “I think we were successful at reaching people on the fringes of the Union who were half involved but wanted to know more. I think we were also successful in reaching people who knew absolutely nothing about the Union and thought of it as just a bar.”
Ms West, however, remains positive that the campaign fulfilled the goals it set out to achieve. “I am very happy with what we’ve done…The enthusiasm of those involved, and the genuine interest shown by members of the student body… That enthusiasm, I am convinced, will continue to reflect itself in Union discourse.
“A great example of the practical results of That’s Union is reflected in a spate of motions by petition being brought before councils; one student told me that she had the campaign to thank for the knowledge that she could bring a motion to the SRC with twenty-five signatures. Other students I’ve spoken to have expressed a new interest in running for positions and involving themselves in subcommitees as a result of this campaign. That, to me, is what we were aiming for.
“In terms of the budget, I will continue to assert that it was justified and well-spent… Our t-shirts allowed canvassers to become walking advertisements for the Union, and worked well as a way to draw in passers-by.
“As an organiser, I’m proud to have run a campaign that accomplished much of what it set out to do; I’m also pleased that we’ve established a sustainable template which can continue to be built upon, expanded, and recycled for future generations.”