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DesignBoxed founder Naresh Arora on evolution of political campaigns and role of technology

DesignBoxed played a crucial role in the Karnataka elections, working closely with DK Shivakumar of the Congress.

By  Tasmayee Laha RoyMay 29, 2023 3:52 PM
DesignBoxed founder Naresh Arora on evolution of political campaigns and role of technology
Naresh Arora discusses his entry into politics, the agency's journey, the intricacies of political campaigns, the integration of technology, and more.

Political campaign agencies have become indispensable allies of candidates in modern elections, and one such entity is DesignBoxed. Founded in 2010 in Surat, Gujarat, with just one employee, it has grown significantly under the leadership of Naresh Arora.

With expertise in strategic planning and innovative communication methods, DesignBoxed has successfully managed numerous political campaigns. Recently, it played a crucial role in the Karnataka elections, working closely with DK Shivakumar of the Congress, which emerged triumphant.

In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Arora discusses his entry into politics, the agency's journey, the intricacies of political campaigns, the integration of technology, and more.

Edited excerpts:

What inspired you to start DesignBoxed, and how has it evolved over the years?

Our journey began in 2010 with just my partner Gunjeet, one employee, and myself. Today, after 13 years, we have grown exponentially, expanding from a single office in Surat to six offices across the country, including Chandigarh, Jaipur, Bangalore, Amritsar and more. Throughout this period, our evolution has been remarkable, transitioning from hardcore digital marketing to a comprehensive campaign management organization. We now offer 360-degree solutions, from research to execution, catering to diverse client needs. Along this journey, we have gained invaluable knowledge, both personally and as a team. Our company's evolution has extended into various domains, such as content production, digital marketing, data analysis and even partnerships with media houses. These years have been transformative and filled with remarkable accomplishments.

As for the inspiration, coming from a political background, with my father into politics and my uncle being a successful politician, I grew up witnessing politics firsthand.

While I never aspired to be a politician myself, my passion always lay in making a difference in a field related to politics. To be successful, I knew that learning and experience were crucial.

In 2006, a conscious decision was made to step away from looking at just profits and revenues that can be made through working with political parties or candidates and focus on delivering results.

I took on my clients without charging them, experimenting with untested methods that required trust from the public. At that time some established agency was already working with the Congress at a state level in Punjab. My first venture too was in Punjab, where I worked on two constituencies without fees. Within nine months, I was handling the complete campaigns for 27 constituencies, all of which were won, and I received the payment I requested. I was also handed over the digital communication mandate for the Punjab Pradesh Congress. This marked the beginning of a journey that gradually expanded to other states, fueled by a passion for making an impact.

Can you walk us through the process of planning a political campaign? Where does an agency like yours come in during this process?

The journey of a political campaign begins with thorough research conducted at multiple levels. Ground-level assessment, digital analysis, and comprehensive SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis are crucial components. Once the research is completed, the strategy formulation stage begins. This involves identifying weaknesses to address and strengths to emphasize, while formulating a comprehensive plan for public communication, media engagement, and internal preparation. The execution phase follows, where constant assessment of the strategy's effectiveness is conducted. This includes analyzing data and performance to gauge progress and make necessary adjustments. Measuring the success of a political campaign involves setting specific goals for different time periods and continuously monitoring progress towards achieving those goals. While social media provides some insights, gauging success in the real world requires on-the-ground assessment and feedback from constituents.

As an agency we step in at the first stage itself, which starts from ground-level assessments. Time allocation is very important. So depending on how much time we have in hand we draw up a plan. However, our services do not end with the elections. We are partners in the delivery stage too.

How do you measure the success of a political campaign, and what metrics do you use?

With the proliferation of information outlets, assessing the true utility amidst the noise becomes increasingly challenging in political campaigns. Various mediums, such as social media and ongoing activities, are available to us, but the measurement of success is not just the election results while that is the end goal. Measurability begins way before. Creating a recall value and what we call the right buzz is an important component of measurability.

Our measurability tools go beyond social media footprints of a party or a candidate. Tools like daily tracker surveys and other metrics help us gauge the response towards our desired goals. We reach out to people at the ground level and gauge their awareness about candidates and all the ongoing schemes. The information we collect from that is the best measurement metric and serve as indicators of success and help us understand whether we are making progress or not.

How has the role of social media evolved over time? Are the challenges outweighing the advantages in its use?

One of the biggest challenges associated with social media is the issue of credibility. Despite its widespread usage, social media still faces skepticism in terms of credibility. People tend to be more inclined to believe information they see on traditional media platforms such as newspapers or TV channels, even if the same content is presented on social media. This crisis of credibility poses a significant obstacle. To establish credibility, it is essential to involve the most credible voices in social media campaigns. While content created through animation and studios holds value, it is the involvement of influential figures.

For instance, if a minister himself tweets or creates videos, that carries the most credibility. This represents the first challenge in building credibility. To address this, our agency takes a unique approach by incorporating ground campaigns in the content we create. Unlike other agencies, we ensure that campaigns extend beyond content created in studios or offices and capture the voices of the people. Social media serves as a vehicle for communication, but if it lacks credibility on the ground, its impact will be short-lived. When events happening on the ground find their way to social media, they tend to have a lasting impact as people remember them. In summary, social media narratives can only endure if they are grounded in reality; otherwise, they fade away.

Can you help us understand the use of tech (like Artificial Intelligence, programmatic ads and others) in a modern-day campaign?

For any organization operating in our domain or any remotely connected field, the reliance on technology tools for smarter learning is indispensable. While we limit the usage of these tools for direct communication with the public, they prove invaluable for internal processes and enhancing our understanding of data. The aim is to streamline operations and eliminate repetitive tasks, such as manually working with Excel formulas. By leveraging technology, we incorporate dashboards and automation to expedite processes and reduce human intervention. It's important to note that technology accelerates the efficiency of our operations rather than replacing human intelligence. At the end of the day, understanding the pulse of the people is something that AI or any technology cannot fully comprehend.

Any campaign that you have done in the past that you are most proud of? After Karnataka, what is the next big thing on the cards for DesignBoxed?

The work we did with Punjab Police on awareness building around drugs is something that remains very close to my heart. We are glad we brought down the usage by a certain level with all our initiatives.

As for the way ahead, we are currently working on the election in Rajasthan. It’s a tough election and we have to wait and watch to see what comes out of it.

First Published on May 26, 2023 6:03 PM