"We move away from top-down communication and toward real dialogue."

E-lection Bridge Africa: Interview with Dr. Klaus Schüler

Also available in Deutsch

The request for an interview about the digital era is answered, “I’d love to,” via i-Pad. This is typical for Dr. Klaus Schüler since the CDU Federal Manager, and sworn soccer fan, is digitally always “on the ball.” His reputation as an authority in the field of political communication extends far beyond Germany. He is the acting Chairman of the Campaign Managers Committee of the International Democratic Union (IDU).

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: What are the most important current global trends in the field of political communication, in your opinion?

DR. KLAUS SCHÜLER: The growing digitalisation of political campaigns is definitely the number one topic, but not only as a technical phenomenon. Twitter, Facebook and so on are more than new means of communication. They fundamentally change political processes and organisation. A lot of what shaped political communication over the past decades is turned upside down.
On the other hand, I don’t care much for the theories that keep arising regarding the increasing Americanisation or personalisation of election campaigns. The times are over in which the world was divided between American campaigns and their imitators. These days, similar instruments and a high level of professionalism are found on all continents. And personal campaigns were already conducted in ancient Rome.

Dr. Klaus Schüler studied history in Cologne before holding leading positions in the CDU headquarters under Helmut Kohl and Angela Merkel. As State Secretary he was part of the government in Schleswig-Holstein for two years. The German media hailed the Federal Manager as “the engineer” of the successful 2009 CDU election campaign. Dr. Schüler is the winner of the “Aristotle Excellence Award”, a kind of Oscar for political campaigning. The digitalisation of politics is of passionate interest to him.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: What does your organisation, the CDU, (Christian Democratic Union) particularly focus on at the moment?

DR. KLAUS SCHÜLER: On a realistic and goal-oriented evaluation of digital campaigning and a potential combination with classical campaign management. We want to be up to date, but don’t want to jump on every bandwagon. We should not forget that we also have many members, supporters and voters who we don’t reach by digital means, at least not yet.
Our key aspects of digital campaigning are videos on the internet via our YouTube channel, (www.cdu.tv) our multimedia magazine, UNION (www.union-magazin.de) and the development of our presence on the Web 2.0. In all cases, it is crucial that we move away from top-down communication and toward real dialogue and participation.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: How do you currently deal with the topic of ‘social networks?’

DR. KLAUS SCHÜLER: We are represented on all relevant platforms and we are somewhat proud to be the most active and successful party in Germany in this department. Facebook, twitter and YouTube are at the core of our efforts. Our goal is to make the Web 2.0 an important pillar of our next national election campaign in 2013. Considering, that in time and number of users, social networks have been overtaking E-mail communication over the last few years, there is no alternative.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: What role does the cell phone play in the political communication of the CDU?

DR. KLAUS SCHÜLER: A very large one, not least because the use of online services has continued to shift to this sector. Therefore, our web service is available in an optimized version suitable for all mobile devices including iPhone and iPad. During the parliamentary election in 2009 we were the only party to conduct marketing on mobile online platforms, as well as SMS advertising.

KAS MEDIA AFRICA: Let’s take a look at the future: What will be decisive in political communication? Or, as the Americans say: What is the next big thing?

DR. KLAUS SCHÜLER: The point is always the same: to reach people and get them to vote for the right party. It sounds mundane but it is increasingly difficult to raise awareness as the means of communication get more and more diverse and individualized. The problem can’t be solved simply with a new set of tools. The search for the ‘next big thing’ falls short. Overall, political communication must become more goal-oriented, individualized, conversational and, at least in Germany, considerably more emotionally appealing. This should be internalized by everyone in a political organization, from the management to each and every volunteer. If that succeeds, then we have really accomplished a ‘big thing’.