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Campaign Research Inc.: NPA's not-so-secret weapon

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (left), Nick Kouvalis (center) of Campaign Research, and NPA mayoral candidate Suzanne Anton (right)

Vancouver municipal election 2011: Non-Partisan Association (NPA) has recently hired Ontario-based market research agency Campaign Research for its election campaign.

The agency became well known in Canada after helping Toronto Mayor Rob Ford win during last year’s election. Here’s a bit of background on the firm and what they do:

What is Campaign Research Inc.? 

Campaign Research is a “full service marketing research agency”, founded in 2003 by researchers and conservative political activists Richard Ciano and Nick Kouvalis.

The agency has expanded over the past few years to conduct research and strategy services all over Canada, in the U.S. and overseas. They have worked in politics and public affairs, as well as with companies in industries ranging from agriculture and mining to healthcare and the non-profit sector.

Formerly the national vice-president of the Conservative Party of Canada, Ciano primarily worked out of Ottawa and then Toronto, while Kouvalis continues to manage the office they operate in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario. Campaign Research also now has offices in Guelph and Vancouver.

What do they do?

The agency provides consulting services, research, and strategic marketing for their clients in an effort to help them get results – whatever that may mean within their given industry.

In politics, it can mean profiling and establishing a voter identification system, so that candidates get a good sense of who their supporters are. It can also mean conducting polls, telephone town halls, facilitating fundraising efforts and simply advising candidates about the best way to proceed.

Campaign Research and Mayor Rob Ford

Kouvalis (pictured above with Toronto Mayor Rob Ford) and Ciano signed on to the Ford campaign in spring 2010, months before the mayoral election in Toronto.

They were right by his side when Ford was faced with a campaign hiccup – questions from media about a marijuana charge in Miami from 1999. At first he denied accusations, but on recommendations from Kouvalis, he went back to reporters with a confession that included owning up to a DUI from the same day.

Despite fears of losing ground, it turned out that the confession gave Ford’s campaign a boost. The event was just one of several potential gaffes that his team helped turn around for the better.

Drawing inspiration from internal polls rather than media coverage of big-ticket issues, Ford and his team focused on resonant ideas the other candidates weren’t really considering. Campaign Research pushed them to utilize new technologies, but in ways that reached out to what they knew was their real audience. Instead of a Rob Ford iPhone app, for instance, they conducted telephone town hall meetings that allowed voters to connect with Ford in a different way.

Ford took the election with 47 per cent of the vote, beating his biggest competitor George Smitherman by a significant margin. It was an astounding win described by Maclean’s as “perhaps the most improbable election victory in recent Canadian history”.

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