It is a scene that could only happen in the 2020s – a Southland farmer on a Zoom meeting while driving his tractor, talking to advisors in central Auckland helping him and other grassroots farmers become a powerful political lobby.
The farmer was a founder of Groundswell NZ, the farming advocacy group known for the nationwide protests against what they say are "increasing Government interference, unworkable regulations, and unjustified costs" being applied to the rural sector.
The advisors were from the newly-launched Campaign Company, the brainchild of Jordan Williams, co-founder and Executive Director of the Taxpayers' Union.
Williams believes Groundswell's growth and reach has stemmed from the farmers' passion for their cause and authenticity – mirroring the concerns of rural communities across the country. The Campaign Company is providing Groundswell the tools to handle that growth and streamline their effectiveness as rural advocates - including advice on how to turn 'noise' into policy wins.
Behind all this is what Williams calls the power of "grassroots activism, and crowdfunding, which is traditionally more associated with the left, than with conservative causes".
Williams' background – leading the Taxpayers' Union to become the largest per capita grassroots taxpayer advocacy group in the world ¬was the skill set Groundswell needed to turn their protests into a long-term campaign "force for good", says Williams.
The union enjoys more than 180,000 subscribed supporters with tens of thousands chipping-in to fund campaign efforts and, despite its youth, he believes Groundswell has already surpassed traditional rural advocacy groups in terms of numbers subscribed.
"We are not government relations experts, nor Wellington-centric lobbyists. Our company advises on how to build movements, and provides best practice digital tools to execute modern political and issue-based campaigns," he says.
"A big part of that is advising on best practice and ethical fundraising. No one can save the world if they can't keep the lights on."
"Groundswell's leadership understands their sector better than anyone near Wellington," says Williams. "Their leadership team in Gore picks the issues and prioritises their campaigns. But community building, fundraising, and the back-office requirements of a growing organisation, servicing and triaging tens of thousands of enquiries, is new territory for those leading this cause."
"Groundswell has an advantage in being digital-first. They've already undertaken successful online submission campaigns on an emissions pricing alternative and on the Water Services Act regulations affecting rural water. Groundswell is bridging farmers directly to the decision makers in Wellington."
The Campaign Company came about when Williams found staff with the experience and expertise missing from the New Zealand political scene: "New Zealand's been about 10 years behind," he says.
All Kiwis, the company has an expert in political campaign software development, a campaign consultant who previously worked in a Minister's office, and a digital creative – the latter working on election campaigns overseas before returning to New Zealand.
"Robert Calvert, our Lead Developer, has a professional background in web development and software engineering specific to the political space – a rare combination."
"Our Creative Lead, Dylan Parshotam, has experience developing print, online, and television ads for major international political figures, including in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom."
"For the likes of the Taxpayers' Union, Groundswell, and our commercial clients, Dylan and Robert's experience means world-class campaign tools and digital strategies are within reach."
"For my generation, and the Taxpayers' Union is very much a reflection of this, our politics are framed around communications angles and earned media. Dylan and Robert reflect the next generation: understanding that Kiwis consume media and information in completely different ways to even a decade ago.
"Instead of 'comms', they think in 'content' ¬ what is the most effective way to communicate the message directly to key audiences? This often means speaking over the heads of the media, using social media strategies to drive cut-through."
The Taxpayers' Union is still Williams' passion and main job, he says: "I'm still spending about 90 per cent of my time fighting government waste." The union alone couldn't afford to access the skills and experience of the staff The Campaign Company has recruited, "but between the Taxpayers' Union, Groundswell and other clients, we can".
"The key difference between The Campaign Company and a traditional communications or online agency is politics is about message, not brand. Too often, marketers are obsessed with brand recognition when, for politics, it is the message and effectiveness of delivery that matters."
It's working. Williams references another client, which had plateaued at about 4000 supporters for half a decade. "My team implemented a lead-generation strategy to recruit, engage, and grow their active email-able supporters to nearly 70,000, achieving legislative victories."
"Over my lifetime, politics has been professionalised and the gap between Wellington and rural communities has widened. We're proud The Campaign Company is working with clients to democratise how decisions are being made and boosting 'people-power' in politics – even from a paddock of barley in Southland."