Ka-ching! How elections made for good business in 1988

Printers, pollsters and ad agencies all profited when the 1988 election campaign was on.

All parties had their favourite pollsters, printers and ad agencies

Once the 1988 election is called, it means extra revenue for companies that supply what campaigns need. 3:32

Printer Bruce Walkinshaw could almost hear the chime of a cash register when the federal election came around in 1988.

"Probably between 20 and 30 per cent of my overall business will be election business," he told the CBC show Venture in October that year, after Brian Mulroney called an election to seek a second mandate. 

"So it's a nice bump every year when we have an election. I like elections."

And printers weren't the only companies seeing a boost to the bottom line.

Party affiliations played a role 

Campaign workers are seen preparing printed materials for distribution within a Toronto riding ahead of the 1988 federal election. (Venture/CBC Archives)

Walkinshaw's company produced signs and other materials for the Liberal Party, and it was worth $1 million in extra business, said reporter Howard Green.

"I've been doing printing for elections since the CCF was formed, back in ...  '33," said Syd Robinson. a printer who was affiliated with the NDP.

Furniture rental companies also benefited from elections when candidates needed to outfit their offices. 

However, Liberal pollster Martin Goldfarb said the election only amounted to a five per cent boost to his company's bottom line.

On the airwaves

"Politics is really emotions, passions, feelings," said Tory strategist John Laschinger, explaining why TV advertising was important. (Venture/CBC Archives)

According to Green, all parties tried to limit their spending on materials so they could put money where it really mattered: on TV and radio advertising.

"You can't pick up feelings and emotions off a piece of paper," said Tory strategist John Laschinger. "You can pick it up off an airwave and off a television screen."

Ad agencies that translated those feelings to commercials were often affiliated with specific parties.

Michael Morgan's Vancouver ad agency was one that stood to take in $50,000 for its work for the NDP. 

"We're a political advertising agency," said Morgan "We put very specialized silver bullets in our guns and we shoot them off to see if we can't raise a little attention on a certain issue."

When business blew up

Balloon Express of Mississauga was "cashing in on an American craze that's moved north." (Venture/CBC Archives)

Even Mississauga's Balloon Express got in on the election dollars.

The company filled orders for all parties, thanks to a new "American craze that's moved north."

And other businesses didn't just rake in earnings during an election.

"Some ad people work for parties during the election campaign," said Green. "They hope to make the big bucks afterwards, if they back the winning side."

That had paid off for one agency with Tory ties in the 1984 campaign. It had been awarded a multi-million government tourism contract.

"It's a tradition that government advertising goes to friends," Green said.