We live in uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting every aspect of our lives, and every day we are confronted with a new “normal.” Face-to-face contact is dangerous, even prohibited in some ways. Ohio’s primary election was postponed, and we don’t know when it will be rescheduled. But even in the face of all of this uncertainty, we still must plan and execute campaigns for the November election.
Social distancing means traditional retail politics and door-to-door canvassing are out – for now. Mail, digital and mobile communications, and relational organizing are going to be more critical than ever. Mail continues to be the most cost-efficient, impactful direct voter contact tool in a campaign’s toolbox. Planning more robust mail programs is essential, but that is not enough to fill the tactical void created by social distancing. Campaigns must create layered, multi-modal voter contact plans that challenge conventional wisdom. They must strategically integrate mail, targeted digital communications, mobile messaging, and relational organizing to ensure voters hear the campaign’s message from every available avenue.
All of our plans must also have built-in tactical flexibility. The unprecedented postponement of Ohio’s primary election is evidence that anything can happen. There may be an acceleration in the popularity of early voting and voting by mail. States may change voting laws to increase vote-by-mail and limit in-person voting. Traditional understandings of “GOTV” and “election day” may no longer be correct. Campaigns must have situational plans prepared for all of these possibilities and create checkpoints throughout the cycle to assess new options.
The challenges campaigns face are significant, but this is also a moment of opportunity – an opportunity for creative thinking and innovation – and our campaigns will be more thoughtful and impactful because of that.
Simply put, your mail symbolizes you and your campaign. To many voters, it will be the first introduction they have into who you are, why you’re running for office, and most importantly, why you’re deserving of their vote. To others, it may be the only discussion you have. There is a variety of factors we take into account regarding who sees what (i.e., targeting), but of equal importance is what they’re seeing. Mail is viewed as two sides of the coin – what you’re saying, and who you’re saying it to. Today, we want to address the “what you’re saying.”
As hilariously evidenced by the accompanying photo, fonts matter. An often-overlooked aspect in a campaign, research shows how voters, respond to both the message and the fonts used as the messenger. Make sure you’re discussing with your communications team and consultant about the choice of font – it can mean the difference in how your campaign’s message is being interpreted.
We’ve all seen it before “Vote For John Doe” in red, white, and blue. Sure, this combination is the standard bearer in campaigns and gives a traditional and patriotic vibe, but sometimes it’s better to go off the “beaten path” to help break through the clutter. We work with and encourage our clients to use a color palette that is unique to them and their district. Whatever color palette you end up deciding on, own it. There is a particular state legislator that has fully committed to her brand, and you’ll rarely see her in the statehouse or at community events donning anything other than chosen colors.
Just like, “all politics is local,” the same can be applied to the campaign’s photography. Stock photography is excellent in a pinch and can help provide a visual context around a specific issue, but nothing beats quality local photos that feature the real people of the district. When you’re getting less than ten seconds to get your point across, sometimes the most significant impact is how your mailer “looks.”
There’s not much political value we can take from Mad Men. From its Lucky Strike smoking, inebriated working, sexist actions – they don’t line up with our morals. However, there is a simple and buried line in the show that has value to political campaigns everywhere.
Peter Campbell is pitching Don Draper on an ad he’s just written. The creative is clever and poetic. While Peter is impressed with his idea, Don Draper cuts it down in five memorable words, “Don’t write for other writers.”
Running for office or working on a campaign? Here’s why that statement is of value.
The Hard Truth: We’re Nerds
We consider ourselves in the glorified category of nerds. We watch MSNBC, listen to NPR, and read a combination of Politico, Roll Call, and Daily Kos in the morning. Politics and political issues are very much of part of our life. If you’re reading this, chances are good the same is for you. We are not normal.
While we get excited talking about levy campaigns and tax reform, most people don’t. Voters are busy going about their daily lives – earning a living, spending time with their family, and so on. They simply don’t care about every single issue on a candidate’s platform no matter how much we want them to do, and chances are extremely low that the average person is going to read every issue of your campaign’s platform.
When you craft your campaign communications – stump speech, mail, or digital advertising – you need to ask yourself, “Am I writing for Don – the insider – or his wife, Betty – the typical voter?”
Your campaign worked hard to raise funds, and it’s up to you to be a good steward of these hard-earned dollars. In political mail, like many of life’s purchases, there are tricks to saving money. Many of these tips are known by seasoned campaign veterans; others are known by few. The next time you’re getting quotes from a mail consultant, make sure to inquire about any number of these—the savings could be in the thousands.
The production price on a piece of mail is more than just the material it’s printed on—it’s the press time that costs a campaign money. For a printer to produce a flight of mail, whether it’s 1,000 or 100,000 pieces, the press time is a valuable commodity. To reduce your cost per piece, ask about gang-running your pieces of mail together. By issuing a gang-run, you’re printing multiple pieces at a time as opposed to buying the press time for just one piece of mail. While there are limitations to printing all your mail in fewer runs, it’s worth asking about because your campaign can save thousands.
Most candidates and political campaigns already enjoy the savings of sending out mail presort standard. This mail rate is a reduction from sending out a first-class stamp. However, even greater savings exist. Your issue organization or state party may be recognized as a nonprofit institution. If so, these organizations receive even a lower postal rate. Check with your mail consultant to see if your campaign qualifies for these rates. If so, you could mail more for less.
A successful mail campaign uses a variety of mail formats to avoid a staleness in the mailboxes. Often the larger formats and those with intricacies such as a fold or a perforated card can drive up the costs. Unless the mail has a specific purpose that requires a mailed-back portion—such as a voter registration or an absentee voter application—try to avoid these formats to keep costs manageable. Using flat mailers that are smaller than a full sheet of paper will save you money on both the production and postage.