It’s September – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now

The beginning of campaign season!

It’s September!  Welcome to the semi-official beginning of “Campaign Season!”

“What?!?” you say?  “But I’ve been working my tail off for eight months already!?!?”  Yes, yes you have.  But not highly visibly campaigning.  Labor Day weekend kicks off yard sign, billboards, tv ads, and all the highly visual aspects of a political campaign, so let’s get to it!

  1. Door-to-door!  Hasn’t this been number one for the past 5 months or so?  That’s because face to face voter contact, real conversations, and hey, stumbling into barbecues!
  2. Yard signs!  Communications comes into play in a major way starting in September and continuing on through to Election Day.  All those people you talked to (and hopefully kept track of on a spreadsheet or something) that said ‘yes’ to having a yard sign – go deliver them!  In most towns the earliest you want to do this is around Labor Day weekend.  Some towns have ordinances dictating how early signs can go out – 30 days before Election Day, 60 days, etc.  If there’s nothing written in stone, Labor Day Weekend is the general rule of thumb.  Make sure to keep 10-20 in your trunk for giving them out when the opportunity arises!
  3. Coffees and teas.  Having a ‘coffee’ meeting in someone’s home with a handful of neighbors is a good way to come inside and have some deeper conversations on issues that are affecting your constituents.  Sometimes these events manifest themselves in other themes, but the general idea is to get together with a handful of voters for an hour or two.  Make a lasting impression and these people will be your biggest supporters, and the excitement will spread.
  4. Campaign Events.  I’m talking here about public events created and sponsored by your campaign.  This could be reserving a large room at the library or senior center and posting flyers inviting the public to a ‘town hall’ or ‘meet the candidate’ type event.  You can focus on a specific issue, if there’s a meaty one, or leave it open to respond to voters’ questions.  It’s basically an opportunity for direct conversation with the voters, and also, possibly some media attention.  Be sure, of course, the local papers and radio and TV stations are aware of any such campaign events.
  5. Fundraising.  Yep, this is STILL something you have to think about.  Money propels the campaign forward, and in the next two months, you’ll likely spend MUCH more than you did in the previous eight.

Post to Twitter

It’s Summer! – 5 Things You Should Be Doing Now

summer campaigning

By now your campaign should be in full swing, and hopefully your family isn’t missing you yet, because it’ll be a loooong time before you can sit down and have a regular meal with them again.  July and August are fun on the campaign trail because summer is often full of fun events and lots of opportunities to meet people, which is pretty much the singular purpose of a campaign in summer.  You’ll need to be laser focused on voter contact while the weather is amiable.

  1. Door-to-door.  I hope you picked some really fun campaign tchotchkes, because this is when they’ll get the most use!  You’ll knock on hundreds of doors this summer, and run through at least two pairs of walking shoes, but think of how awesome your legs will look at the beach!  (Just kidding!  You don’t have time for the beach, unless there’s an event there where you can mingle with voters!)
  2. Events!  Parades, fairs, and festivals are my favorite summer campaign activities!  Tossing candies to the little children?  Love it!  Be sure to make the most of these, but don’t just attend everything for the sake of being seen.  It’s about actually meeting and greeting and discussing the local issues with voters.  If an event doesn’t give you much opportunity for that, ditch it and go back to door-to-door.
  3. GOTV groundwork.  As you go door to door, make your best effort to recruit volunteers, record which voters are supportive, and ask people if they’re willing to put a your sign in their yard.  You’ll need all this data in the future when you implement your 72-hour GOTV plan.
  4. Plan your communications.  You’ll need to make a concerted effort to raise your name ID and spread your campaign message through a formal paid communications and public relations strategy.  Are you going to do TV or radio?  What newspapers or other periodicals do you need to be seen in?  Should you buy print ads for that or initiate a letter-to-the-editor campaign?
  5. Plan to spend some money.  Along with planning what you’re going to do, plan what it’s going to cost, and when.  Make sure to plan ahead with your fundraising.  I like to pay early if I can, just so that the important things are locked in, and I’m not left with empty pockets when the bill comes due.  Knowing what you’re paying for next gives you a selling point in your fundraising efforts as well.  Saying “We’re planning to make a large placement in radio on WTOP next week and we need your help,” plays very well with donors.  They know exactly what their money is doing, and they like that (I do, too).

Now go get ‘em, Tiger!

Post to Twitter

How to Run for City Council – Get A Grip

How to run for city council

NYC City Councilman Christine Quinn – I just like this pic of her. She doesn’t actually look much like this in real life.

Running for city council is a lot like running for any other office…and yet different.  If you know nothing about political campaigning and this city council run is your first foray into the election process, keep on reading – I’ll walk you through the steps of designing a successful campaign over the course of the next few days/weeks.

Get A Grip On Your Mindset

There are a few different approaches to framing a political campaign and it’s very important that you choose the right one in order to create a winning ‘tone’ for your campaign communications.  Keep in mind, this isn’t about why or how you’re trying running.  You may seriously hate the guy currently representing your city council district, and want nothing more than to beat the pants off him in an election, but you can’t write a great, winning campaign plan with in that state of mind.

You need to approach this city council race in a way the voters can relate to it.  Every elected office has its own flavor.  You have to identify the flavor of yours, and go with it, at least on the surface.  This will be a key piece of putting together your campaign message. Think about it this way:  If you were running for mayor or governor or some other executive branch office, you would basically be auditioning to be the star in a one-man show.  Think about the presidential nomination process.  On both sides, candidates are selling their own life/personality/résumé, and making campaign promises like they can just wave their hand and make all your dreams come true (some of them really believe it, too).

Running for a state or congressional representative seat is a different story.  In these campaigns we see more of an “us” verses “them” mentality, and candidates running at this level tend to plan their campaigns like they’re running to be Team Captain for “Our Team.”  Imagine campaign slogans like “Joe Smith Will Fight for You” and “Jane Johnson Leads Us to Prosperity.”  These are the types of campaign messages that play well for representative elections.

Running for city council is a different animal all together.  In this scenario, you’re simply a freshman at tryouts, hoping you make JV and not even dreaming about varsity.  You just want to play the game.  No one expects their city councilperson to be argumentative, pushy or divisive.  They envision a city council full of ‘team players’ working together in very droll, drawn-out meetings to determine if this building or that one should be re-zoned.  Using a campaign message that suggests you’re a ‘fighter’ or ‘the leader’ is not going to fit with that picture in the voters’ heads (whether the picture is accurate or not is irrelevant).

Does that mean you have to run your campaign like you’re simply a follower?  No!  Pick some important city issues and promise to give them a voice (and keep that promise) – but do it in a manner that tells the voter you’re running to do your part so the whole team to win, not just you. Now go brainstorm some campaign slogans for your city council race!

Post to Twitter

10 Speech Writing Rules for Political Candidates

speech writing for political campaigns

In my experience, most candidates think they are already fantastic speakers.  They assume they convey their platform eloquently, speaking quite extemporaneously, just straight out of their head. The truth is, however, they really suck at it.

Typically candidates are so intimate with their own ideas that listening to them speak in depth about an issue is like trying to start a movie halfway through.  They often forget to ‘set up’ the audience before delving into the meat of the issues. This is where having a speechwriter is terribly handy.

I love writing speeches.  To me, it’s just as much like getting into the head of a character as writing a play or novel would be.  Of course, the character we’re talking about is an actual person, which brings me to my first rule:

1. Write in the candidate’s true voice.

Sounds good, right?  But what exactly is the “candidate’s true voice” and how does one capture it?  A candidate’s voice is defined not only by the tenor and tone of it, but also the regional accent he may affect, and the small idiosyncrasies in his personality that come through in the way he talks to people.

To know the candidate’s voice, the speech writer needs to be someone who is either relatively close to the candidate personally, or someone who’s intuitive enough to pick up on a candidate’s unique voice over the course of shadowing and interviewing him for a few days.

2.  Write in the local dialect.

Do the people in your candidate’s part of the country say soda or pop?  Or is it all just Coke?  How about lollipop versus sucker?  It may not seem like a big deal, but misplaced colloquialisms can trigger suspicion, consciously or otherwise, in the mind of the voters.

3.  Don’t write over the candidate’s head.

It’s important that your candidate knows the issues.  It’s not necessary to make him sound like he’s got a PhD in each one.  Newspapers and other written media are purposely written at about a 4th grade comprehension level so that they can be digested by the largest audience.  In the same way, you should write speeches so that the average Joe can easily hear and understand them.

4.  Don’t write below the candidate, either.

If your candidate really does have a PhD that favors your campaign issues – don’t dumb him down!  The key is to capture the true nature of the candidate and then put that into words on paper.  A political candidate must be genuine above all else, and a speech is simply a vehicle for delivering the campaign message in its purist form.  A well-written speech should give as clear a picture of the candidate’s platform as a snapshot would give of his face.  Does that make sense?

5.  Don’t try to change your candidate.

I’ve never worked with a candidate I 100% agree with, and I suspect I never will, thankfully.  It’s tempting to lean into your own ideological beliefs when you’re on a role, typing away, but be sure to keep the speech true to the character of your candidate in the end.  That’s what re-writes are for.

6.  Know the local taboos.

I once worked with a political consultant who want to drop President Bush’s name about 17 times in a speech given in Harlem.  You don’t have to be a genius (she really wasn’t) to figure out that one is a turn off.

7.  Stick to the structure.

If you were required to take a basic speech or communications class in high school or college, you already know the basic structure of a speech: introduction, body, conclusion.  But a political speech has its own structure within the traditional set up that takes a certain amount of wit and strategy to pull off well.  While you have plenty of room to get your point across clearly and succinctly, you should remain within the boundaries of the classic political speech.  It’s classic, after all, because it’s been proven to work.

8.  Consider creative delivery methods.

I’ll demonstrate this rule with two stories.

I once worked with a brand-spankin’ new candidate (my favorite kind) running for a county level elected office.  He was a likable guy, but stiff and awkward in front of a crowd.  I tried to get him to loosen up and walk around during speeches; he remained tethered to the podium.  I tried to get him to interact with the audience; the idea of speaking unscripted terrified him.

I worked with another brand-spankin’ new candidate the next election cycle who was running for a state representative seat.  This guy was gregarious, and had a huge presence in front of a crowd, but he was impossible to reign in!  Stay on message?  This guy was everywhere.

I learned to write well for both of these political candidates.  One needed every word – of not only speeches but also answers to potential questions – written out and rehearsed.  The other worked well with bullet points of the key campaign topics, and nothing more.

The point is, you’ve got to figure out early where your own candidate lies on that spectrum and adapt early.  You can change your writing style.  You can’t change your candidate.

9.  Don’t take criticism personally.

If you write for others for any length of time, you’ll likely get your work ripped to shreds at least a few times.  You simply can’t take it personally.  Maybe your writing doesn’t jibe with the candidate’s speaking style yet.  Maybe you don’t fully grasp his position on a particular issue.  More often the case, things ‘read’ better than they actually sound out loud (it’s a must to read your work out loud to yourself before you hand it over to anyone else).  And most times it’s just a couple of words, or a single awkward transitional sentence that throws the whole speech off kilter.  Whatever the case, take the criticism, resolve to fix it, and then do.  The only way to get better at writing is re-writing.

10.  Know your role. 

You are one player on a campaign made of many.  Speech writing is one (albeit very important) piece of the campaign communications strategy.  Take yourself seriously.  But don’t take yourself too seriously.  Candidates will mispronounce words, jump on applause, and poorly deliver joke lines.  Role with it, learn, and become better for it.

Post to Twitter

Campaign Budgeting 101 – Paid Communications

political campaign budgeting for paid communications

We’ve finally gotten to a point in our campaign budgeting series where I’ll actually let you spend some money!  Paid communications includes all the flyers, brochures, stickers, buttons, notepads, fridge magnets, radio and TV ads, yard signs, a web presence, billboards, etc. – you name it.  Anything you could call ‘advertising’ is what you put under the ‘Paid Communications’ section of your campaign budget.  And while there are steals and deals you can find, this is one category where you really have to put your money where your message is.

Planning your communications strategy is a huge task in itself, and that process needs to be at least outlined before you can really start assigning dollar figures – this is where getting the full dish in the Campaign Planbook is handy – but once you’ve done that, you can sit down and start budgeting.

You’ll need to start with what you believe will be the absolute most effective communications method, list out all the things you plan to do in that particular medium, and research the cost of each.  Be reasonable and use average costs for your budget – if you can get it cheaper when it’s actually time to buy, well that’s a WIN of course – but for the purposes of the budget stick to realistic, average numbers.  After you’ve completely covered everything in that medium, move on to the next.  Continue this process until you’ve got a grand total for all the paid communications you think you’ll need to do to win.

When you’re first putting together your budget, you need to be a little greedy in Paid Communications.  It’s an important piece of the puzzle, and since you’re setting fundraising goals based on your campaign budget, your budget  needs to be well-rounded and contain everything that you believe will help you win in your particular district for your particular election.  Some day, you’ll need to rationalize the budgeted needs/wants with what your fundraising efforts have brought in.  Today is not that day.  Don’t worry if the bottom line is a bigger number than you expected, or smaller, for that matter.  Just go with it and move on to the next section.

Post to Twitter

Political Communications: What Is Social Media?

Social-Media-Collage political communications

What is “social media?”  Good question.  There are social media experts who write entire books on the topic without really answering anything.  But that is neither here nor there.  The real question is, what is social media for you, the candidate?

Social media refers to online interaction and networking through sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.  There are tons of other social media outlets that you could utilize, but for the purposes of a political campaign, those are really the only three that really need cultivating (someday FourSquare might be included in that list, but not now).

Facebook – is a very personal platform where people interact, usually with people they actually know in real life.  Therefore, there’s a good chance that ‘friends’ are also geographically close, and therefore in the same political districts.

Twitter – is a ‘micro-blogging’ site – you express opinions or relay information in pithy sentences on this network.

YouTube – is an excellent place to host videos for your website and to share and make available to the community.

The best way to learn about these tools, if you’re not already familiar, is to hop online and start your own account and mess around with it.

Should you have a campaign Facebook page or Twitter or YouTube account?  Sure!  If you can find a competent volunteer to maintain these tools for you, I highly recommend using these free resources.  I wouldn’t stress out, however, if you have no clue what social media is about and don’t have the time or the people to devote to it.  A lot of political consultants and even news media folk are making a big hay about social networking in politics, but it has yet to produce any real fruit for political campaigns.  ‘likes’ and ‘followers’ do not equal voters.

If you include social media as a part of your communications strategy, use it as a reinforcement of the messages you are already producing for traditional political communications methods.  You can tweet and post on Facebook your most recent press release, or a news clip of you speaking with channel 8 news, and you should thoroughly integrate social media into your website and email subscription efforts, but don’t break a sweat over social media.  It simply hasn’t proven to have the teeth that politico techies would like you to believe it has.




Post to Twitter

How To Make A Fantastically Effective Direct Mail Piece

reagan-ad political communications paid mediaI love this Reagan ad.  The name that people will need to remember in the voting booth is clear, big, bold and prominent.  The message is the only other text, underscoring its importance, and each word of it has been purposefully and thoughtfully weighed.  The photograph depicts a man who is not simply smiling phonily straight into the camera, but rather a man who is postured pensively, with a serious but pleasant expression – it arouses an emotion of care and concern, and his eye pierce right through the camera in such a way that the viewer feels like Ronald Reagan is actually looking at him, making direct eye contact and communicating silently through it.  And finally, the deep blue color choice is perfect for evoking a calm serenity that subconsciously sets the viewer’s mind at ease.

In a great direct mail piece, these four components, name, message, photographs and color, work together seamlessly to make an impression on the voter in the most succinct, effective manner possible.  The most important factor to consider when designing direct mail is that the recipient of your hard work will most likely throw it away within 30 to 60 seconds of retrieving it from the mailbox.  Therefore, you need to make the most of those precious seconds.


Putting your candidate’s name prominently and attractively in the most obvious place on the mail piece is the single most important factor.  If nothing else is gained from producing the piece, you want to reinforce your name recognition in the voter’s mind.  If you simply sent a plain white postcard with “Vote Smith” on both sides and absolutely nothing else, you would have produced a mail piece more effective 90% of the direct mail sent and received in America.


Crafting your message is the first and most important part of writing an effective campaign plan, so you should already have this piece of the puzzle figured out before you ever get to the point of crafting direct mail.  Your campaign message should be concise, and every single word must be not just a good word, but the perfect word for telling the voters why they should vote for you.


Whether you use an action shot, a family portrait, or a headshot, the imagery you choose should convey the same message and conjure the same feelings as your campaign message.  It serves no good purpose to have a solemn, serious campaign message under a picture of a goofy-smiled, fun-loving looking dude.  It’s a mixed message.  Your image and your message need to compliment, not contradict, each other.


A lot of campaign people overlook the importance of color.  Some demand that their mail pieces match their chosen campaign colors.  I feel that is completely unnecessary.  Even if you don’t use a professional graphic designer to create your direct mail, take the time to do serious research into the art of color choice.  It’s a proven fact that certain colors make people ‘feel’ certain ways.  Red is angry or urgent (good for negative pieces, although I detest them), blue is calming, I’ve heard yellow makes people hungry (hence McDonald’s golden arches)!

Using Professionals

If you’re investing a significant amount of campaign cash and effort into direct mail, it’s perfectly acceptable – and smart – to use professionals.  But you don’t need a political consultant.  You need a mail house – they can print and mail your piece fast and cheap, often using bulk rates and slashing postage costs nearly in half.

You also need a graphic designer.  Some advice for using a designer: listen to him!  So many campaigns spend tons of moolah hiring a professional and then they don’t want to hear his opinion at all, they just want him to draft up what’s already in their heads.  If you’re going to go to the expense, trust his experience and taste.  Trust me, a graphic designer knows more than you about what works and what doesn’t.  When you meet with your graphic designer, tell him the headline (your message), give him your photo if you’ve already chosen it, and let him know that you want the name to be very prominent, and give him an idea of the emotion you are trying to capture.  Then let him use his own creativity to come up with a design that accomplishes those goals.

Post to Twitter

Political Communications – A breakdown

obama press conference political communications public relations paid media

There are basically two types of political communication: the kind you pay for (paid media) and the kind you don’t (earned media). Paid media refers to things like direct mail, flyers, campaign literature, TV and radio commercials and newspaper ads that you might buy in the days leading up to Election Day.  I would also include websites and email newsletters to this list.  Earned media are things like news coverage, which may appear in the newspaper, on local radio or television news broadcasts.  You garner that sort of attention through press releases and press conferences.  Let’s look at the pros and cons of each:

Paid Media Pros:

  • You control your own message
  • You speak directly to the voters
  • You determine medium, content and quality of the finished product
Paid Media Cons:
  • It’s costly
  • It can be discounted as junk mail or campaign propaganda by the recipient
  • It’s difficult to pinpoint and ensure delivery to your intended target audience
Earned Media Pros:
  • It gives you credibility
  • It’s free
  • It is distributed through channels (newspaper, talk radio, TV news) that tends to have a higher voting audience (more likely to hit your target)
Earned Media Cons:
  • Your message is filtered through (probably liberal) reporters and journalists
  • It’s difficult and never a guarantee you’ll even be covered
  • It takes time more in relationship building and planning
These are the traditional political communications channels.  However, a new, third channel has been developing for the past decade or so with the dawn of the internet: Social Media.  Social Media refers to relatively new forms of communication like blogging, Twitter (micro-blogging) and Facebook (social networking) that have come about as part of the new information age we are currently swimming in.
For major political candidates, like the current GOP presidential hopefuls, for example, it can spur a meteoric rise to the top of the ‘polls,’ and just as quickly tear that star right out of the sky.  For local candidates it still really hasn’t had an impact, but that doesn’t mean its not worth investing some time in.  We’ll add Social media pros and cons for good measure.
Social Media Pros:
  • Cheap/free
  • Control your own message
  • Encourages interaction with users
  • Encourages users to share your message with others, thus providing some credibility
  • Wildly unknown audience – there’s really no way to determine if users are actually voters or in your district
  • They talk back (and not always nicely)
  • Requires significant effort to maintain
In the coming few posts, we’ll dig deeper into each of these three areas.  For this very moment, however, take some time to think about each one, and ask yourself:
  • Am I addressing all of these communication channels in my campaign plan?
  • Which should I pursue first/most?
  • Which will be the most useful in my particular district and voter make up?
  • Do I have budget lines for each of these?
  • Do I know people who can help me craft and deliver messages in each of these channels, or how do I find that kind of help?

Post to Twitter

What is Direct Mail?

direct mail campaign political

Direct Mail.  Some people call it junk mail (okay, most people).  But campaign professionals call it one of the most useful weapons in the political campaigner’s arsenal.  In my opinion, they’re both right.

Everyone is familiar with the postcard-like mailers you receive with ‘Vote for Joe!’ or ‘Mayor Jones Is Evil!’ type headlines that are sent, usually within a couple weeks of Election Day, designed to convince you to vote a specific way on a race or issue.  But a lot of people, even experienced campaigners, don’t know a much about how to use direct mail tactics effectively.

So without further ado, here is a list of random facts and tactics surrounding direct mail.  I hope you can take this information and apply it to your next campaign’s paid communications effort:

  • The life-span of a direct mail piece is said to be about 30 seconds, or however long it takes to get from the mailbox to the trash can.  This is actually a pretty fair assessment, but does that mean investing in direct mail is a waste?  Not if you do it right.
    Don’t try to use direct mail to get across a long-winded message to your constituency in the final days of the campaign.  Instead, design cheaper mail pieces, send them more frequently than other candidates and use them to get your short and to-the-point campaign message seen as often as possible.  The idea behind direct mail should be increasing your positive name recognition.  
    Direct mailers are much better for planting yourself subconsciously in the voter’s mind, not for making a big ol’ speech to convince them to vote for you.  In the long run what you’re after is getting voters to associate your name with a positive message/image over time, so that when they see your name on the ballot, it’ll generate an instinctively positive vibe.
  • Direct mail is great for smear campaigning.  I don’t endorse much negative campaigning, by the way, but your opponent might love it, so don’t be too hurt if you see a photoshopped image of you with devil horns and a talk-bubble saying “I hate children!” in your mailbox.  No matter how outlandish the claim, the smear direct mailer has the same subconscious effect on the voters as a positive one – they will subconsciously associate your name with negative feelings.
  • Direct mail is cheap.  Kind of.  Or, I should say, it can be.  There are tons of fancy things you can do with direct mail, but let the big dogs pay for that – if you’re running for dog-catcher, you really don’t need it.  And as much as candidates want to look ‘professional,’ a down-to-earth, more home-made look always gets more attention than an overly graphically designed glossy mail piece.  With bulk mail rates, cheap paper, black and white or one-color printing, and a micro-targeted mail-list, you don’t have to spend a lot to have a great effect.
  • Direct mail is always seen.  No one can tamper with your mail.  If you send a letter to Jane Smith, you can believe with a high degree of certainty that it will be in Jane’s hands in 2 to 3 days.  However, she might not watch much television and miss your snazzy TV commercial you spent thousands to produce.  Maybe she doesn’t listen to the radio, or at least not the stations you chose to advertise on, and maybe she doesn’t even take the newspaper.  But she has to check her mail.
  • Direct mail is a rare opportunity to be creative and personal with the voters.  Let’s assume you did your canvassing well and you have a solid list of voters in your area, and you happen to know from your data that Miss Jane in the bullet point above is a big supporter of pro-life initiatives.  You can capture her attention by addressing her most heartfelt issue right upfront.  You can pay a little extra, and actually say “Dear Jane,” instead of “Dear voter,” at the beginning of your letter.  You can reveal things about yourself and your campaign that touch on the values that Jane holds most dear.  This is not only a plug for direct mail, but, more importantly, for an excellent GOTV canvassing effort.
    On top of getting personal, you can design your piece in such a way that it stands out.  Allow your communications people to get creative with the copy and design of your direct mail – within budget, of course!
There is a ton more I could say about direct mail, but we’ll save that for another post!  In the meantime, give the above a ponder, and see how you can apply it to the communications strategy you already have in place.

Post to Twitter