One of the biggest concerns for local campaigns is how to get their message out to voters. With limited resources, it can be deadly to pursue the wrong tactics. From volunteer activities to paid media, there are many options available with WIDE ranges in costs and effectiveness. The main voter communication tactics we see used by campaigns at the local and regional level are below.
1. Door to Door:
Sometimes called “door knocking,” “leafleting,” or other names, this involves the candidate or volunteers going door to door to talk to voters directly. Generally this is done with some piece of literature to leave behind such as a general campaign flyer, or even something neighborhood or issue-specific. In some small elections (I heard this recently about the Green Bay, Wisconsin City Council races, for example), having your candidate knock on every door possible 3-4 times is all the voter contact program you need!
Tip: if you visit an address and no one is home, leave your literature behind with a handwritten note on a post-it stuck to it. The personal touch speaks volumes here, even if you don’t get to talk to anyone in the household directly. Write them in advance (at least a rough start) and customize them as you go for each address.
2. Phones Calls – Volunteer and Candidate
Even though it has become harder to reach voters by phone over the past decade, calls should be a part of your campaign plan. Older voters are more likely to be reachable via this tactic than younger voters, who are much less likely to have a land line number. One advantage to calling voters is the diversity of messages that can be delivered. From identifying supporters to “GOTV” (get out the vote) calls to informal polling, phone campaigns can serve your campaign in many different ways.
Volunteer calls from supporters in the same communities they are calling into are especially effective, because sounding local and being able to speak more definitively about local issues are big benefits. That’s not to say you should turn down volunteer calls from outside your area, however, if you’re lucky enough to get them.
Tip: whether your calls are automated or live, make sure you’re following all the rules for political calling that apply in your area!
3. Phones – Paid Phone Banking
Paid phone banking services are not quite as effective as volunteer phone banks, but are sometimes necessary and even preferred because they offer several distinct advantages. First, they can be ordered “on demand” for specific purposes; it’s much harder to schedule a volunteer phone bank the minute you need it. Second, paid phone banks are usually better at sticking to a script and collecting specific data during their calls. Lastly, because you are ordering a specific amount of capacity, you can be sure the phone numbers you wish to reach will be called a certain number of times over a specific time period.
Tip: to be most effective, use a paid calling service that has callers from your region so that accents and colloquialisms will match up with your target voters.
4. Unpaid Media – Press Relations and News Coverage
Even the smallest race in the tiniest town has a chance to get press coverage. Reporters are always looking for a good story, so give them one. Create a narrative around your race that readers would fine interesting. Whether it’s the office, your own background, the dynamics of the race, find a hook that your local reporters find interesting. Cultivate your media relationships, always feed them factual information with research/background provided, and be as forthcoming as you can.
Tip: it should be obvious by now, but “media” includes local and state bloggers, social media personalities and influencers, and more. Make your contact list as broad as possible.
5. Online – Unpaid: Social media, Websites/Search Engines, and Email
The amount of effort you will want to put into online tactics varies depending on the size of your race, what voter groups you are going after and other factors. There is a lot you can do to promote your campaign for small or no financial investment, though, including:
- Maintain a basic website with a blog or news section that is frequently updated
- Promote your campaign on Facebook with a personal or “company” page (but keep in mind that company pages have less reach due to Facebook’s limitations)
- Start a campaign Twitter account for media and influencer relations
- Create a library of campaign graphics sized for social media use by your staff, volunteers and supporters
- Email with a simple template for announcements, fundraising and other communications
- Publish video updates from the campaign trail and your thoughts on local issues
Tip: your website, donation pages, email template and any pages you link to in your emails should be mobile-device friendly. There’s no excuse for providing a bad online experience.
6. Online – Paid: Ads and Promotion
Even smaller campaigns should consider a few online advertising channels. Be as targeted as possible, focus your ads on the ads on the right audience, and you will see a good return on your investment. My top online ad tactics for local campaigns include:
- Google AdWords purchases on targeted keywords around the election, the office at stake, names of the candidates, local hot-button issues, and more.
- Facebook promoted posts to get your website and social media content seen by a larger audience
- Twitter ads to promote your account and grow followers
- YouTube ads on specific keywords, just as
For most campaigns, advertising broadly isn’t a great idea, because it can quickly turn into a money pit – and local campaigns are all about efficiency!
7. Direct Mail
Campaign mail is a HUGE method for voter communication, even today. It’s no wonder that our own mail has been credited with winning dozens of regional and local campaigns over the years. Of all the avenues available to deliver a targeted message to the right voters at the right time, mail is often the best choice.
Political direct mail can be incredibly specific, created and delivered quickly, and can “tag on” or reinforce all the other channels listed here to magnify their impact. For many campaigns, direct mail will be all the paid media you need to win.
When you think of political advertising, TV ads are probably what comes to mind. We’re inundated with advertising every other year and especially during presidential campaigns, where the coverage seems to be wall to wall on every single channel through election day. This same ubiquity, however, makes it a difficult choice for smaller and regional sized campaigns.
For many campaigns, television just isn’t necessary. If your opponent is up on TV, though, you should strongly consider doing the same. Even if they are not, look at a targeted buy for a limited amount of money. Don’t let TV eat into your budget for other voter contact methods that may be more effective.
Tip: one positive to television ads is that it is often fairly easy to fundraise for them. Use an already produced ad as a tool to build interest, pay for your initial media buy and keep building your ad coverage as dollars come in.
Last but not least is “visibility,” which covers all the different ways that your volunteers and supporters can make your campaign stand out. There’s a lot that falls under this category, from marching in parades with campaign signs and t-shirts to standing on the side of the road with banners about fixing traffic at the height of rush hour. Be creative, as there are so many options here.
While these tactics are not well targeted, they can have an impact and should be considered. These kinds of activities are usually fun for your volunteers and add a lot of energy to your campaign.
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