Direct Mail for Local Elections
by Gillian Rosenberg Armour, Vice President, Wildfire Contact, @wfcontact
What is direct mail? In campaigns, there are 3 types of mail:
- Persuasion Direct Mail – mail that is targeted at a group of people who are likely to vote in that election, and who you can persuade to vote for your candidate or issue.
- GOTV Mail – mail that is targeted at people who are likely to vote for your candidate or issue but are more likely to vote with a reminder of when early voting is available and polls are open.
- Fundraising Mail – mail that is sent to previous donors with a fundraising solicitation. Fundraising mail operates very differently than persuasion and GOTV mail, so we won’t be exploring its use today.
Why is mail a useful method for communicating with voters?
Every campaign is different, but typically the following remains true for local races. TV and radio are great ways to communicate a message but few campaigns have the budget to produce and air commercials. You also can’t target the exact people you want to hear and see your message. Digital ads are a growing medium and should be considered as part of any campaign plan, however, while you can target digital ads to a specific group, you can’t be certain that every person on that list will receive that ad. Mail is still the only medium that allows you to target a very specific group of people with a specific message and guarantee that they look at that message for at least a few seconds.
How do I create a direct mail plan?
The first step is to determine the list of people you want to send mail to. A good first step is to narrow the list to people in the district or county and figure out a list of people who are likely to vote in the upcoming election. A good way to do this is to look at past voting history for that specific election.
If you are sending persuasion mail, figure out who on that list you can persuade. Make sure to remove people you know are voting for you and people you know won’t for you. Then within that list you can use other factors such as age, gender and geography to narrow the list further.
If you are sending GOTV mail, narrow your list to voters you are certain will vote for you but are infrequent voters that need a reminder about the Election. You can also use mail to encourage likely supporters to vote early or vote by mail. Make sure to include any dates or deadlines for vote by mail or early vote in your mail.
Once you have your list of targeted voters you need to take stock of the external factors surrounding your campaign. Are there other elections being held at the same time? Are those elections competitive? Will your mail targets be getting a lot mail from multiple sources?
The rule of thumb, is to send a minimum of 3 pieces of mail per subject. If you have a highly contested election or there are highly contested campaigns happening at the same time, you will want to increase the number of repetitions. The more mail, the higher recall voters will have on your candidate and their message.
The next step is to figure out the timing for sending your mail. Work backwards from Election Day, so that. your last piece of mail should be delivered the day before the election. Starting on that day, work backwards dropping every piece of mail 3 to 5 days apart. To increase voter recall, you should send the mail as close to Election Day as possible. By spreading out the mail more than a week apart you diminish the voter’s ability to recall the message in the previous piece.
Finally, you need to make your mail fit into the budget for the campaign. Once you know how many people you need to mail to and how many times you need to mail to them, work with your local union printer and mailshop to get pricing on producing and mailing your pieces. Be sure to obtain accurate postage estimates in advance and include that in the budget. If you need to decrease your mail budget you can lower the number of repetitions or the number of people in your mail universe.
Best Practices for creating a mail piece.
First, you want it to stand out in the mailbox so that people read it. Oversized postcards and mail in bright colors will stand out in a pile of mail. High quality photography is also a good way to communicate a message distinguish yourself from other candidates.
Once you have your imagery you should craft your text. The biggest rule of thumb is that less is more. Be sure to use short simple phrases that clearly communicate your message. If you are citing a policy or fact, make sure to include footnotes.
Here are other best practices for producing mail:
- Make sure to have permission to use a photograph
- All photographs should be a minimum of 1 megabyte
- Include a legal disclaimer from the entity that is paying for the mail
- Print your mail at a union printer and place a union “bug” on the mail
- Check with your printer and/or mail shop on timing for dropping the mail and in-home arrival.
- Proofread your mail multiple times.
- Include the date of the election one every piece of mail.
- Repeat the name of the candidate multiple times on each piece.
Hopefully, this outline provides basic guidance on how to develop a mail plan and create mail that will persuade voters. There are many additional factors that can influence a mail plan. If you have questions for your specific election you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will be happy to give you advice.