Most political mail is junk, and quickly ends up in the trash can. In this video, how to do political campaign mail voters want to read.
It is a little known fact about political advertising in America…that of the billions spent every election cycle, more is expended on persuasion political campaign mail than any other media. It is often the only tool that candidates can afford and the most efficient way for candidates in small jurisdictions to reach their target audience.
Persuasion mail does offer advantages over TV or radio.
When you air a TV or radio spot you lose control over who sees or hears it. With targeted mail you have total control over which household receives your message. And you can, with a little planning, determine exactly when a voter will receive it.
Unlike TV or radio, voters must make an effort to absorb the message of your mail piece. In an ideal world, you’d also like the recipient to read it.
When a voter opens their mail box, your piece is competing for attention with everything else they received that day. Bills. Newspapers. Credit card offers. Magazines. Mail from other candidates and perhaps your opponent.
Voters may not have five minutes to read your copy, or three minutes or even 30 seconds. From hand to trash can you may have less than five seconds to convey a message to the voter.
The job of your designer is to make sure the voter gets a message from your political campaign mail piece even if they don’t read a single word. Voters look at pictures before they read words. Pictures and symbols and graphics evoke emotions and reactions in the human mind with far more power and clarity than mere words on a page.
Your political campaign mail must appeal to: The throwers, who will only glance at it before tossing it. The skimmers, who will glance at the pictures and headlines, but won’t read every word, and The readers, those who will read every word of your piece.
Your job as a candidate, or the job of your designer, is to make sure your mail piece accomplishes its mission with all three audiences.
Here are five rules of effective persuasion mail:
1. Know the disclaimer rules…For example, federal candidates in the United States are required to disclose the committee that paid for the mail piece, and place that information inside a box in 12 point type on the mail piece. All jurisdictions have their unique rules. If you don’t comply with the rules, you may be fined or prosecuted.
2. Make sure the pictures, symbols or graphics visually convey the message of your piece. I’ll show you some examples of this in just a minute.
3. Use your pictures or symbols to trigger one of the seven human emotions. Anger. Sadness. Happiness. Fear. Surprise. Disgust. Contempt.
4. Use a professional photographer. Your mail is only as good as the pictures you use.
5. Use professional help…people who have done persuasion mail for other candidates. There are many moving parts to a mail piece. The list. Proper targeting. Good design. An appropriate size and fold. A quality printer. Complying with post office regulations. Proper sorting and addressing of the pieces. Red tagging.
One mistake on any of those and voters may never receive your mail piece.
How do you decide if persuasion mail is the best option for you? When the cost of TV or radio is prohibitive. When the most efficient and least expensive way to reach your target audience is through the mail box.
There are also good uses for persuasion mail even if your campaign is using television and radio.
An example: You have strong feelings about an issue but your polling data indicates that only a small sliver of the electorate shares your position or cares about it. Instead of running a TV or radio spot on an issue that has only narrow appeal, instead use the mailbox to reach those voters.
Want to hammer your opponent and undermine their credibility without running negative TV ads? There is a saying in politics–Spill blood on the TV screen and the whole world will know you are doing it. Use mail and not even your neighbor may know. More important, you’ll leave your opponent guessing. Your opponent can, if they want, walk into a TV station and find out exactly what you are buying, what you are paying for your time and how many spots you are running. The advantage of hitting your opponent through mail is that only you will know how many pieces you’ve sent and who you have sent them to.
I am going to show you a few examples to illustrate some techniques that will make your mail piece stand out in the clutter; and appeal to the throwers, skimmers and the readers.
The first is a piece done for someone running for a local office—his introduction to the electorate in a suburban community in New York.
This is what is called a “tri-fold”. Start with a piece of paper, 17 inches by 9.5 inches. Fold it twice into pages of equal size. You now have three panels 9.5 by 5 ¾.
Note what is on the cover page. A picture that suggests the candidate is a good listener interested in what voters think. And five short lines that tell the recipient about his qualifications.
The mail panel page conforms to postal regulations—with sufficient space for the address panel, a permit indicia placed in the upper right hand corner, and use of the extra space to reinforce the message on the cover page.
The third panel is for those who want to know more about the candidate and what he believes. Certain phrases are highlighted to make the copy easy to read. It has his phone number and website so that people know how to reach him, and the required disclaimer.
On the inside, the family picture suggests several things. He is a father, and husband, with happy children; a family that appreciates the natural beauty of the community. There is an additional quote above the picture that lets voters know about his roots and yet another panel for those who want to know more about his issue positions.
The piece does exactly what it is designed to do. It introduces the candidate to the electorate. It lets people know he is qualified to hold the job, conveys information about his values and issue positions. The throwers can’t miss the message on the front, the skimmers who open the piece will get a message just by glancing at the headlines, and there is plenty of information for the readers.
The next piece you see is an 8 page booklet done for a candidate in California.
This candidate was running in a multi-candidate field. Note the slogan and the use of a puzzle on the cover to make it more interesting, along with pictures which suggest both a man of vision and action.
Pages two and three let voters know his background and qualifications. You’ll notice a lot of white space, which makes the words stand out and very easy to read. You’ll also note that the slogan, puzzle piece, website address and phone number are repeated every time the voter turns the page.
Pages four and five directly address an issue that was on everybody’s lips at the time, the rampant corruption in Congress.
Pages six and seven contain details about his issue positions for those who want to read it, as well as flattering pictures designed to appeal to a conservative, pro-business, upscale area of southern California.
What if you don’t have the money required to do mail this attractive or elaborate? There are cheaper, but professional ways to make your point.
A few years ago I was asked by a single mother to help her in a race for Family Court Judge. She had very few resources, just enough to do one small, simple mail piece.
Start with one 8 ½ by ll inch sheet of paper, then fold top to bottom to create four panels size 5 ½ by 8 ½.
We did it this way to save money on postage.
The front panel is the title of her story with a picture of the candidate and her two
The mail panel contains her qualifications, endorsements, just enough information to let voters know she is qualified to be a judge.
Inside the fold is her story. It is there that voters learned she was raised on a farm, worked along side her brothers, had a strong work ethic, a single mother who raised a daughter who became a star athlete, and a son who was valedictorian of his high school.
The story made the piece compelling. And irresistible. She surprised even her own supporters when she won.
Never forget the power of a story. This piece is proof that you can tell voters a powerful story even on a small piece of paper.
These three pieces have something in common with every one of the thousands of political campaign mail pieces I have done for candidates through the years. We invest in good photographs, and a professional designer. They have a slogan. They are visually interesting and have something to offer the throwers, skimmers and the readers.
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Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.
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