That “List” Really Tied the Campaign Together….

In the same way Jeffrey Lebowski’s stolen rug “really tied the room together,” having a truly exceptional “List” can really tie together all of your targeted efforts on a campaign. In short, your “list” is an accounting of your supporters, donors, and virtually anyone else who has indicated an interest in your policy platform or general candidacy. This concept of a “list” exists as a common theme in all of my readings on persuasion and Get out the Vote (GOTV) efforts – a malleable collection of interested individuals with expansive, yet measurable power, awaiting activation if engaged in the proper manner. The legitimacy of your list is evaluated by its size, diversity and measurability. Is it large? Is it tested? Is it responsive to influence? Or better, is it persuadable? If yes, then your list is respectable. But you will be measured by what you do with it. Can you persuade your list to activate? Will they donate? Or better, will they vote?

These questions are not new. What is new is the way technology has advanced over the last 6-10 years, allowing the internet and social media to change the way we engage “The List”. The possibilities seem endless. In retrospect, I wish I had taken this course in 2007. Having recently joined a State Senator’s office to focus on public safety policy, I was co-opted to the campaign in my free time, and on weekends. Rapidly approaching an election cycle where the Senator would face a candidate his more senior staff described as “his biggest threat”, I was shocked to learn the status of their website and fundraising efforts. In the shortest of summaries, the website had been abandoned a year prior, there was no Facebook page, and the fundraising list was simply an aggregation of mailing addresses and a scant trace of email addresses. To make matters worse, there was very little record of any measuring from the list. No accounting of donors and their donation patterns, or whether the list was fresh.

At the time, I had no real knowledge of the tactical pillars of digital media, but I did my best to move things in the right direction. I worked to revamp the website, and waged a year-long battle to establish a Facebook page for the Senator. You see they were from the old school, as they say, and resistant to new media initiatives. Much of their success came from friends and family that worked on the Senator’s first campaign, but that was years ago, and now the strong ties that once anchored the fundraising and GOTV efforts are older, have children and drastically different responsibilities and priorities.

One of the clear breaking points for me came when some our campaign team spent a late evening stuffing envelopes for the last big fundraising push. We set up a division of labor, mindlessly stuffing, sealing and addressing these invites. About 4 hours in, and I hear a scream. The campaign director realizes that she left the return envelopes in her car, and that we had stuffed the envelopes without a way to get donors to send the money back. It was 2007/2008 and we were about to suffer a failure akin to Senator Gary Hart in 1984. After scouring the shelves for thousands of envelopes at a Target open at midnight – in an effort to rectify the fundraiser mishap – I saw this opportunity as a way to refresh the base.

We retooled the website, paid for some SEO, and added a fundraising component – crafted these Halloween looking add-ons to the campaign sign that listed the new website, and had them added to every lawn sign in the state. We also refreshed the fundraising list and attempted some basic analytics, calculating who was maxed out, who never donates, and who needed more attention or encouragement.   I also moved the office toward harnessing the power of the Senator’s inbox, implementing some vague semblance of Leichman’s best practices. He would receive nearly 1,200 emails a day. We started categorizing them. Before I understood what JD Schlough’s “nanotargeting” was, I tried to isolate constituents by policy issue and then tailor messaging toward them on an individual basis in an effort to convert their email from concerned constituent to active supporter.

Emphasis on persuasion came next. I received authorization to produce the Senator’s first TV commercial. Through a series of strong and weak tie connections, I was given access to a legit film studio staff to craft a very basic commercial. We had crafted a narrative around family, jobs, education and public safety, and strategically solicited a woman who did voiceover work for NESN to contrast the two male candidates in the race, especially considering our crafted message. Buying the Ad space was intimidating and I thought I may have spent too much money. I was sure I spent too much money when I would be approached by supporters complimenting me on the commercial, but informing me they saw it air at 4am on TNT when they couldn’t sleep the night before. The insomniacs turned out in droves for my guy, apparently.

I learned a lot from that experience. It set the table for my future campaign work, and allows me to better appreciate the readings and discussions in our larger class setting. However, I still struggle to understand why online advertisement has such a limited effect on young voters. I agree with Collins, Kalla and Keane that young voters are hard to reach through the door-to-door method. I also agree that, due to media fragmentation, the logical contact point would be via social media; however, I do not see the influence they cite as significant. I also question the future of TV advertisements. As noted, younger viewers have moved away from TV and to the internet. The rest of the TV loyalist are likely owners of a DVR. As the proliferation of DVR continues, I would argue that TV ad buys will diminish – or at least their impact will fall off considerably. I cannot remember the last time I watched a commercial by choice. It’s an automatic fast forward, unless I am watching a Patriots game, or sporting event in general.

How will we be able to enjoy the salacious attacks that are replayed over and over again, if ads disappear? Without the attacks would Scott Brown have beaten Martha Coakley for Ted Kennedy’s seat? Being from Massachusetts, I will not forget the moment Scott Brown released his thirty-second spot in response to Coakley attack ads. In my opinion, he won the race when he hit David Gergen’s “the People’s Seat” softball out of the park during the debate, and then followed it up with the half-zip sweater appeal in his kitchen. I think that special election is a perfect example of how messaging, persuasion and a strong GOTV in a short time-table can change the dynamic of an institution.   It has had a lasting effect here in MA. Consider the Congressional Race for the 6th District. See if the Tisei ad looks similar to the Brown kitchen add. Scott Brown’s legendary truck has even influenced the race. Yes, the same truck he drives in a $645 barn jacket. During the last debate between Moulton and Tisei, the candidates were asked what kind of car they drove. Tisei owned it saying he bought a new 2013 Jeep last year. Moulton, on the other hand, divined “Mikey” from the movie Swingers, and said “um, uh, what kind of car do I drive…um, uh, uh…for the campaign I am driving a Nissan.” Well played. But nothing will ever eclipse Scott Brown’s truck. It had its own Facebook page, and even a bobble head. Apparently the truck thing still works in New Hampshire.

None of it matters if you cannot get your list off the couch and into a voting booth. I cannot wait to see how some of these races play out on Tuesday.


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