Campaign: Direct Mail


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  • So now that we’ve focused on paid media, we want to spend some time today on Direct Mail. For many small races/campaigns, direct mail will be the only form of paid communications that you do, since it is a highly targeted. Direct mail is designed to get people ’s attention and to provoke an emotional response from voters. Voters need to care about an issue or a candidate before you can persuade them to support your campaign. This session is designed to give you and your campaigns, and your candidates, the ability to design your own mail since it is rare that there will be Direct Mail consultants available to you. Let ’s review the pros and cons of Direct Mail. While television and radio advertising can reach more people and can evoke emotion with pictures and sound, direct mail has several advantages over other paid media methods: It can be highly Targeted . TV and radio will be often be seen by far more people not in your target audience than those who are in that audience. You are therefore spending a lot of money on delivering a message to people who either don ’t live in your district, don’t vote at all, or won’t be voting for you. Direct mail, on the other hand, is targeted directly to the individual voter you are targeting and can be targeted to specific content or issues that are important to that voter. One voter might get a direct mail piece on the environmental and global climate change while her neighbor might get one on fair trade and the need to stop outsourcing. Using precinct-level information from past elections, your voter file, and the information you have gathered from your voter ID work, you can target your mail specifically to voters you know are undecided. To that end, direct mail is far more efficient than other paid media tactics. It can be combined with Field and Media : Direct Mail is relatively inexpensive to combine field strategy with your communications and paid media plan, as well as your voter contact plan to make it all more effective and likely to be heard and remembered. It is relatively cheap : Even if you hire a consultant/professional to design and manage your mail program, it can be a much cheaper way to emotionally connect with your audience and your message repeatedly. Having talked about all the benefits of direct mail, we also understand its limitations. The biggest problem, of course, is that many voters treat direct mail as junk mail. It ’s easy to ignore direct mail when it lands in your mailbox amid the bills and credit card offers we receive every day. In addition, despite your ability to target direct mail to individual voters, direct mail remains a relatively impersonal mode of communicating. As we know, the best way to reach voters is with personal, one-on-one conversations, preferably at their door or on the phone. Done right, direct mail can be one of the most effective and efficient methods of direct voter contact to your target audience. But done badly, it can be the easiest way to waste precious campaign resources.
  • The biggest challenge with direct mail is making a connection with voters as quickly as possible. Keep in mind, for example, that there are three types of people who will be reading your direct mail. The first group is what we call the 7 second audience : people who read the mail piece between picking it up in the mailbox and throwing it in the garbage. These people essentially treat the mail as junk mail, but in the seven seconds they spend glancing at it, they notice the photo, a headline, and maybe a campaign slogan. That ’s about all they see. It’s not much, but it is a contact. This is the group newspapers target with front-page photos above the fold and large headlines. The second group is what we call the 10-20 second audience : people who actually stop and look at a mail piece, read the headlines, and scan the text to see if they are interested. They take about 10-20 seconds to look at the piece, probably look at both sides of it and then throw it away. Using the newspaper example, these readers are what newspapers try to capture with the increasingly popular longer sub headline, cut-out quotes, cut-lines under photos, etc. Most websites are created for this type of a glancing/scanning audience. The third group is the readers . They read every word of the mail piece, are probably well informed about the issues and have been following the campaign. These are the folks who buy the Sunday paper and try to read it all. This audience will always want to know more, so mail pieces with their limited size need to point the reader to an information source e.g. a website where they can find more information. In this day and age, the readers of mail tend to be senior citizens, and that’s a good thing, since often, they are in are target universes, but it’s important to keep in mind when designing mail for them. To the extent possible, you want your mail to connect with each of these groups. So each item, the photos, the headlines and the copy (the text) must be thoughtful, on message, and connect. In the end, no matter what we do, the audience is going to take what we send them and summarize it in their minds anyway, so why shouldn’t we, the campaign, give them the summary of what WE want them to take away. This is the challenge of direct mail!
  • There are many tactics and uses for Direct Mail in a campaign as a key communication outlet for our targets. Message reinforcement . Because it is highly targeted, mail is a great way to target specific voters to reinforce other campaign messages and contacts. Layering door knocks and phone calls with mail, makes all those contacts even more effective. Tactical Messaging: If you plan your voter contact correctly and your campaign is collecting information about specific voters at the doors and on the phones, and you know what issues and concerns they have, mail is the only form of paid media that can specifically follow up with them on the exact issues and concerns they told you about. You can send Jane Doe mail about the environment and John Doe mail about jobs because you know they have told you those are their top concerns. Also messages and issues you may NOT WANT BROADCAST ON TV OR RADIO. Contrast: Use of contrast. Direct mail is a very effective means of contrasting your position with your opponent ’s. For some campaigns, that means direct mail is a way of delivering hard-hitting messages against an opponent without broadcasting that to a wide audience. Negative : Direct mail is also an effective way to go negative on your opponent. While we don ’t believe in over-the-top personal attacks (which you often see in direct mail, particularly at the end of a campaign), campaigns are ultimately about choices and mail is well-suited for hard contrasts on issues. It is proper and okay to tell the truth about your opponent – just make sure it is true and does not over-reach or it will be seen as not credible and possibly backfire. Because mail goes to someone's home, rather than a negative TV ad, it is not as broadly seen, where it can backfire, but sent to voters who you have targeted that might most need to hear your opponent’s negatives. 5. Early Vote/Absentee/Vote By Mail: With more and more states doing these types of voting options, direct mail has emerged as a very effective tactic for TURNING OUT our voters, as a GOTV tactic, especially for early vote, absentee and/or Vote by Mail. You already talked about GOTV earlier today, but the point of this mail is less about campaign messaging, but about making sure your voters take advantage of these options (if your state has them) AND that voting these ways is easy, safe and secure. We’ll now go through some examples of each of these
  • Speaking of a message reinforcement, here ’s one from South Dakota on behalf of a Congresswoman. One of candidate Herseth’s, central messages was the importance of keeping young people in South Dakota instead of their leaving to find jobs and go to school, depleting the state of a future. It was the core of her campaign message and was what her supporters talked about at the doors and on the phones and also in her TV and radio ads. This is the front of the piece. It ’s easy to be drawn into this piece. The headline is very short and simple, and the photo draws the reader into the beautiful eyes of the child. Not accidentally, if you look closely at the child’s eye, you’ll see the image of a white clapboard house reflected. If you are a 7 second reader, this photo might make you become a 10-20 second reader and read the headlines, and flip it over and read the headlines on the other side….
  • Here ’s the other side of the same piece. It’s a great photo of Herseth and the quote is compelling in a state where a lot of parents and grandparents indeed have to travel far to see their children and grandkids. This piece has a fair amount of text – I actually think too much – and many people won ’t read. BUT it is laid out in a simple, clear way that allows you to quickly scan the important headlines and read further about specific issues if you want to. Another thing to note about this piece is that it uses footnotes and research to back up claims. Footnotes are important because they demonstrate that there is a third party that can verify the claims made here. They lend credibility to the points made in the piece and pre-empt any claims of inaccuracy from opponents.
  • ( I LIKE TO READ THE BLOW OUT LINES HERE< PEOPLE USUALLY LAUGH) This piece was targeted to young women, with infrequent vote history, ages 18-34 who were also known to be pro-choice (either by previous issue IDs or modeling) The headline grabs the reader and every word is written in a tone designed to speak to them – this sarcastic and snarky tone would not work with older women, 45-65, even those who were pro-choice, so they got a different type of mail! A good example of very tactical messaging, this issue is too polarizing for major tv ads and radio ads, but with this kind of smartly targeted mail, a great tactical decision.
  • In this piece, the campaign knew that the elderly, voters over the age of 67, were a key target - they made up 20% of the voters in this city council district. So this piece was specifically designed to be mailed ONLY TO people in this age bracket. It is clearly not something that younger voters would respond to. All of the photos are local to the town of Duluth, pictures of the town from the 1930s to the 1950s and of actual citizens of the town from those years a well, and of local Duluthians from District from the 1930s-50s. When people turn it over, they see the bottom portion. Now this has quite a lot of text and for almost every other demographic, we would say, this is too much. But one thing that we know about older voters in the United States for instance is that they are READERS – they read all their mail. The only thing about this mail piece is that on both sides, the font is cursive and hard to read – for someone young, harder for an elder reader. Our colleague Erik designed this piece and the campaign lost by 12 votes, and he’s convinced it’s because of the cursive!!!
  • This piece is an example of contrast. On one side, we learn basics in pictures and headlines about our candidate for US Senate. There ’s no contrast yet, and in some ways this is smart – because depending on how well you design your mail, the less obvious that it is political, or a political attack, the more likely that the voter will turn it over and look at the other side where the campaign can continue the message. On the other side (the bottom portion of this slide), we lean simply what our candidate is for and on the right side We see the info on the opponent, basic contrast on 3 key issues.
  • This is an example of negative mail, that actually looks and feels negative, but because it is visually interesting, it is certainly going to attack all three mail audiences to turn it over. It ’s not obvious political mail. The baby’s picture is the front and not obviously political and might catch the eye of all the audiences, and convert the 7 second to a 10-20 second reader by flipping it open and reading the inside (here on the bottom)
  • When they open it, it is very negative and it could be over the top in fact it is so negative, but the campaign has documented all its allegations with newspaper clippings and citations. When making a negative attack in particular, credibility is critical and neutral “seconders” are very important. For the 10-20 second reader, there are clear headlines to read and scan, and even scanning you see the citations, and your message is transferred, even in that short period of time.
  • Here’s an example of a vote by mail/absentee mail piece, first of all targeted to OUR voters and of those, the ones we want to vote early (possibly staff, volunteers, donors, senior citizens, college students, etc.) Simple piece, message is not campaign related but process related, that voting by mail is easy, safe and secure.
  • Here’s the other side. One thing we don’t like about this piece is that is says Avoid the Lines! We’ve now learned from research that going on and on about how long the lines are when voting, is not actually an incentive (to vote by mail or vote in general  ) But the other side repeats the safe easy secure message!
  • As I mentioned earlier, many of you will not only have to craft the message of your campaigns, and test it in research, but also have to design the mail yourselves. So we want to spend some time on actual design tips that can help you think this through, and show you examples so whether you design your own or hire someone, you know what to look for! With Direct Mail, visual layout is of utmost importance. Don ’t start with what you want the voter to read, but think about what you want the voter to see and feel . Photos and headlines should make up between 50-60%, if not more of the piece. Use good photos. Bad photos equal bad mail. Period. Photos capture people ’s attention and draw them into the mail piece. Avoid using bland headshots of the candidate – use action photos of the candidate interacting with people, preferably not those horrible posed shots of candidate with worker and hard hat, candidate with senior and prescription drug bottle, candidate with student and knapsack or student loan application, or a candidate with farmer in bibs. These are not only boring and predictable, they waste precious space without communicating any message besides the fact that you have some friends who are willing to pose for you. Make sure the photos are big enough for the seven-second voters to see and remember. In general your headlines should be short and concise and clearly get out your campaign ’s message and narrative. Last but not least, avoid being overtly political – voters don ’t like that they get political mail, they hate politics – so try to do a design and pictures and headlines that draw the reader in, not remind them of something they generally don’t like – politics. Let ’s look at some examples now:
  • Using images that are non-political and out of the box can be a very effective way to get voters to pay attention. This piece presents the theme of this campaign in a very straight-forward, eye-catching way. Voters will look at this and hopefully flip it over.
  • Keep it simple but make an impact. This is not the time to show off how many different fonts you can use and all the different colors you can cram into a mail piece. The rule generally is less is more. Headline fonts should be crisp and large enough to read. Text fonts should be easily readable and should not go below 12pt. Font sizes less than this are not readable for a broad audience. Tightly packed or dense pieces will be tossed or set aside more easily. White space is a good thing, and layout should direct the eye to read the piece according to the sequence you intend. The rules on good messaging apply to direct mail: simple, straightforward messages connect with voters. The one on the left evokes a feeling as well, and has basic headlines and if you wanted you could QUICKLY read some info – these are both walk cards/palm cards/lit – but the same rules apply to direct mail that goes in the mail as well!
  • This piece is a perfect example of how one bad photo can change the whole feel of the piece. This is a bad picture with bad colors, clearly staged and not real. It seems like ages old and who is ever that happy to be at the doctor? It is also obviously political, I mean, “who has the best plan to lower health care costs?” Riveting! Who wants to turn this over at all to read the rest?
  • This piece is not very effective. It is too obviously a piece of political mail and most voters don ’t want to talk about politics or care about it. For the US, this is overload in politics with the red white and blue, the flags, the stars on her names, and she’s at a podium speaking – nothing about it is real or authentic, let alone the picture of the candidate. All of these are visual cues to the reader/voter.
  • The mail must also reflect the candidate and the district/state/electorate/community , and this has to do as much with design as with authenticity and message. Use photos that show the candidates in their best light --- do not surround them with fake shots. In combination with this, the mail must continue with simple and concise messaging, This piece only works in a rural district, and this is the candidate ’s actual hunting dog. And people knew it. It’s his real dog, not a stage, he’s a little bedraggled. It’s a letter from the dog (bullet) to the community – I think it’s lame (a letter from a dog), but I’m not a resident or voter in rural Missouri. And people were talking about this piece for a long time!
  • Clear, easily digested headlines … and a gimmick to pull you in. This could be for any of our three audiences. ( Read the piece in total)
  • ( Read this piece in total) Sometimes less really is more. This works because it actually conveys a lot of who this person is – a no nonsense conservative who gets the basics done. And look at this picture! Usually I hate a head shot, but can’t you just hear this older grumpy looking sort of man saying each of these words? It makes it more authentic!
  • Continuing on the importance of visual layout, it is important to think about fonts. They can change the entire feel of a piece for the reader. Font : Serif fonts read horizontally and are good for text this is the font right here on the slide that has “feet” underneath each letter– Sans serif fonts standout and are good for headlines – these are WITHOUT FEET Font size : no smaller than 12pt, and usually much bigger to allow for easy to read headlines and less copy heavy mail If you have supporters or volunteers who have graphic design experience, please work with them for their advice on this design work.
  • We talked about fonts earlier, let ’s look at the same piece, with different fonts. CLICK Here is one version. CLICK Here is the second version Who likes the one on the left? (people raise hands) Who likes the one on the right? (people raise hands) Different people like each version, the colors aren’t great for the fonts, but you can see they feel and look different. And in face one has “feet” and one has no “feet” but in the end, it is very subjective and can change the whole feeling of a piece.
  • So what ’s wrong with this piece? (People will say the picture, the red line through his name, too much copy and they are all correct) Fonts are all wrong and make the piece hard to read and focus. The serifs (the details on the ends of some of the strokes that make up the letters) and all caps on the name don ’t work. The photo needs to be taken in a way that doesn’t emphasize the larger head. And last but not least, he has a RED LINE crossing through his name – this is a negative connotation, like people are against him. What could have happened here is that they asked someone in DESIGN to do their lit, and I can see why they thought it would be cutting edge, but it’s wrong for campaigns and persuasion!
  • The rules on good messaging apply to direct mail: simple, straightforward messages connect with voters. In general, your headlines should be short and concise and clearly get out your campaign ’s message and narrative.
  • Here ’s another example of a simple and concise message – to show that you don’t need a lot of words to convey a message and value. The first is of a mail piece that is simple and clear. The candidate was Harry Kennedy, who was running for re-election to the Missouri State Senate in the US. Here ’s the front of the piece: CLICK This is a pretty catchy mail piece – the penny with the candidate ’s head superimposed on it catches your attention, and the message makes you want to read more. Some might say that calling him “cheap” (even with tax dollars) is a negative, and that might be true, but it’s catchy enough that it’s a risk worth taking. Now check out the other side: CLICK This entire mail piece consists of 18 words, yet anyone reading this gets the message. It ’s clear, simple, and conveys a message that Harry Kennedy is on your side if you think that government needs to be more frugal and that he backs up his words with actions (by not taking a pay increase).
  • Direct mail is a great way to deliver multiple contacts to your audience, and it relies on repetition, which is the key to voter contact as well. In fact, a mail piece is only really effective if part of a series. Adnaan Muslim, a direct mail professional and veteran of many campaigns, describes the importance of repeated contacts bluntly: “If you’re doing just one or two pieces, you might as well just take the money you’re spending and burn it.” So how much is right and over what period of time? A rule of thumb to follow is that you should do a minimum of five pieces to a targeted voter , and potentially up to 12 , for direct mail to have an impact in persuasion and moving a voter. This may seem like a lot, but remember, it builds over time and they are not reading the entire thing – usually. One advantage of direct mail is that you have more control over how many times your audience is contacted. With TV and radio advertising, you never really know how many times your intended audience is seeing or hearing your message. You can make accurate guesses (through sophisticated ad buys that a media consultant will help you make), but there ’s no way to guarantee a person who needs to see your ad will see it once, much less multiple times. With direct mail, you control the frequency of message delivery and the sequence of that contact. (This can be done with other paid media as well but high production costs make great flexibility impractical for most campaigns.) It’s also best and your mail is made more effective when it’s integrated with door knocks and phone calls, and maybe there’s an earned media event on education the same week that you drop an education mail piece! Or maybe you print out 12,545 mail pieces for your universe and but order 15000, so that when the mail drops on Thursday, that Saturday, you give your canvassers the extras to door knock with that weekend – it’s helpful layering and makes your walk and contacts more effective as well. Because your targeted audience is going to get at least 5 pieces, it cannot be the same exact mail piece each time, you are telling a story, so each piece should build on a common theme and reinforce the same broad campaign message - do not assume that a voter will remember the previous piece so do not have one piece require the understanding of previous pieces. (it may look great all spread out on a coffee table, but think of it spread out over three weeks in a person ’s trash) Let’s look at an example of this now:
  • For a great example of using repetition to reinforce message in direct mail, look at this series from Marty Markowitz ’s successful run for Brooklyn Borough President. It’s not hard to see the consistent theme in these mail pieces, which were timed to hit mailboxes over the course of several weeks. In the first example, the photo of the couple is almost all you need to know about Markowitz’s character: no one can fake that look. In the background is the Brooklyn Bridge. ( READ THE COPY NOW) The focus is less on Markowitz and more on Brooklyn – you get the sense that this guy really loves Brooklyn (and his wife). And of course, the photo is great – note the Brooklyn Bridge in the background. On the back, voters learned about all that he had done in his first term to make Brooklyn a place to go for NYC tourist and bring tourism jobs and money to the area. The theme continues in the next piece:
  • ( READ THE COPY NOW) Again, this piece has the same look and feel as the first one, but this time it ’s about health care on the back.
  • ( READ THE COPY NOW) And in this one, which was what we call the bio piece- the piece that tells his personal story. Each piece in this series builds on the last one. After seeing these three pieces, it ’s hard to argue with the slogan at the bottom: “As Brooklyn as they come!” There were about 10 of these, that also matched the scripts and tone of his door knock program and his tv ads, and it all fit together.
  • Campaign: Direct Mail

    1. 1. Direct MailWellstone Action
    2. 2. Wellstone Action has a Creative Commons License. That means you are free to use these PowerPoints for your own use. We ask that you do not reproduce our work, and if you do share these materials, please attribute them back to Wellstone Action and Camp Wellstone. Thanks!Wellstone Action
    3. 3. Direct Mail Think Audience1. Three audiences • 7-second (pictures – name – slogan) • 10-20 second (headlines) • The readers (text for those who want more)Wellstone Action
    4. 4. Direct Mail2. Uses of direct mail• Message reinforcement layered with other contacts• Tactical Messaging to communicate precisely targeted messages to different audiences• Hard contrast to deliver hard contrast and comparison• Negative use to deliver negative (but fair) attack• Early Vote, Absentee, VBM to target voter registration and different voting alternatives. Wellstone Action
    5. 5. Message ReinforcementWellstone Action
    6. 6. Message ReinforcementWellstone Action
    7. 7. Tactical messageRaise your hands if you have ever hada gynecological exam.One more good reason why sevenmiddle-aged white guys shouldnt’t bewriting laws to restrict our reproductivefreedom.Wellstone Action
    8. 8. Tactical messageWellstone Action
    9. 9. ContrastWellstone Action
    10. 10. Negative messageWellstone Action
    11. 11. Wellstone Action
    12. 12. Absentee Voting Chase Mail PieceWellstone Action
    13. 13. Wellstone Action
    14. 14. Direct Mail3. Design • Photos-Visual: 50-60% of piece is photos or visual (photos and headlines) • Bad photos = bad mail • Headlines: 2-4 headlines – 7 words or less in each headline • Avoid Political LookWellstone Action
    15. 15. Engaging photosWellstone Action
    16. 16. Brief and Concise 741 words 121 wordsWellstone Action
    17. 17. Bad Photos…Bad MailWellstone Action
    18. 18. Overtly Political•RW and B•Stars•Stripes•Flags•LooksPolitical•Big photoof candidate EMILYs List Wellstone Action
    19. 19. Fit with Candidate:Wellstone Action
    20. 20. Dramatic HeadlinesWellstone Action
    21. 21. … and less words make them more likely to be read.Wellstone Action
    22. 22. Fonts• Font: Serif fonts read horizontally and are good for text – Sans serif fonts standout and are good for headlines• Font size: no smaller than 12pt – and even that, is too small!Wellstone Action
    23. 23. FontsWellstone Action
    24. 24. FontsWellstone Action
    25. 25. Message Brief, simple and concise • Less copy is better • To the point headlines • Message front and centerWellstone Action
    26. 26. Message Simple and ConciseWellstone Action
    27. 27. Message4. Message • Repetition: 4-12 pieces (1 or 2 pieces does not make a direct mail program) • Repeat message: Each piece should build on a common theme and reinforce the same message – even if to different audiences (they can have different angles and content)Wellstone Action
    28. 28. Repetition and ContinuityWellstone Action
    29. 29. Repetition and ContinuityWellstone Action
    30. 30. Repetition and ContinuityWellstone Action