Don’t Be Like Ted: 3 Smarter Ways to Get Political Direct Mail Noticed
It happens every election cycle. A candidate running for political office sends out a direct mail effort that gets attention, but for the wrong reason. A single miscue can result in a lost opportunity to garner support, as well as provide ammunition for the opposition.
What sparked this post was a news story about presidential candidate Ted Cruz that was forwarded to me by Denny Hatch, former editor of Target Marketing and founder of Who’s Mailing What!
The Cruz for President campaign recently mailed this matching gift appeal that carefully skirts the legal, if not ethical line. The #10 outer envelope bears Cruz’s signature and name in a script similar to that on official mail sent to constituents.
The recipient’s name appears on a blue-and-white lined high security-like “check” that shows through the address window. To the window’s right, there’s a promise that raised red flags for some people: “CHECK ENCLOSED.”
Now maybe people should have asked themselves why someone from the government — a U.S. Senator — would be sending them a check in the mail. Or noticed the “PERSONAL BUSINESS” disclaimer in the corner card, or the “NO CASH VALUE” note on the faux check inside.
Yes, it’s a tactic that’s been around a long time in direct mail. But why court controversy, when there are so many effective approaches to deploy?
Based on my review of direct mail I analyze for Who’s Mailing What!, here are three techniques that political campaigns can use to stand out in the mailbox and raise money.
1. Use a Teaser in the Candidate’s Voice
When you need all good people to come to the aid of your party or candidate, a tagline on the outer envelope can speak to them in a way that sounds authentic.
Here’s a good one mailed by the Rand Paul for Senate 2016 campaign.
“The NSA Hasn’t Read This …” appears on a 9”x12” manila outer and suggests that some secret information might be inside. To an audience that cuts across the usual ideological lines, concern over snooping gets them inside to see what the chief critic of government surveillance has to say.
“Please help me respond to the biggest threat Wall Street banks have ever made against us.” —Elizabeth Warren for Massachusetts
“President Obama doesn’t want you to open this letter. But I do!” —Rubio Victory Committee
“[FNAME], this is our moment … are you with me?” —Hillary for America
Each of these examples, when mailed to the right target, sets up the candidate’s identity and the narrative of their campaigns, or at least the letter inside. For Elizabeth Warren, it’s opposing Wall Street. For Marco Rubio, it’s fighting “liberal elites.” For Hillary Clinton, it’s siding with “everyday Americans.”
Think about it. They’re a vital element of any GOTV (get out the vote) mailing that drops close to an election day, showing the candidate meeting with voters, making speeches, etc. So why not use them in fundraising efforts to reinforce the candidate’s brand?
This mailer was sent by McSally for Congress. The reverse side of the 6”x11” envelope is a vertical photo of the combat pilot-turned-candidate, Martha McSally, standing in front of an A-10 warplane. Em-dash style bullet points list her military and civilian accomplishments in mostly ALL CAPS.
The letter inside, accompanied by a newspaper article, elaborates on her accomplishments, and uses them to support her candidacy and her opposition to President Obama’s policies.
Other places to include four-color photos include the letter, the reply form, and buck slips and other inserts. They just have to make sense to the donor by providing support, not distraction, to the appeal.
3. Use Retail Campaigning Tools
Packages that reward political contributors with a front-end premium like a signed photograph of the candidate, or a bumper sticker are a tried-and-true staple of direct mail. People like getting free stuff, especially when they feel a personal affirmation for their donation.
This fundraising package from the Democratic National Committee goes a lot further.
This campaign that consisted of a letter, donation form, and BRE. But it doubled as a door-to-door campaign kit by including a big sheet of stickers, a couple of door hangers, and putting the wafer-sealed outer itself to work.
When unfolded and flattened, the outer becomes a 10-1/2”x16-1/2” “VOTE DEMOCRAT” poster that can be displayed on a window or a wall. This is a tactic that despite the added cost, has been successful for several non-profits, and helps build brand in a big way.
All of these items help stretch campaign dollars and build brand by making your donors part of your street team.
Great fundraising is not just making the right pitch at the right time, but connecting with them on an emotional level. When you make a strong argument for a candidate, draw a clear distinction with the opponent, and engage with the donor in an emotional way, you have the ingredients for a strong fundraising appeal.
Related story: 2 New Direct Mail Tricks Used in Election 2012