We are all familiar with the mortal sins like gluttony, greed, envy, and so on, but what about the sins of campaign malpractice? What are those things that will cause your candidate to lose, or worse, be the linchpin for a lawsuit?
1. Sources of Sin
Facts are facts. If your campaign makes a claim, you better be able to substantiate it with proof. Negative pieces especially should always be well-researched and well-documented. Remember, your opponent will be fact-checking everything you send out.
Not stating or including the proper disclaimer on your materials would be a rookie transgression. Plagiarizing the work of others is slothful and easily tracked. If your job is to get your candidate elected, avoid making these venial sins which can cause election damnation.
Throughout the campaign period, you will likely find yourself under heavy pressure and fatigue, with a candidate that’s constantly on edge. It can be too easy to throw out a distraction, give in to cerebral compulsion, and craft a message that “stretches the truth”.
Don’t. It is in these moments that you need to consciously force yourself to stick to facts. A losing candidate and a libel suit are not how you want to wrap up a political campaign.
2. Misdeed of Multiple Messages
Stick to one story and one theme. If you are sending out a biographical piece on your candidate, do not use it as a median to attack your opponent.
A confusing message is a wasted opportunity. Be clear, concise, and make your point fast. The time (often the distance, too) between the mailbox and the trash can is unbelievably short. Your voters need a message they can easily relate to and understand.
Always tell your voters “why” they should vote for your candidate in all your messaging.
3. Tactical Transgression
Not targeting your electorate is a violation of Politics 101: know your audience.
Sending out a mailer about your position on social security to millennials is as wasteful as sending out a postcard to baby boomers about college debt. Ideally, your campaign canvass of voters should help you determine what issues are important to which voters.
Certain biographic data can be taken right from the voter lists. Every state, except North Dakota, maintains a voter roster that is available to the public.
Some states allow for partisan registration (Republican or Democrat) which is useful in crafting your message. Other states have open primaries, which allow you to get an accurate list of who votes in each primary election.
Finding out how frequently people vote is helpful to determine their propensity to vote, allowing you to allocate your resources efficiently. Other demographic data such as age, gender, and zip code, which can tell you median household income, are all useful tools to tailor your message.
4. Word Gluttony
Candidates love to give speeches. They love to talk and visit with voters, explain their issues, and pontificate their platform.
Your direct mailer is not a speech — it is a statement. You’ve heard the expression, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Let your art do the talking.
Within seconds, a voter will scan the headline and look at your pictures. If they are interested, they will read your text, not the other way around.
Too much text and your message gets lost. Your text should only reinforce the impression made by your art. Never use more than two font styles. Use one for your captions and the other for your body text. Multiple fonts are confusing.
5. Amateur Work
The look is the message. Michael Deaver, President Reagan’s image-maker, said: “Unless you can find a visual that explains your message, you can’t make it stick.”
Using clip art that you took off the internet is amateur hour. If you are printing images, the resolution should always be 300 dpi (dots per inch) minimum. Most images on the internet are set at a lower resolution so that the webpage will load faster.
• Purchase stock photos from online companies like iStock.
• Hire a professional photographer to take family pictures of your candidate, as well as document campaign events.
• Enlist the help of a good graphic designer.
If the campaign budget is tight, at least have a graphic designer at least create your campaign logo, as well as several templates that you can use. It’s well worth the money in the long run. The quality of your printing is directly related to your graphic design.
6. Crime of Crummy Colors
Color scheme is the second most important component of your mail piece after your artwork. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that if you print in black and white you are saving money.
The press process, which is what is used for large quantities, is the same four-color process for all printers.
Your color choices should match your message. Earth tones (browns, greens, and blues) are colors found in nature. They send a subdued message. Vivid colors (reds, oranges, and yellows) catch the reader’s eye.
A word of caution: the color on your monitor will not be the color you get when it is printed on paper. This is mainly because your screen resolution is set to a lower dpi than is used in the print process.
7. The Sin of Pride
Speaking of printing, make sure you take your job to a professional. You will never have enough time in a campaign; the job is all-consuming. Postal regulations can be byzantine and print terminology paralyzing. Consumers are bombarded with advertisements daily, so your materials should not be subpar.
For example: Why does your artwork need to bleed? Bleeding means extending images 1/8” beyond your final trim line. During the cutting process, any misalignment will cause your artwork to look disfigured.
The opposite is true for text. Text should never be closer than 1/8” to your trim line. This is called the “safe zone.” A professional printer will make sure your job is printed property.
I have spent over a decade working with political campaigns and national fundraisers. At PrintPlace, I am responsible for all political marketing pieces and work hand in hand with candidates and their consultants.