Dollars for Democracy in 2016 Election

Well, the two major parties have just finished their national conventions, but this very strange election year is far from over. For better or for worse. In 2016, direct mail is still an effective way to raise money for a political campaign and get people to the polls. Here are some thoughts about two recent direct mail efforts from the Clinton and Trump campaigns.

Well, the two major parties have just finished their national conventions, but this very strange election year is far from over. For better or for worse.

ElectionDayEagleOver the past four election cycles, I have written about what I’ve seen going on in direct mail and email collected by Who’s Mailing What!

For example, in 2012, I looked at two fundraising direct mail tactics that were used for the first time. And, earlier this year, I offered some tips on how to get political direct mail noticed.

From formats and premiums, and call-to-action (CTA) buttons to subject lines, there’s a lot to review and think about. So far, I’m not seeing anything that’s all that new or different. So, I’ve decided to look at what really drives response in this sector: the copy.

Way back in 1984, the second-ever issue of the print newsletter Who’s Mailing What! featured a critique of Republican efforts by liberal fundraiser Roger Craver.

The first part of his “Dollars For Democracy” article still resonates very strongly in its section “Why People Give to Politics.” (If you’d like, just email me at pbobnak@napco.com and I can send you a PDF of it in its entirety.)

To summarize his analysis: political direct mail contributors are not the “fat cats” who expect favors or budget earmarks in exchange for money. Rather, they’re what he calls “donors of principle.” These are people who don’t need to be persuaded about the rightness of a candidate, party or issue, but can be motivated to donate by a mailer’s copy and design.

According to Craver, the best direct mail packages are those that include one or more of these factors in how the copy is written:

  •  a sense of mission or challenge;
  •  a sense of selectivity, or exclusivity that flatters the recipient;
  •  a sense of urgent need that gets the contributor to give ASAP; and
  •  a sense of continuity and effectiveness that acknowledges the power of the opponent, but also reassures victory if a donation is made soon.

In 2016, direct mail is still an effective way to raise money for a political campaign and get people to the polls. But email can take advantage of Craver’s factors 24/7, based on the day’s events in a campaign.

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I’ll be examining email in a future column, but for now, some thoughts about two recent direct mail efforts from the Clinton and Trump campaigns.

Mission

Since her campaign began, the direct mail for Hillary Victory Fund has asked a question on its outer: “[FNAME], this is our moment … are you with me?” Inside, she talks about her upbringing and offers: “I still believe that if you do your part, you ought to be able to get ahead and stay ahead.”

The Trump Make America Great Again Committee envelope puts its slogan in all caps on the front of its outer: “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN.” “This election is going to be about big ideas,” the letter claims.

Selectivity

After explaining her vision, Clinton goes after the GOP’s: “You and I know their plan fails us.” “Right now, we have to fight harder than ever for the Democratic vision,” she says.

Trump urges the donor to complete the enclosed issues survey and make a donation. “I cannot succeed, nor can our Party prevail … without the support of dedicated Americans like you,” he declares.

Urgency

“Republicans are coming at us with everything they’ve got,” Clinton warns. “Primary season is here — right now — and we need you in this critical moment.”

For Trump, the warning: “America’s future is on the line.” And later, “America is truly at a crossroads in this presidential election.”

Continuity

“But Republicans are spending millions to mislead voters, so we must be able to expose the lies and rhetoric,” Clinton says. “We can keep the White House, help Democrats win up and down the ticket in November, and deliver real victories.”

“Hillary Clinton, the Democrats, and their liberal cronies will continue to raise and spend every dollar they can get their hands on,” Trump says. “[Y]our gift is critical … to helping get our message out.”

Keep in mind that these “ingredients”, as Craver called them, may vary from one effort to the next. But, he said, “successful packages contain most or all of them.” I’m going to keep my eyes open as more mail comes to my desk. And as always, I’d love to hear your comments below.

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.

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!

TedC_01The 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.

Rand_01“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.

Some others:

“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.”