I’ll be honest with you: I’m not a huge fan of spending money on billboard space in local political campaigns (or campaigns for higher office, either). While I’ve seen them used effectively in a few campaigns, they are quite often nothing more than a very visible waste of money.
Here’s the problem: a lot of shoo-in candidates with no serious opposition–and unbeatable incumbents–like to spend their campaign cash on purchasing giant billboards to splash their face across their district during election season.
Since most of these candidates go on to win the election, a misconception develops in these districts that the billboards work, and pretty soon every candidate wants to spend all of their money on them, too.
In reality, the shoo-in candidates would have won their race without buying a single political billboard, anyway.
Working as a campaign manager for a novice candidate in these kinds of districts can be maddening; the candidate thinks he needs to get his name and face on as many expensive billboards as possible, and there’s not much you can do to convince him otherwise.
Remember what I often say about easy stuff not being very effective in political campaigning? Purchasing political billboards is easy, lazy campaigning, and wastes an incredible amount of money by putting your face in front of thousands of voters who will never even go to the polls on election day.
Billboards, though, make a candidate feel good. They make him think that he is getting his message and his name out there. They make him feel important, because his name and face are right there, fifty feet in the air, for everyone who drives by to see.
Now back to reality: forgoing the giant billboards and spending the same amount of money on a focused, well-researched, targeted direct mail campaign is many times more effective at getting your name in front of people who will actually have the opportunity to vote for you.
Here’s what your giant billboard is buying you: the opportunity to get your name in front of thousands of people. But out of those thousands of people, only a certain percentage actually live in your district. And out of those people, only a certain percentage are old enough to vote. And out of those people, only a certain percentage are registered to vote. Fewer still are likely voters, and fewer still are likely to respond to your campaign message.
So what do you end up with? You’ve spent thousands of dollars on slapping your face in front a huge number of people who will play absolutely no role in your election.
Will a lot of people recognize your name and face? Sure. And those same people will probably never know or care that you were a loser on election day.
With direct mail, however, you can guarantee that every dollar you spend will put your name and message in front of likely voters in your district.
So take my word for it: don’t waste your campaign money on giant political billboards if you are starting at a deficit in your race. Splashing your name and face on billboards across your district will do two things for you: make you feel very important, and make you lose on election day.