Here’s a secret: regardless of how much thought and research you put into your campaign plan, you’re going to have to launch your candidacy before it’s ready. Some political consultants will say that you must have a perfect, 100 percent complete strategic plan before you kick off your campaign. My response to that? It’s a bunch of crap.
Don’t get me wrong; it’s great to have a well thought-out set of strategies for your local election. But don’t fall into the trap of spending too much time working on your campaign plan before you launch. Kicking off your campaign before you’re completely ready might be scary, but you’re only going to hurt your progress if you’re waiting for perfection.
Some of the strategies in your campaign blueprint are going to work, and some aren’t. That’s fine. The best way to perfect your plan is by launching and putting things in motion. Even the best campaigns have to pivot, make changes on the fly, and tweak strategies that don’t work as well as they hoped. Remember: every additional day that you spend working on your campaign plan is one less day you have to actually campaign.
When the time finally comes to announce, there are several actions you can take to make sure that your launch has the greatest impact and makes a terrific impression on the voters. Personally, I’d do everything on the list below . . . but don’t think that skipping a few of these suggestions will doom your campaign to failure. Every local election is unique, and you need to decide which of these kickoff strategies fit your campaign’s narrative and tone.
1. Announce to Your Supporters and Acquaintances
Remember that super-duper important contact list I told you to start work on early in your planning process? Here’s where it starts to come in really handy. If you’ve done what you should have, then you’ll have a detailed spreadsheet with contact information for dozens or hundreds of people in your community who have met you personally. It’s time to reach out to them!
Ideally, you want to make a personal phone call to every person on your list and let them know that you’re going to run for office . . . before you announce to the media. The phone call doesn’t have to be lengthy; in fact, you should try to make it as brief as possible. Be considerate of their time, and keep it simple. Your script could be something along these lines:
“Hi, John? This is Phil Van Treuren. Just wanted to give you a quick call and let you know some exciting news: I’ve decided to run for mayor next year! I’m going to be announcing it to the media soon, but I wanted to call you personally and make sure you were one of the first people I told. Please do me a favor and spread the word with your friends and family! Hope I can count on your support. Thanks!”
Personally contacting everyone you know to tell them about your candidacy is effective for a few different reasons. First, it makes the people you call feel very special . . . and it should! You’re telling them before you tell the media, which shows how much their support means to you. Second, it helps you seed the “grapevine” with lots of mouths that will gossip and spread the word about your candidacy. Lastly — and most importantly — it makes it very difficult for those people to support your eventual opponent. Once someone personally congratulates you on your candidacy and says that they will support you, they’ll going to have a hard time shifting their allegiance to someone else. (Yet another reason why announcing first is so vital!)
If you have a very lengthy contact list, then you might need to divvy up the announcement phone calls over several evenings. After you call each person on your list, be sure to also write a hand-written card saying thanks for their time and drop it in the mail the next day. These are core supporters who you’re also going to tap for yard sign locations, event invitations, and more . . . so you need to go the extra mile to show them how thankful you are for their support.
2. Put Together a Press Packet for the Media With an Official Announcement
Even though newspapers and other traditional media outlets are becoming less and less important for successful local campaigns, you shouldn’t ignore the important task of letting reporters know that you’re running. Make no mistake about it: local news coverage is no longer a vital part of winning an election. In fact, as I’ve said before, you should only expect to get mentioned in the papers twice: once when you announce your campaign, and again when you win or lose on election day. But all earned media helps (even if traditional news readership is rapidly decreasing), and sending out a solid press packet when you launch could help you get some valuable ink in the local papers.
Every campaign announcement packet needs to include an official press release from your campaign. I’ll go into more detail on writing a solid campaign press release later in this book; there’s an art and a science to it, and as a former newspaper reporter I can promise you that a lousy press release will hurt your campaign.
In addition to your press release, your packet should also include one of the big, beautiful, glossy pieces of literature that you (hopefully) already have pre-printed for your campaign. Giving the media a physical representation of how professional your campaign is going to be — one that they can hold in their hands and look at with their own eyes — is a great way to impress them and perhaps get a better-placed headline.
You should also consider adding one of your campaign postcards to the packet (more on how to design and print these later), with a quick hand-written note thanking them for their attention. (“Jennifer: Thanks for your time! I’m so excited to kick off my campaign for city council. Please contact me with any questions!”)
Put all of this important stuff into a full-sized manila envelope (do NOT try to fold it up and stuff it into a small envelope. Spend the extra money on postage . . . the additional notice it gets you is worth it). With a bit of online research, you can put together an address list of every media outlet that covers news in your district; mail one of your press packets to each one of them. Don’t just send one to newspapers; consider including local radio stations and television stations as well. Bigger media outlets might not cover a smaller race, but it’s worth sending them your announcement on the off chance that it’s a slow news day.
So, why snail-mail a press packet to reporters when an email would be just as good? It’s true: in most cases, simply emailing your press release to local news outlets will suffice. Going the extra mile and mailing a professional press packet, however, makes it more likely that you’ll catch their attention. It’s important to make a great first impression with the media, too! So in addition to emailing your campaign launch release to the press, take the time to show them how serious you’re taking the campaign by mailing an impressive announcement packet.
Hey, we’re not done yet! Continue to Part II of How to Announce Your Candidacy . . .