As I’ve said before, no one really cares about your resume in a local political campaign. You might be proud of all the experience showcased on your resume — and you should be. But if you focus on promoting your resume in a local election, then you’ll probably get beat by an opponent who tells an engaging personal story instead.
Voters aren’t prospective employers, and they don’t have time to read through pages of data about your accomplishments. They simply want to get a feel for who you are as a person and know that you can be trusted to do a good job for them. Identifying a few key story points to tell in your campaign is the best way to gain their trust, help them develop a feel for what you’re all about, and get them to remember your name.
When I say that you should tell a “story” to the voters, I don’t mean that you should make things up. I’m not talking about a work of fiction here. I’m talking about telling your own true, personal story in a few easy-to-digest, memorable themes from your life. Voters don’t want to know about your experience . . . they want to know about your experiences. Your campaign should tell three or four simple stories that illustrate who you are, and tell those same stories over and over again. You want the voters to associate those life stories with your name as soon as they see it on the ballot.
This isn’t just true in local elections; in much larger campaigns, weaving an engaging narrative about a candidate is also very effective if done correctly. Whether you love him or hate him, president Barack Obama is a great example of this. Obama didn’t have the experience of many of his initial rivals for the presidency. But his campaign did a terrific job of focusing on his personal story rather than his list of accomplishments. In the end, his personal narrative beat out the impressive resumes of other candidates who had been in politics much longer.
That’s not to say that the Obama campaign focused solely on his narrative or that they ignored the topics of experience and policy. But they took themes from his own personal, engaging story and wove them effectively into the overall message of their campaign. The mantra of “hope and change” wasn’t enough to win the presidency by itself; it had to be delivered by someone whose personal story resonated with the electorate.
It’s fine to reference policy plans and issues in your local campaign (most voters are going to expect a mayoral candidate to give them an idea of his administrative plans for the city, after all). Whenever possible, however, try to use examples from your own personal story to reinforce your policy messages. Promising to improve your city’s fiscal health and promote responsible management of taxpayer money? Then tell the story of how you successfully grew your own business and helped employees provide for their families. Want to clean up your community and make it safer for residents? Then tell the story of your own family and how important they are to you.
Defining the personal story themes that you’ll focus on in your campaign is one of the most important things you can do before launching. These story points should be referred to and reinforced in every piece of communication that your campaign produces, from press releases to door cards to social media posts. Remember: you might be familiar with your personal story and think it’s commonplace or boring, but the voters want to learn about it. And if you want them to remember it, then you’re going to have to repeat it over and over again.
Exactly what story themes you’ll focus on in your campaign is up to you — you know your own experiences better than anyone else. A theme could be as commonplace as “family,” or it could be more unique and unusual. Regardless of what story themes you choose to focus on, though, make sure that they are all 100% true and not embellished. Never think that you have to exaggerate your experiences in order to appeal to voters! Simply relaying an accurate, heartfelt narrative about who you are is all that’s necessary. Here are some examples of story themes that I’ve seen candidates use successfully in their own local campaigns:
- Spouse & Children
- Parents, Grandparents & Extended Family
- Business Ownership
- Career Work
- Military Service
- Community Service
- Volunteer Work
- Sports Involvement & Coaching
- School Support & Activities
- Political Experiences
- Clubs & Organizations
- Local History & Family Heritage
- Favorite Recipes
In my own campaigns, I’ve always focused on no more than three story themes. If you choose too many, your message can get muddled and your narrative might confuse voters. Remember: the more you write, the less they read. An introductory campaign piece that includes references to three story themes can be designed to be brief, visually engaging and memorable for your target audience.
In my first campaign for public office, the three themes that I chose were my family, my military service, and my non-partisan record. I chose those because they meshed well with my promises to keep my district safe and family-friendly; to always work hard and be dependable; and to never let politics keep me from making the best decisions.
Can you choose more than three story themes for your campaign? Sure. Just keep in mind that the more your focus on, the harder it will be to get voters to remember your individual story points. If you really do have the resources (read: time and money) to effectively communicate six different story themes to your target audience, then go for it. Just remember: if your campaign literature starts looking like a resume — with lots of bullet points or lists of experiences — then you’re focusing on too much. Narrow down your narrative to a few easy-to-remember themes, and you’ll be more likely to win on election day.