The Top 25 Mistakes Candidates Make In Local Elections (Part Four)

Go Back to Part Three . . .

16. Running a “Resume” Campaign

When an employer is considering you for a job, they take a long, hard look at all of the information on your resume to ensure that you are the right candidate for the position. They review your experience, your education, your accolades, and your references. They bring you in for one, two or even three face-to-face job interviews.

Not so in a political campaign. When you hand a campaign flier to a voter, you may hope that they’ll carefully look at all of your experience and credentials. But the disappointing truth is that most voters only glance at your campaign materials for a few seconds before throwing it in the garbage. The more you write, the less they read.

Instead of sharing a long, boring resume with voters, share your story with them. Identify a few simple, key themes that tell your story to your audience, and repeat those points to them over and over. Don’t tell the voters about your experience . . . tell them about your experiences. Tell them about the unique adventures in your life that have made you trustworthy, effective and someone who they can relate to.

In the end, voters care most about who you are as a person, not what’s on your resume. They want to feel like they know you personally, and want to know what you’re all about at your core. They want to trust you. Simply sharing your resume won’t give them that familiarity, but telling them a unique, engaging story about your life will.

17. Wasting Money on Newspaper Ads, Billboards and Commercials

Remember what I often say about easy stuff not being very effective in political campaigning? Burning cash on political billboards, newspaper ads and commercials 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.

But billboards, newspaper ads and commercials make a candidate feel good. They make him think that he is getting his message 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. And right there, in thousands of newspapers. And right there, on countless television screens or radio stations.

Here’s what your billboard, newspaper ad or commercial is buying you: the opportunity to get your name in front of tens of thousands of people. But out of those tens of thousands, 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 to slap 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.

18. Neglecting to Send Thank You Cards

Any office holder or political candidate with half a brain sends thank you cards to people who donate money to their campaign, but why not go the extra mile? Keep a big supply of cards on hand and send them to people who sign your candidacy petition, people you meet when going door-to-door, people who take a yard sign, and anyone else who you happen to come across while on the campaign trail.

Even people who offer criticism should get a thank-you card. And don’t think that you have to be insincere to send them a note of thanks; let them know that you appreciated their suggestions for improvement.

After all, if you’re serious about being a good elected official, you should be thankful when someone gives you their honest opinion, even if it’s critical of you or your campaign.

Sending handwritten notes of thanks to so many people might take some extra time and money, but it’s an effort that will make you a better elected official . . . and help your campaign immensely. In fact, it’s my opinion that handwritten notes are among the most effective tools you could possibly utilize in a campaign of any size.

19. Not Doing Enough Door-to-Door Campaigning

Door-to-door (or D2D) is the single most effective thing you can do in a smaller, local political campaign, and you shouldn’t listen to anyone who tells you differently.

There’s a simple reason why D2D isn’t utilized effectively by many candidates, though: it’s hard to do. Trudging through unfamiliar neighborhoods by yourself for weeks is tiring and intimidating. Walking down streets with a stack of literature while cars drive by can be embarrassing. Getting rained on and snowed on and having the sun beating down on you is lousy.

You know what I say to that? Suck it up, buttercup. If you really want to be an elected official – if you want to win your campaign – then you need to stop whining. You don’t have to knock on doors five hours a day for a year, but if you aren’t including at least some D2D in your overall campaign plan, then you deserve to lose. If you aren’t willing to get your hands dirty and go into neighborhoods to meet people and market yourself, then you shouldn’t be an elected official.

In a local race, a candidate really can win a race by focusing heavily on D2D – and doing it all himself. Smaller districts mean that you can visit every targeted voter’s home personally, if you start early enough. And for a voter, the impact of getting a personal visit at your home from a candidate is much more significant and memorable than any other kind of campaigning.

20. Not Spending Enough Money on Direct Mail

A focused, well-researched, targeted direct mail campaign is one of the most effective ways to get your name in front of people who will actually have the opportunity to vote for you. With direct mail, you can guarantee that every dollar you spend will put your name and message in front of likely voters in your district. People who you know will actually cast a ballot, because you did the research to identify them.
And by micro-targeting your direct mail, you add the semblance of a personalization to an otherwise assembly-line strategy, which is an effective way to win your campaign.

At its core, micro-targeting is dividing your targeted voters up into the smallest groups possible that still share a common interest, political philosophy, background or environment. If you do a good job of categorizing voters into the right micro-targeted group, then you should be able to send a specially designed mailer to everyone in the group and still make them feel like it personally speaks to them alone.

In local elections, your micro-targeted groups can be as small as a few hundred people; there might be an issue involving the maintenance of a certain street that will be of interest to voters in that ward, for example. In larger races, a micro-targeted voter group can reach into the tens-of-thousands.

Continue to Part Five . . .

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