By Zac Palmer
As e-mail and blogging have become the dominant new technology being implemented by campaigns across the country, many strategists are looking for the next “big” idea that will attempt to revolutionize the way candidates communicate with voters.
A few consultants and campaign managers have realized that the “old-fashioned” phone call still holds an incredibly valuable place in voter outreach.
The Telephone Town Hall Meeting
The use of telephones in campaigns has always been instrumental to their success. From phone banking to auto calls, candidates have relied heavily on the capabilities of telephones and have spent millions on connecting with potential voters. However, there has not been an effective technology that would allow campaigns to combine both phone banks and auto calls.
In an effort to bridge that gap, several companies made strides to develop a creative solution through telephone town hall meetings. However, as this is such a new concept, many campaign strategists may not be aware of its power, or how it actually works.
The concept of a telephone town hall is relatively simply. Essentially, the campaign can release a recorded message comparable to that of an auto call, which is a message from the candidate asking them to join the live conference. The message is similar to the following:
“Hi, this is John Smith and I'm running for Congress here in the 1st Congressional District. I would like you to join my first live telephone town hall meeting, occurring right now. We would like to discuss <issue> tonight and I want to answer your questions regarding this topic. If you would like to join me, please press 1 to join our live telephone town hall meeting.”
If the voter wants to join the conference, they can simply press 1 on a touch tone phone and they will be connected instantly. Once the individual joins the call, they are muted so that they can only listen to the candidate and not directly participate, which is to eliminate all background noise and interruption by the listeners.
TeleForum, a web-based, telecommunications program, allows candidates to perform such calls and view who is joining the conference online, in real time. Because the system is web-based, the candidate can host the conference from any location they choose. Additionally, the program has the ability to “screen” callers who wish to ask a question.
As the candidate continues to speak, they can prompt listeners to ask questions by pushing a specific number on their phone. Once the listener pushes the button, they will be notified that someone will be with them shortly. At the same time, a separate window pops up on the computer screen showing that someone is waiting to ask a question.
A designated “screener” will be able speak directly with that individual in separate “screening room” outside of the conference and confirm their question before the question is posed to the candidate. This allows the campaign to control the flow of the conference as well as manage the questions that come in from potential voters.
Once the individual's question is validated, the screener can let the candidate know they have a question and allow the person to ask the question directly to the candidate. Once it has been posed, the individual is muted and returned back to the general conference and the candidate has the opportunity to respond without interruption.
Who will we reach?
This “new” technology has grown tremendously over the past six months. Both candidates and Members of Congress have been utilizing the technology to reach out to thousands of constituents to discuss a variety of issues.
Generally, each call will blast out to between 25,000 – 45,000 households. Approximately 30-50% of intended respondents will actually pick up the phone and hear the prerecorded message asking them to join the conference. Also, there are another 50-70% of calls will reach a voice mail or answering machine and will send a different message than the first prerecorded message. This message may be similar to the following:
“Hi, this is John Smith and I'm running for Congress in the 1st Congressional District. I'm calling tonight because I wanted to invite you to my live telephone town hall meeting; but it seems that I have missed you. Tonight we were discussing <issue> but we will hold other town hall meetings in the future and I hope you can be a part of them. Thank you again and have a good evening.”
The software can detect whether an individual answers the call or an answering machine so it will play the appropriate message based on the situation that is presented. This allows the candidate to leave a positive message if the voter is not available which, psychologically, can have a great impact on their vote.
The Value of TeleForum and Telephone Town Hall Meetings
TeleForum and telephone town hall meetings may be the missing link in a campaign's communications strategy. With just a short time until the mid-term elections, candidates should be prepared to look at how they may most effectively connect to potential voters while maximizing the benefit.
TeleForum offers that opportunity in a cost-effective, time-sensitive manner and over the next two years, candidates and elected officials will continue to incorporate telephone town hall meetings into their comprehensive communications programs. It is only a matter of time until this concept is common place in the political world.
Zac Palmer is an associate of iConstituent, LLC in Washington, DC. He can be reached at Click here to contact this Author