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Navigate the Media Superhighway

By Brice Civiello

The goal is simple - win the election; how to do it, however, is as much an art as a science.  Every vendor, consultant, and activist believes they know the winning equation. However, in reality, the number of tactics is vast and none come with a money-back guarantee of victory.

Ask most media consultants and they might say radio, cable, and television are the only effective way to get your message in front of voters.  Direct mail firms sell candidates on the fact that only mail gets your message in the hands of a known voter. The internet professionals will undoubtedly want to spend all your resources on a website and email, because, of course, all voters will want to come to your site to learn more.  In addition, the local newspaper will tell you no candidate has ever won without advertising in their newspaper.  Then, surely you have to have some promotional “give-aways” or trinkets. Candidates buy thousands of pencils, nail files, t-shirts, and balloons each Election year, which often make great mementos for campaigns gone awry.  The possibilities of how to spend your campaign dollars are endless, so you must be careful not to fall prey to the latest fads.  A candidate and key staff members must carefully determine the correct mix of tactics to support their strategy for victory.

So which tactic is best for your campaign?  The most accurate answer is, “it depends.”  There is no perfect “cookie cutter” method of campaigning in this day and age.  As a candidate you need to make sure your message is on target and where your voters are looking.  Generally speaking, smaller races will benefit from a strong direct mail campaign while larger races will find the most cost effective way to reach voters is through a mix of mail and media.  But one fact stands true for everyone; the amount of money a campaign can raise will play a major role in determining the mix of media tactics the campaign is able to utilize.  Campaigns must find the appropriate mix of tactics that reach their voters effectively within the budget they have set.  

Nearly every campaign must adhere to a budget and while every candidate or consultant will want to spend more, your plan must consider the realities of your financial capabilities.  For large campaigns that can afford a media buy on network television, the power of a well-produced and placed 30-second spot is undeniable.  Besides meeting the candidate in person, nothing gets a message across to voters better than a strong network television media buy.  If you can afford to air a variety of messages on multiple stations for several weeks, you will eventually reach most voters.  However, in a Presidential Election year most campaigns will find network television too expensive and a need to resort to other mediums.

If network television is out of your reach, you can turn to cable television, radio, direct mail, or newspaper advertising.  Each one of these options has its benefits and their associated drawbacks.  Cable television and radio are strong methods of communication when used properly.  The size and length of your proposed media buy can help you determine its likely effectiveness.  Carefully selecting channels to target your voters will increase the success of your efforts.  However, there are drawbacks to spending all of your money on cable or radio.  First, your entire purchase is based on informed speculation.  We assume people that will vote will listen and watch these commercials but there is no guarantee your message will be seen by all of the voters.  Second, early voting has significantly altered campaign calendars throughout the country.  Understanding your state’s early voting laws can significantly alter your plans for effective communication to voters.  Many states now have a thirty-day window for early voting.  This means you must be on the air before early voting begins and maintain that pace through Election Day, driving up the costs and the likelihood of breaking your budget.

Direct mail also has positive and negative attributes.  Mail places your targeted message directly in the hands of likely voters but you will need to do this numerous times to be effective.  Postage always on the rise, on top of the cost of printing these materials can be expensive.  Knowing your target audience will help you budget the price-per-mailer. With this knowledge, you can plan how many times you can afford to mail to each of your target groups.  If it turns out that the target population is too large and the cost then will be too great, direct mail may not be the best option.

Newspaper ads are also an effective way to communicate a message.  Many agree that people who read the newspaper are more likely to vote, thus allowing you to effectively communicate to a targeted block of voters at relatively inexpensive prices.  However, many people that do not read the newspaper also vote.  A large purchase of newspaper ads may cause you to completely miss a significant block of potential voters setting you up for defeat on Election Day.

And what about those coveted campaign promotional “give-aways.”  You will hear advice similar to “people have bought these nail files for twenty years and won,” or “everyone that gets balloons for the kids has come out ahead on Election Day.”  These statements may be correct, however one fact is certain, nobody wins or loses based on trinkets. Trinkets are expensive items that don’t communicate your message.  While name ID is always important, saving your money for more effective and efficient forms of communication will raise your name ID as well as effectively get your message to the voters.

In the end, your path to success is likely to be comprised of numerous forms of media. The most effective campaigns will utilize combinations of each of the tactics discussed, thus generating a multi-media campaign that overcomes the weaknesses of any one tactic by combining multiple tactics together in concert.  Select this combination wisely and in harmony with your overall budget and your odds of winning on Election Day are sure to increase.

Brice Civiello is Vice-President of Political Operations for American Strategies,
a national Republican political strategy and campaign management
consulting firm. Brice has worked with all levels of campaigns from
local to State and Federal.  Email him at
Click here to contact this Author.

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