By Zac Palmer
The 2004 election cycle not only proved to be one of the most divisive in our nation's history, but also the most inventive. Candidates and committees started examining and testing more creative outreach strategies to increase voter turnout, raise more money and identify key volunteers and activists. It was apparent that the “cookie cutter” method of running campaigns would no longer hold all of the ingredients to actually win in November.
During the '04 cycle, many consultants and managers realized the power that the internet could harness at every political level. From the Presidential, down to the local school board race, a new aspect of campaigns was truly realized and focus was turned towards online advocacy and blogging as methods to motivate and inspire. However, consultants and managers were simply testing theories that they hoped would be the crucial ingredient to get to 50+1. Little did they know, they would find their answer for gaining more votes, raising more money and identifying more volunteers via e-communications.
E-mail technology, a form of e-communications, has virtually revolutionized the private sector; commercial and banking industries regularly use e-mail technology to reach out to customers. Not known for being an early adaptor of technology, the campaign world has been slow to use e-communications as a form of voter contact. However, great strides have been made in the last two years.
Recently, campaigns have been adding creative e-mail strategies to their tool box of communications and voter outreach strategies. Currently, e-mail technology can be used to, convey a specific message to a targeted audience, show your latest commercial, recruit volunteers, and raise money with the click of a button.
Additionally, many campaigns use e-mail technology to gain public opinion by including surveys in the e-mail itself. Because of its speed and efficiency, e-mail technology has become nearly ubiquitous in the campaign world. In past cycles, there were perhaps a handful of campaigns that used e-mail technology as a form of voter contact. Today, e-mail technology is standard, alongside direct mail and other forms of voter outreach.
There are a handful of technology companies that specialize in political e-communications. Though, there are many choices, we suggest full-service vendors.
Full service vendors will work with campaigns to design and implement an effective e-communications strategy, including the design of the e-mail e-cards and the development of e-mail lists. Additionally, full service vendors will provide campaigns with the e-mail technology so that messages can be sent quickly and accurately. Once your messages are deployed to voters, full service vendors should review the results of your e-mail campaign with you, so you understand the impact of your message. Some of these results include: deliverability rates, survey responses, hard and soft bounces, open rates, and click through rates.
Although e-mail is not meant to be a substitute for direct mail or paid media advertising, it is meant to be an efficient, cost-effective supplement to a successful communications program. Creative direct mail and advertising are obvious keys to success and will never be replaced. However, e-mail offers you the power to contact voters at a moments notice. Want to send out a message that your candidate will be at a town hall? Done. Want to send a last minute fundraising e-mail before the FEC filing deadline? Done. The options are limitless. However, it's up to the campaign to harness that power and run with e-mail technology.
The question of e-communications strategies frequently comes back to this… “How do I reach out to voters if I don't have their e-mails?” Good question. Most campaign literature should contain a space requesting the individual's e-mail address. Additionally, anytime a volunteer makes a phone or canvass ID, they can ask the potential voter if they would like occasional campaign updates and request their e-mail address.
However, hundreds and thousands of campaigns are looking towards e-mail appends to identify e-mails of potential voters. Essentially, a company will take a voter file and match it with every possible e-mail, providing you with a list of voters.
E-mail appends allow you to quickly identify thousands of potential voters to provide a base for your e-communications program. Campaigns should not strictly rely on e-mail appends; however, they are a crucial aspect to an e-communications strategy and are relatively inexpensive.
Political e-communications vendors are your gateway to providing these e-mails. As this is a relatively new concept for many campaigns, it is difficult to understand the best method of obtaining e-mails and who has the most competitive price. There are many factors that go into e-mail acquisition; however, it is important to remember two things: 1) Only pay for deliverable e-mails & 2) Never pay a flat rate for e-mails. Once these two factors are satisfied, you should always check references, have your vendors explain how the process works and get an accurate timeframe on returning the file.
As in all e-communications, this question will be debated for years to come, as it has and will continue to be with political phone calls. Spam is generally understood as being from a commercial entity and not a political entity.
It is important to note that all e-communications must give the recipient the ability to unsubscribe from the mailing. In most cases the unsubscribe rate of political messages is less than ½ of 1%. If people do not wish to receive the updates, they will either unsubscribe or delete the message. Additionally, you are targeting an audience that will most likely be receptive to your message and it is more likely they the individuals will at least open the e-mail. But in the end, people will make their own decisions as to whether they want to receive future updates.
E-mail Communications vs. Conventional Communications Methods
It is important reiterate that e-mail is a supplement to an effective direct mail and communications program. These programs should never combat each other but rather complement each other to create a dynamic communications program that involves paid & earned media. An effective campaign team should be able to identify a specific issue to the target group and introduce all forms of communications to change the topic of discussion to what benefits the candidate.
An effective campaign will take control of the message and define the candidate's message. The message can be controlled by: placing strategic ad buys, hosting earned media events which should be followed up by a direct mail piece and ideally be coordinated with an e-mail blast. As there has been so much attention drawn to the issue, the e-mail is most effective at capturing more enthusiasm, raising more money and recruiting more volunteers. Each piece is an essential key to success. However, e-mail allows a greater ability to interact as individuals can be guided back to the website more effectively than other forms of communication.
The Value of E-mail in Politics
E-communication and e-mail acquisition is changing how campaigns communicate with the electorate. As November quickly approaches and more yard signs pop up across the country, we will also see new and creative means of communicating. E-communication has become a vital aspect of each campaign season and will continue to grow in its popularity as decision makers realize its value.
As there are on any side of an argument, opposing views may downplay the effects of e-communications upon a campaign; however, it would be very difficult to debate the millions of dollars raised by both Democratic and Republican '04 Presidential candidates with the click of button.
By integrating a successful e-communication program with conventional methods of communications, candidates, consultants and staffers have a clear advantage over their opponents. They can spread a message quickly, respond to attacks faster, raise money more effectively, mobilize volunteers swiftly and advertise with less expense. These ingredients all come together to create the infrastructure for a successful campaign. Now go find a great candidate to make it a winning campaign!