Mail consultants are seeing more engagement with their pieces and, in some cases, better responses to direct mail fundraising appeals. But overall, they’re facing a host of challenges this cycle from delivery concerns to designing vote-by-mail explainers to weighing mask versus no mask wearing in their creative.
Given how partisan mask wearing and pandemic-related rules have become, Republicans are having to make a more difficult creative calculation.
“We’ve definitely got a lot of trepidation from clients who just don’t know which way to go given that somehow mask wearing and things like that have become so partisan now. ‘Am I going to offend this person, am I going to make this person happy?’” said Chris Russell of Checkmate Strategies during a session at C&E’s Creative Summit online conference.
Mask or no mask might seem like less of an issue on the left, where Democrats or those who lean Democratic report being more likely to wear one. Instead, the issue is one of logistics: simple getting the visuals needed for the mail pieces is hard during the pandemic, said Kara Turrentine of Turrency Political.
“It’s very difficult to get folks together to do a shoot. You have to have people generally willing to open up their homes, or to get studio time, or travel to various locations,” she said.
Turrentine is opting not to feature the pandemic in most of her mail’s creative — that means candidates will be featured largely without masks.
“We’ve done a lot of single shoots with just the candidate and really relied on the copy and the text to tell the story about how we’re dealing with the pandemic,” she said. “I think that’s been important because we need the candidate to be identifiable, and the one thing about masks is you don’t know who’s under there.”
The bottom line with creative this cycle, according to Teisha Garrett who runs fundraising mail efforts at Run the World Digital, is timeliness.
“You’ve got to move forward because things are changing so rapidly to get people’s attention,” she said.
But timeliness can be an issue for mail pieces this cycle given delivery issues: “I am concerned about the post office,” said Garrett, who has recommended the use of first-class postage for some of her clients. “We’ve definitely seen deliverability issues with third-class mail since the beginning of the pandemic.”
Turrentine said she’s been padding in the timeline of her client's mail: “We’ve tried to really monitor what our printers are saying in terms of when they can get things out — because a lot of times we’ll have our printer deliver directly to the post office,” she said.
Russell said his work around to any delivery delays has been drop-shipping mail bundles directly to smaller destination delivery units (DDUs) in the district. But that of course brings added costs for the client.
In New Jersey, where Russell is based, residents will start receiving their mail-in ballots after Sept. 20th.
“Election Day is Sept. 21st and then every day thereafter,” he said. “You have to look at a campaign that way. You no longer have to worry about squeezing that last mail piece in at the end.”
One piece that is causing some headaches is educating the recipient on the vote-by-mail process. Imagine one side of a mailer with creative and headline copy while a good portion of the back of the mailer is focused on the educational component.
“It sometimes looks a little ugly, from my standpoint as a mail guy,” he said. “I get a little queasy when I see it, but at the same time it’s what we need to provide people this comfort level that we’re providing an education for them on how to vote.”
When it comes to voter education, Republicans have the added challenge of the president decrying vote by mail as a process ripe for fraud. Aaron Evans, a GOP consultant with WRS, said he was recently in the middle of a campaign to get Republicans to vote early by mail when the president started railing against vote by mail.
“Then all of a sudden our text line blows up and it’s all of these Republicans texting us,” said Evans. “It’s typically not a winning strategy to try to battle the president with the Republican base on who’s right or who’s wrong.”
Instead, Evans said he worked to get the message out that voters “can trust our local election system.”