How to go negative in the 21st century
“Hi, I’m a Mac. And I’m a PC.”
How many times have we heard these words? For us political junkies who set our DVRs to record ads and not programs, Apple’s pioneering ad campaign holds a valuable lesson in the brave new world of influencing voters.
The last time I looked, some stunned PC makers have seen a plunge in market share, while Apple revenues are way up. How many candidates do you know who would love to see increases like that in their next survey.
What Apple did is a textbook example of how to go negative in the 21st century. They gave their product a personality. And if you thought branding a candidate was hard, try breathing life into 4GB of RAM, 1680×1050 pixels and a 2.6GHz processor. At the same time, they managed to brand their opponent “PC” as a stale has-been (read: “career politician”). And they did it all with a creative, light-hearted approach—unlike the ominous music and grainy photos so common in politics.
The next time your campaign decides to go negative, think of Apple’s success and the new rules it reveals.
After years of cookie-cutter creative and low production quality, Americans have become predisposed to tuning out most political ads.
To do them right, forget what every other campaign is doing. Be unique. Take a risk. Air a spot that grabs attention. After all, if you don’t have a voter’s attention, how will you ever be able to persuade him or her?
As Apple is proving, never underestimate the power of subtlety and humor. Voters aren’t stupid. They’ll get it.
Stick to a simple message.
Too many times, political ad makers pack too many messages into a negative spot. Typically, it’s a fast-paced hit-list that everyone loves. Everyone except the voter. They’re left trying to pick through the political piñata that just exploded in their family room.
Keep your message focused and talk to voters in their language, not in Washington-ese.
Draw the comparison fairly.
In the time it takes to watch a negative ad, anyone with an Internet connection can find out how accurate you’ve been. If you’re not communicating the information fair and square, expect pushback.
Every good negative ad has three attributes. It is well-documented and backed up by facts, not hearsay; relevant (to the voter, not you); and well-timed in the context of the campaign.
Whether it’s Mac vs. PC, right vs. left, Republican vs. Democrat, the rules for going negative have changed.
Robert W. Aho is vice president of BrabenderCox, a GOP media firm.
How to defend yourself from dirty tricksBy Cathy Allen
You know they’re coming: the negative attacks and slimy moves that give politics a bad name. Lately it’s been rolling websites created to look like they’re produced by your campaign, only they’re renegade sites that tell lies or not-quite-truthful stories about the candidate.
Your best defense against dirty tricks is knowing what to expect and being ready for anything. Here’s how to guard against even the lowest blows:
Pick a team of your most creative and objective people to come up with a process for handling absolutely anything that comes up.
Practice that process on smaller problems or what looks like a dirty trick coming your way. Get used to handling trouble before you get dealt a big one.
Manage the candidate’s appearance and stress after a negative hit. Sometimes you need to avoid the camera; other times you need to be in front of it and very much in control of the situation.
Know how much money you can spare to respond to any negative or set-up. Contributors are especially anxious to pony up another contribution if it means countering a dirty trick or attack.
Determine objectively the impact a dirty trick has had on the campaign. Do not overreact by acting like a victim and overplaying your response.
Catch yourself before a dirty trick undermines your momentum. Don’t be obsessed with one negative; watch for others to be launched from other fronts.
Get back to your message. She who sets the agenda, especially in the final days of a campaign, is much more likely to win.
Follow this advice, and you’ll not only stave off dirty tricks, you’ll turn them into an opportunity to strengthen your own agenda.
Cathy Allen is president of the Connections Group, a political consulting firm. She is also the communications chairwoman of the American Association of Political Consultants and has written five books on winning political campaigns.
How to manage your voter file
By Bob Blaemire
It took a long time, but now nearly everyone gets it: a good campaign requires a good voter file. That’s a welcome development for all of us in the business of political targeting and voter contact. But, as they say, the devil is in the details. Here are some keys to getting and managing the kind of voter file that helps win elections.
Know where to get a high quality voter file.
From a planning perspective, it helps to understand the options and make your decision early in the campaign cycle. There is no reason for a campaign to re-invent the wheel by creating a voter file from scratch. That takes time, shifts the focus away from developing a good campaign strategy and rarely results in cost-savings that are worth the effort.
Though the state party may be the place to go for your voter file, it’s critical to understand precisely what you’re getting before you buy anything. The base cost should not be the sole criterion when selecting a voter file for your campaign. You should seriously consider factors like customer service, data quality, hygiene, in-cycle updates and the data handling tools. Also, make sure you talk to previous users of the state party file before you write a check.
Beyond the state party, voter file vendors offer plenty of options, including specialty lists, modeling and a wide range of business and political experience. Be tough and thorough when assessing vendors’ service options. And get assurances the vendor can provide in-house voter file expertise. Your vendor should have the deep bench strength, voter-file knowledge and internal resources to answer any question your campaign has about the data.
Know the kind of data you need.
Every campaign requires certain basic information: current name, address, age, party (in party registration states), voter history and political geography. However, you should think ahead about those issues relevant to your specific campaign and decide which data sets can help you better find your targets: those voters who are more likely to respond to your campaign based on an issue.
For instance, if classroom size in the public schools is your issue, you need to be able to find households most likely to have school-age children. If rent control is your issue, knowing who rents and who owns is critical. The potential list is endless. Don’t be penny wise and pound foolish. Trying to save money that prevents you from being efficient in your targeting and voter contact actually costs you more in the end.
Know when to have the voter file available.
If you believe that good planning leads to good results, then the answer is obvious: Make your voter file decision early in the campaign cycle. You’ll not only save time and money over the long haul, but will avoid uncertainty and exasperation in the middle of the campaign. A file created late in the cycle may prevent you from doing effective direct mail or phone programs when you need them most. Walk lists produced without adequate time to the program will hurt your effort.
A good voter file lets you make early, responsive and accurate targeting decisions within and among the groups your campaign has identified. Remember, these decisions will have an impact on program budgets. A strong file allows for better budgeting and decision-making because it puts counts, lists and targeted universes at your fingertips.
Bob Blaemire is president of Blaemire Communications (which recently merged with Catalist LLC), a firm that develops voter files for Democrats and progressive organizations.
How to get paid—Not stiffed By Liz Welsh
Has it ever happened to you? You delivered on the goods and services, but you never got paid? While there may be a small percentage of consultants who are glad to take the write-off and a tax deduction for uncollectible revenues, most of us need that dough. Besides, we worked hard, and that’s our money.
So here are three “musts” for those of us who want to get paid without resorting to a collection agency:
Get it in writing.
Create a work agreement that is signed by both you and the client. You can find standard contracts online, but at least have a template reviewed by your own attorney.
Collect up front.
Your work agreement won’t help you if the client “disappears” after Election Day. Rule of thumb: Don’t do anything more costly than “thinking” until you get at least some money up front. (If you are a strategist and get paid for thinking, try not to even think without a deposit!) No matter what, don’t create design, buy media time, print, pay for postage or start making phone calls without having collected something in advance.
Do what you say and they’re more likely to pay.
Execute on your promises, and do quality work. This doesn’t guarantee a win every time, but a consultant must always perform what was promised in that Work Agreement (back to step 1) and perform it well. Make your recommendations with the campaign’s success at the forefront—not just your bottom line. This means that a recommendation that doesn’t make you a lot of money but can win the election will pay off for you with more credibility and respect, as well as more referrals and more money in the long run.
Another thing to watch for is this: Sometimes consultants overextend themselves and make mistakes. None of us ever intends to drop the ball, but it happens. Be careful about that. Make sure your staff knows to look for the things you would look for so that a mistake doesn’t happen—a perfect photo of your candidate, except for the bush behind him that makes him look like he has horns coming out of his head…or a poll that goes to a sample from the wrong district… or a fantastic robo call that cued for 1:00 a.m. instead of 1:00 p.m. (these are all true stories from the campaign trail). When you do make errors, take responsibility for them, and put measures in place to ensure they don’t happen often.
Do these three things (oh, make that four things—don’t let a check sit in your desk drawer—get it in the bank!) and hopefully the only “stiff” you’ll get is a well deserved cocktail at the campaign’s victory party!
Liz Welsh is president of Executive Communications, Inc., whose website is at www.political911.com.