Ballot Measures and Direct Mail: Know Your Medium
Ballot Measures Are Complicated, Direct Mail Is Not
Ah the land of ballot measures. It can be a complex, rocky terrain full of accusations of unforeseen consequences and government-run slush funds. Because of that, the messaging around ballot measures can get complicated, often requiring both a positive thrust and a set of careful inoculations (though you may also get lucky and just get to shout “Vote NO” at the top of your lungs and call it a day).
Complexity and nuance are key ingredients to a successful ballot initiative, but they have a time and a place and are ultimately dependent on medium (there’s only so much space on a mailer or time in a TV spot, so the amount of information you convey should reflect those constraints).
One of the mistakes I’ve seen across numerous ballot measures is when campaigns approach the content of a piece of direct mail as an opportunity to cram every piece of that nuance onto an 8.5 x 11 postcard. Direct mail is a great messenger, but it’s not the medium for communicating every facet of your message. If you have the budget, direct mail can be used to illuminate a lot of your messaging for voters, but that really means the campaign has to have both the time and funds to build out a large, multi-piece program, potentially segmenting for smaller universes where it’s been deemed strategically important to include a specific subset of your messaging.
If you’re not in that position (say you have budget for three pieces of mail), you should think of your direct mail program as an important layer of communication meant to reinforce the other parts of your campaign where you may have more room to delve into the nitty-gritty of the issue. This means carefully choosing the images and language you’re using to make the best case you can for your ballot measure campaign for the widest audience possible. It’s hard, but your mail program will be much stronger if you make those tough choices. Using 10 photos and five paragraphs on a piece will (generally) leave it jumbled, emotionally unconnected, and unlikely to do its job with voters.
At the end of the day, a ballot measure campaign’s direct mail program should keep it simple and connect the issue back to the community. It’s likely that your mail won’t be where your more nuanced, complex talking points live, and that’s OK! It’s more important to understand the medium and use it with an understanding of its limitations as well as what it’s really great for. Choose great images, lead with your most powerful message, and don’t overload the paper.
Want to brush up on your direct mail basics? Check out our Glossary for Political Direct Mail to build an even stronger direct mail program for your next ballot measure.