Do You Have an Independent Expenditure Strategy?

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Define Your Independent Expenditure Strategy Before You Start

When running an independent expenditure campaign, it’s important that you develop an independent expenditure strategy that accomplishes your goals. We’ve written in the past about tips for running an independent expenditure campaign, but now it’s time to get into specifics about how to be strategic about your campaign.

Although the “independent” in independent expenditure generally means that you cannot be in communication with the candidate or their campaign, in many cases it is permittable for you to examine the campaign’s strategy and messaging from the outside and plan your program accordingly. However, it’s critical that you talk to an elections lawyer about what publicly available campaign information you can and cannot use in your independent expenditure campaign. There are four main goals that an independent expenditure campaign can accomplish, all of which should aim to fill holes that exist in the campaign’s communications.


  1. Making a Contrast

One of the most common types of messaging that is absent from a candidate’s campaign is contrastive messaging. Especially in primaries or local campaigns where all candidates are well known or well-liked by community members, it can be tricky for a candidate campaign to run contrastive ads. This is a great opportunity for an independent expenditure to step in and fill this hole. For example, an independent expenditure run by an environmental group may run a communications program that contrasts the environmental voting record of the candidate they support with the record of their opponent. This draws attention to the opponent’s record, without this message having to come from the campaign itself.


  1. Communicating a Specific Message

 Another effective independent expenditure strategy is to communicate a specific message to constituents. Often, a candidate’s campaign has countless positions on a variety of issues, all of which they would like to communicate to voters. However, the campaign must make tough decisions and focus their communications on a small subset of issues to make sure there’s enough message repetition to break through. An independent expenditure could help draw focus to a specific issue that isn’t the candidate campaign’s primary focus. For example, an independent expenditure run by an environmental group may focus on the candidate’s positive voting record on issues related to the environment and how he or she has been a longtime member and leader in their local environmental organization.


  1. Reaching a Specific Audience

Similarly, it is impossible for candidate campaigns to communicate with everyone, so they will inevitably have to make difficult choices about which groups to target their messaging to. An effective expenditure campaign strategy is to communicate with a specific audience that the campaign does not have the resources to focus on. For example, an environmental organization may pursue an independent expenditure strategy that focuses on communicating with voters who score high on a climate change model. In this case, the goal of the I.E. campaign might be GOTV, but the messaging would focus on climate change and the environment in order to appeal to this particular segment.


  1.  Advertising on a Neglected Communications Medium

Similarly, every candidate campaign has to make hard decisions about which communications mediums to focus their efforts on. An independent expenditure can work to identify if there is a medium that the candidate has not invested their advertising dollars in, and focus their I.E. efforts on filling that hole. For example, an independent expenditure may see that a candidate’s campaign budget is too small to purchase TV ads, and hear from their neighbors that the campaign’s communications spending is going to mailers and digital advertising. If an independent expenditure has the resources to fill this gap, this could be a great opportunity to use TV ads to echo the messaging the campaign is using in their mailers and digital ads.

To boil it all down to one simple statement: focus on what the candidate’s campaign can’t do, not what it can do. Have more questions about creating and running an independent expenditure campaign? Reach out to us at The Campaign Workshop!

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Independent Expenditure

I.E. Campaigns, Independent Expenditure Campaigns, Strategic Communications, Independent Expenditure Best Practices, Independent expenditure strategy