Campaign Mailers: Getting Started with Political Mail

by Sophie Thurber

Red mail box with letters in front of it - Campaign Mailers

Campaign Mailers - A Holistic Approach 

The world of campaign mailers is varied and complex, but don’t let that stop you from sending rad mail that gets you noticed. We’ve pulled together some things for you to think about as you start to pin down exactly how your campaign’s mail program is going to take shape.

Six Questions to Ask Before You Send Campaign Mailers

Before you create and send campaign mailers, ask these five questions to lay the groundwork for a winning direct mail campaign.

1. Do you need a direct mail consultant?

For mid-size and larger political campaigns (generally speaking, campaigns with an overall budget of $50,000 or more), it might be best to use a direct mail consultant to produce the campaign mailers for you. Do you have the extra time to learn the ins and outs of producing great campaign mailers? If not, and if you have budget to dedicate to the right mail consultant, you probably do need to hire out for this. Remember, not all mail consultants are the same, so do your homework, including price comparisons, reference checks and thorough interviews. For most small campaigns, it won’t make sense to hire campaign consultants from a budget standpoint, but even then, you want to make sure you talk to people who have experience in the world of campaign mailers. 

2. What is your campaign theme?

Your campaign theme should be the centerpiece of your communications—the umbrella under which all of your message points can be united. What are the issues you’re running on? What is the focus of your campaign? Are you running on reining in out-of-control spending at city hall or are you focusing your campaign on giving back to the community? Your theme should be woven throughout your campaign mailers to create a cohesive program.

3. What is the story you want to tell?

Many campaigns will message solely around issues and don’t include much information about the candidates themselves. With your campaign mailers, you want to tell a story about the candidate. Where are they from? Are they a lifelong resident of the area?  How does the candidate relate to voters? Creating a narrative that links the candidate as a real person to voters and their everyday lives will go a long way on the campaign trail. Using testimonials from community members, as well as emphasizing relatability will give voters a better understanding of your candidate and a substantive reason to vote for them. 

4. Who makes up your targeted universe and how will you tailor your mail to them?

When using voter databases and other technology, campaign mailers can be targeted by (among many other options) demographics, geographic regions, vote history. The people you are targeting make up your mail universe(s). Make sure you know who each piece of campaign mail is meant to reach and tailor it to that particular audience. Also, even though you might be targeting a specific audience like women, seniors, or a certain neighborhood, make sure you really adhere to your overall theme to create consistency and stay on message. And of course, tailor within reason—direct mail can’t be everything to everyone, and you also are unlikely to be able to splice your audience every way you might want to if money weren’t an option. Target and tailor to reach and resonate with the widest audience possible. Ultimately, everything you do in your campaign should come back to your vote goal. When deciding if you need political mailers, the question really needs to be, can I knock on enough doors or persuade enough voters through other mediums to win?

5. Do you know what you need to about the campaign mail process?

Executing a campaign mail program involves a lot of moving parts, from coordinating with graphic designers to print and mail shops and the USPS. It’s important (even if you are working with a consultant) to have a basic understanding of how the process is going to work, especially as it relates to timelines and where your input will be required. How will your campaign or your consulting team create each piece? Will the campaign mailers be professionally proofread (there are far too many examples of people skipping this step to their detriment!), and are there other processes in place to ensure mail goes out sans mistakes? Do you care whether your mail is printed in a particular state or city? Knowing the process inside and out will help your campaign dramatically. 

6. How competitive is my race?

Another important consideration when determining if you need political mailers is how competitive you anticipate the race to be. For instance, if you are running in an uncompetitive primarily but gearing up for a competitive general election, it’s probably wiser for you to spend your money on political mailers in the general election rather than in the primary. If you are running in an uncontested race, it may be worthwhile to hold onto your money for a more competitive race down the road. But, if you are running in what you reasonably expect to be a competitive race, consider investing in political mailers.

Think Through Your Full Budget and Plan Holistically

Running for office requires quite a bit of planning. We’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, it’s important to have a campaign budget with realistic fundraising goals. But how do you know what portion of your budget should go to political mailers? Unfortunately, there’s no magic number. That being said, there is an industry standard you can use as a starting point. It’s generally considered a best practice to allocate a minimum of 70 percent of your budget to direct voter contact. That means everything else, from pens and office space to yard signs, should be no more than 30% of your budget. If you are considering diverting any of that 70 percent away from direct voter contact, think long and hard about exactly why you’re doing it.

Do campaign mailers count as direct voter contact? Absolutely! While I would caution anyone away from using campaign mailers as their only form of direct voter contact, they can be an effective tool to reach many voters.

Finding the right balance of tactics for direct voter contact is more of an art, and generally individual to your race, geography, district, local politics, budget-level and targeted voter. I think campaign mailers have more utility today than many people give them credit for, but they aren’t the panacea that will turn your losing campaign into a winning one. Striking the right balance of door-knocking, phone calls, political mailers, events and digital ads will be unique to your situation, and may change throughout the course of your race as campaign dynamics shift and Election Day approaches.

Let’s Talk About Formats

Campaign mailers come in all shapes and sizes, and those shapes and sizes impact cost, production timelines and sometimes the impact at the mailbox. There are a lot of different options to choose from, but as you consider whether you need an 8.5 x 11 or a custom die cut piece, make sure you’re making that choice within the context of your budget and what you think the ROI will be at the mailbox (i.e. will a crazy die cut get enough attention at the mailbox that you’ll achieve something beyond what the more standard and cost-effective size would get you?). The sizes detailed here are not crazy one of a kind formats (we love those and have done our fair share of them but this post is dedicated to formats we do relatively often that work great on most budgets). 

The 8.5 x 11 Postcard

This is the workhorse of political mailers, and probably represents the bulk of what most of our clients send out (there’s a bulk mail joke in there somewhere!). It’s a great size that is clear, provides ample space for copy, is easy to read, and it stands out in the mailbox.

The 11 x 17 Two-Fold

We use this size for both political and advocacy mailers. It’s great if you’ve got a lot of copy and the folds provide a natural way to visually break it up and make it manageable for most readers.

The 4 x 6 Postcard

For small campaigns, this postcard used to be a must, but many have moved away from it because it can’t be consultant-driven—it needs to really be an organic part of a campaign in order to work well. The campaign needs to send them out themselves. It is a tried and true tactic that is inexpensive and still works well.

Letter Packages (Sometimes with a Reply Device)

Letter packages can be a great way to communicate with voters and can be used in a number of ways. For voter registration of any format, you need a BRM letter package. If you’re hoping to get comments or build a list outside of the digital realm, letter packages are an effective way to do that as well. In fact, testing shows that an ugly, governmental looking black and white letter package has a higher response rate than other formats. BRM and Sharemail both work as USPS reply device options, and you’ll want to talk with your consultant about which makes the most sense for your program. NOTE: Letter packages, especially with reply devices typically take longer to produce, so you’ll want to make sure you give your campaign time and start talking with your team about this format early. This is especially true if you want to incorporate any response data into the planning for the rest of your program.

The 9 x 20 One-Fold

This is another folded option that is large enough to accommodate good design and a reasonable amount of copy. Beware the copy monster for your campaign mailers! You don’t have to fill all the white space. Another thing to think about with any folded piece is whether you want it secured by a glue dot or a sticker (or if you care).

The 11 x 17 One-Fold

Big and beautiful—these pieces stand out. We don’t do these all the time, but they’re a great way to stand out, especially if you use the inside for an image-forward design.


The short version of this whole thing?

  • Hiring a consultant to do your campaign mailers probably makes sense if your campaign budget is over $50K.
  • Direct voter contact should make up 70 percent of your budget, and campaign mailers will probably be one of a few tactics you should employ.
  • If you send campaign mailers, they should be designed with a few things in mind:
    • Your overarching campaign theme
    • The voters in your target audience
    • You goals for the direct mail portion of your voter contact program
  • Get clear on the process and timeline for the development of your campaign mailers.
  • Choose formats that work for your program goals and budget.

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