Navigating the Pros and Cons of Political Yard Signs
Political yards signs are everywhere during elections—and we all like them as much as the next political junkie, but very early on we were taught that POLITICAL YARD SIGNS DON’T VOTE. We have heard all of the excuses of why your city is different and unique, and that if you don’t have more campaign yard signs than your opponent, you will lose. Reality check: it has been our experience that this is absolutely not true.
First off, there is no such thing as a cheap yard sign. This might be hard to hear and sometimes even understand, but it will help you spend your limited resources much more effectively. Political yard signs can average about $2 - $2.50 apiece depending on how fancy you are trying to get. Now multiply that by a couple hundred and it begins to add up very quickly.
The money that you use on over-ordering political yard signs could be used on another direct mail piece, another paid canvassing session, digital ads, or even a robocall – all things that are direct voter contact and more worth your donors’ investment. That’s not to mention the time you’ll save not obsessing over them that can be used fundraising and talking to more voters.
Guess what? No matter what we say, you will buy campaign signs. We are not saying you shouldn’t buy any political yard signs at all – just be smart about it. We’ve rounded up our best tips when it comes to political yard signs so you can incorporate them into your campaign smartly and efficiently.
Have a strategy
This needs to be more than you and your buddy putting up political yard signs in every illegal right-of-way. Have a clear goal for your sign campaign (hint: that goal is not simply name recognition).
Plan in advance
Political yard signs can often take 5-10 days for production and may be produced with a local printer or at one of the larger regional specialized shops around the country. Be sure to account for shipping time if you don’t choose a local vendor.
Design & color
Since political yard signs are most often screen-printed, the design should be simple if you’re looking to be most cost-effective. Stick with simple graphics and typography for best results and stay away from complex images and photographs. Screen printing is mostly commonly done in 1 or 2 colors only. The resolution is quite low for screen printing which is why graphics should be simple. Most screen vendors also have a number of standard colors they use, and it is most cost-efficient to choose one of their standard colors. Most vendors can accommodate a PMS match, but this will likely incur an additional cost. This is a good place to use a bold color that will be strongly identified with your campaign to set your political yard signs apart. Consider readability at a distance (yellow generally isn’t good to use for type, for example) as well as an easy to read font. Also, don't use a photo. Photos don't print well on many yard signs and if you like the way your photo looks now, you won’t like it when it goes through rain and snowstorms.
We are seeing more and more highway signs on the streets during election season. These are sometimes digitally printed with images, which are generally more expensive, per sign, than screen printed signs, and will not be as durable and weather resistant. They can be very eye-catching, however. We’ve even seen ones that have unique cutouts and shapes.
Order once but not too much
It can be tempting and convenient to order a large quantity of political yard signs to get a price break, but that larger quantity can be a budget buster and that extra box could become a doorstop for your campaign office.
Political yard signs don't vote—people do. Use signs to motivate your positive IDs who would otherwise be only somewhat likely to turn out and vote.
Know the law
Don't break the law. Some people think it is fun to steal lawn signs or put campaign signs in illegal places. Fines and lawsuits are not fun and are bad for your candidate. Don't do it.
Choose your locations
Whether your strategy is based on a voter profile or the importance of a particular geographic location, you want to be in control of choosing where your yard signs go. Campaign signs are a limited resource and you should prioritize their placement based on your larger strategy.
Say no to the sign war
Campaign signs will get stolen, fall down, and disappear. Don't let it ruin your life. You have more important things to worry about, like communicating a real message to voters. Focus on that.
Be mindful of time
Campaign signs done the right way takes time management. The candidate might think spending time putting up signs is a good use of resources, but it is usually not. Have a plan, that is not driven by the candidate themselves and tracks how much time it takes to place signs. Be strategic about where good sign placements should be and get the signs put up in those locations.
Have a GOTV campaign sign plan
Early vote and Election Day mean an increased need for yard signs. Have a real plan for how many signs you will need, when you will put them out and who will actually put them out during this time period. If you don’t make this an afterthought, you will be able to prioritize real voter contact over signs.
Costs of political yard signs
As we get closer to Election Day you see campaign yard signs in medians, on light poles, and in yards, but what is the real cost to the campaigns that put up the signs? The question candidates and managers wrestle with is: what is the yard sign cost vs. its value? Using political yard signs is really a strategic question. How big is the area you running in? Is this a low information or high information race? The return on investment (ROI) of a yard sign can be low to begin with, but once you calculate the time a yard sign program costs, the true ROI diminishes even further. A political yard sign program can take away from other things you really have to do in a campaign. Bottom line, it’s a huge time commitment.
People, time, and money matter
Every hour you or a volunteer spends on yard signs is an hour away from something else in the campaign. One sign takes on average 5 minutes to confirm, 5 minutes to assemble, and 10 minutes to place. So, 2,000 yard signs will take you 666 hours of volunteer time. If you multiply that by $15 an hour you come up with a value of $10,000. Add that to the cost of a sign and you have a total of $18,000 for 2,000-yard signs.
Now calculate the cost of a door knock. If you are looking to knock 2,000 doors and you knock on 20 doors in an hour, that’s $20.30 volunteer value per hour.
Here are the true costs for a volunteer sign program
$0.30 for literature, $15 for an hour of volunteer canvassing, and $5 to recruit a volunteer to canvass.
That's an actual cost of $1 per door and $9 per yard sign. So, which you should be spending your time on?
If you spent the same amount of time organizing volunteers for door knocking as you do for yard signs, you will make a real difference in persuading and turning out voters. At best with a sign program, you will increase name ID without any persuasion. Is it worth it?
To calculate the true cost of political yard signs, check out our Yard Sign Calculator here. Political yard signs are likely to be a part of your campaign, and we hope this helps guide you into using them as efficiently as possible.