Tully Message Box: Use It For Your Political Campaign

by Joe Fuld

Tully message box people with colorful message bubbles

Tully Message Box: The Foundation of a Winning Political Campaign

The Tully message box, also just called a message box, is a simple tool that campaigns have been using for years. A message box can be used to create a specific theme, message, and strategy. Named for Democratic strategist Paul Tully, the Tully message box helps to visually break down four important components that will help any campaign craft their communications. 

The beauty of the Tully message box is its simplicity. You don’t have to be a highly experienced political strategist to game out the message of your political campaign.  Using this tool can you an idea of what would happen if you take control of the campaign conversation and what would happen if your opposition takes control of the conversation. There will be plenty of back and forth during your campaign, and you can be ready for that. The back and forth dialogue of a campaign is built-in to the exercise. 

Save time and money: 

Beyond being only a messaging tool, the message box is also a helpful organizational tool. It allows you to put likely messages all in one place before you spend any money on polling or research. This gives you the chance to see if you have enough information on the best messages or if there are missing components. 

Does it take the place of polling or opposition research? 

A message box will not take the place of a poll or opposition research but doing the message box exercise will make your polling and research better by informing what questions you should be focusing on. It is the homework you need to do before you start your polling or research. 

What if I can’t do a poll? 

If you can’t do a poll because the district is too small or polling does not make sense for your race, the discipline of a message box can be even more helpful. Without polling, the message box activity will inform which messages will likely resonate best in your race, and it will be a reminder to you which messages you want to stick to in order to stay on track.  

What type of campaign will a message box work for? 

A Tully message box is an important tool for any kind of campaign to use. No matter if it’s a ballot measure, a candidate running for office, or an organization advocating for a particular issue. Truly, any campaign can benefit from a little message planning.

Below we break down the four big questions the Tully message box asks. When doing this exercise with your campaign, we recommend laying them out in quadrants in order to visualize the elements that will make up your message.

Q1: What do we say about us?

The first part of the message box asks the question, “What do we say about us?” This is where your stump speech talking points come in. All of your policy priorities, goals, etc. fall into this box. This is what the conversation would be if your opponent were silent. This is the message we want voters to hear about us.

Q2: What do we say about them?

The second box asks, “What do we say about them?”  This box can be tricky to complete. It’s better to use this box with an eye toward what you would say publicly. Remember to be contrastive and critical; factual, not catty. While that spirit and passion can certainly come in handy, it’s not the most productive use of this box. Sometimes candidates use what comes out of this box as the start of a rapid response press release, or even a tweet.

Q3: What do they say about us?

The third box is often the easiest to complete, because it asks, “What do they say about us?’ Often, we are very familiar with the content of our critics’ barbs, so use this box to enumerate them.

Q4: What do they say about themselves?

Finally, the fourth box is what your opponents say about themselves. This is where you can puppet your opponents’ talking points and predict their response to your campaign. Use this box to really put yourself in the oppositions’ shoes and take the time to anticipate their attacks.

Each of these boxes does not need to be made up of beautifully curated paragraphs. The goal is to get the gist of your message and their message.

When do I put together a message box?

As soon as you can when you begin to think about running for office. It will help you get on track and define a good message to start with for early canvasing and fundraising. 
Who should be in the room? Putting together a message box is not a one-person job. Having more people helping you work through this will mean having more voices to create and define a robust campaign message. When working on messaging, it’s always better to have a variety of perspectives (remember, all your voters won’t think the same way).

How long does it take? 

Don’t rush it. A message box can’t be done in 20 minutes. Building a solid message box that will actually be helpful takes a couple hours, but it is a worthy investment. 

How does it work in a primary?  

In a primary, you may have multiple opponents. Expand the number of boxes or group the opposition messages in one box. But make sure you still define your message and your opponents’ message.

How does it work in a general election?  

A message box works in a general election the same way it does in a primary: defining the differences between opponents in a clear way. In a general election, you will probably only have one opponent.

Where do I start?

Gather the people you trust to work with you on your campaign and start with the first question. As you go into it, make sure you are being honest, and maybe even a little harsh, with yourself. This will help you build a strong message. Before you begin your next campaign, take the time to run through this Tully message box exercise. It will prove helpful to your campaign’s messaging and communications and to its overall success. 

Tully Message Box Help? Have questions about developing messages for an advocacy, membership or political campaign? Drop us a note-