Direct Mail for Independent Expenditures

by Elena Veatch

Independent Direct mail piece  15 selfies of the candidate Peggy West

Independent Expenditure Direct Mail: Leverage Social Media in Campaign Mail

An 8.5 x 11 piece  of direct mail may not sound like a thrilling medium for relaying your campaign message to voters at first blush, but direct mail leaves a lot of room for creativity. In fact, if you’re running an independent expenditure (IE) campaign, mail can be one of the most effective ways to make a difference for the candidate you’re supporting. What’s more, your mail doesn’t have to be disconnected from the digital sphere—mail and social media can be the perfect complements to make your messaging stand out.

Case Study: Milwaukee County Mail

In 2018, social media played a prominent role in one of our direct mail programs in Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. We designed mail in a nonpartisan race for an IE in support of a candidate who was challenging an incumbent county executive. It was a spring primary election that we knew would only garner a couple thousand votes at most. With turnout expected to be low, we also anticipated that the candidates wouldn’t be doing a ton of fundraising or spending much on direct voter contact. This meant that our IE direct mail could essentially be the only communication voters would receive about the candidates in an election most of them knew little about. In other words, we had a lot of room to get creative and make a real impact with our mail.

In our research, we noticed three main things about the incumbent: 1) she had skipped several important committee meetings, 2) she had consistently voted to cut funding for county services, and 3) she had posted an unusually high volume of selfies on her campaign Facebook page. This confluence of factors laid the groundwork for one of our favorite TCW pieces of 2018—one that ended up winning a Pollie award as well as a Reed award for best mail piece for a local, county, or municipal IE campaign.

For this mailer, we featured 27 selfies from the incumbent’s campaign Facebook page on the front to show that she was far more interested in herself than her constituents (with the headline driving home the point that she was too “focused on her selfie”). This mailer was memorable to voters from what we heard on the ground, and it was ultimately effective in helping our candidate defeat the incumbent by just 213 votes in the April election.

Linking Direct Mail and Social Media in Your IE Communications 

Our enthusiasm at The Campaign Workshop for direct mail is sometimes met with raised eyebrows from organizations and candidates (not to mention from our families and friends who would definitely pretend not to know us if this topic came up in any social setting). We get it—in an increasingly digital world, sending pieces of mail to voters may seem like an antiquated and ineffective way to reach them. Mail sounds stale when there are flashier ways to engage voters online these days, but there are plenty of ways to make your pieces stand out. More importantly, the research shows that when it comes to persuading folks and increasing turnout in elections, direct mail remains one of the most tried-and-true methods for doing so (as we discuss here). Finding ways to harness the power of social media in your IE mail can potentially make the medium even more effective.

Building a strong IE direct mail program (check out our general IE campaign tips here) is all about being strategic and finding ways to think outside the box to add value to the campaign you’re working to support. As was the case for our 2018 Milwaukee County program, turning to social media can be a great way to find inspiration or inform your strategy for your IE mail. Giving social media a nod can make your direct mail more engaging, creative, and compelling. In building your IE mail program, we thus recommend keeping in mind the following:

  • You can pull photos from a campaign Facebook page to use in your direct mail (as we did in Milwaukee County, and as we do for most of our IE programs).
  • You can find a wealth of information about a candidate from social media that you likely wouldn’t find on their official website. If a candidate shares a crazy conspiracy theory on Facebook, for example (something they likely wouldn’t discuss on their “issues” page on their site), this could make for a great opportunity to poke fun at them for being out of touch in your mail.
  • You can see how people respond to Facebook ads to determine if you should send a piece of mail later in the campaign with the same messaging. The beauty of running social media ads is that you can always pause them if you’re seeing backlash from your target audience. If you have the time and budget to do so, test out a message with a Facebook ad before rolling it out to people’s mailboxes.

Do you have more questions about ways to get creative in leveraging the power of social media for direct mail in your independent expenditure campaign? Our team is happy to help!