With communities across the country issuing social distancing directives, it may seem like your campaign will be trapped in a holding pattern for the foreseeable future. While events and gatherings across your district are being shut down, you simply cannot afford to let this paralysis undermine your campaign’s ability to organize and get the message out.
Outside of paid traditional media, I have outlined some ways for you and your campaign to be productive during this challenging time. Time is your most precious resource on a campaign, and making the most out of this period will allow you to hit the ground running when we get on the other side of this crisis.
1. Hammer out your campaign strategy
If you have not already taken the time to do so, build out and reference a district analysis document that outlines the number of registered voters, past electoral information, and key demographic data in your district. If you have not already oriented yourself around who lives in your district and how many votes you need to win, you are behind and should make doing so a top priority.
Once you know who lives in your district, take the time to complete a Leesburg Grid that outlines: 1) what you need to say about your campaign, 2) what your campaign will say about your opponent, 3) what your opponent will say about themselves and 4) what your opponent’s campaign will say about you. Now is your time to prepare and as Sun Tzu might say, execute your campaign on favorable terrain.
You have an opportunity now to take some time and develop a communication and content calendar for your campaign that puts a framework around what you will say and when. Look at a calendar and identify opportunities to share certain parts of your agenda with voters at timely moments. You also have the time to begin producing the written and video content that will make your comms calendar actionable. A large portion of your video, email and text copy that relates to fundraising efforts, GOTV appeals, and policy positions can and should be prepared now. This will give you more time closer to election day to focus on direct voter contact.
2. Establish yourself as an engaged community leader
Every campaign should go through the routines of contacting and meeting with key stakeholders in the communities they are running to represent, but such outreach is now more important than ever. Local municipal officials, small business owners, non-profit organizers and faith leaders would all appreciate you taking an interest in their well-being. If you can hear from them directly about what their concerns are, you may be in a position to leverage your network and campaign channels of communication to raise awareness and solve problems at the community level.
3. Look for earned media opportunities and explore nontraditional media
Helping community leaders by getting the word out about supply shortages or new programs are a great opportunity for you and your campaign to make a difference and benefit from earned media opportunities.
Take the time to identify local radio shows, podcasts, blogs, and news outlets that you otherwise would not have the time to pitch and make yourself available for interview. As a candidate for public office that has presumably engaged with hundreds of members of the community during this challenging time, you bring a unique voice to the ongoing conversation.
4. Build and maintain your campaign organization
Take an opportunity to chart out the different ways people in your district come together and begin identifying members of these organizations that can be the voice of your campaign in their respective networks. Make a list of all the PTOs, country clubs, rotary organizations, chambers of commerce, church communities, youth sports organizations, and senior living centers in your district and write down the names of supporters you know that belong to each of these membership groups. Your campaign’s message is that much more relevant to a voter coming from someone they know who they share similar experiences and interests with. Moreover, going through this exercise will help you find compelling messengers for your cause whose personal stories should be amplified.
If you have a kitchen cabinet of key supporters and campaign workers, odds are that you meet with them regularly. If you haven’t already, take advantage of Zoom or some other type of video conferencing tool that will allow your team to never miss a beat. Consider migrating other important meetings, including with relevant township party organizations and coalitions, onto video conferencing as well. The campaign isn’t over just because you cannot meet in person.
While the world around you may have slowed down, your campaign doesn’t have that luxury. And as state and local governments are pressed with allaying concerns about the coronavirus, election authorities will encourage more and more voters to take advantage of voting by mail and voting early. Your campaign needs to be prepared to organize and run an effective vote by mail and chase program, in addition to ramping up digital and traditional media buys on an expeditated timetable. This is only possible if you have the resources to execute.
Take the time to build out a robust general election fundraising plan if you have not already done so. Compile a contact directory (phone numbers and emails) of everyone you know and go through the process of outlining where your first round of financial support will come from. This means going through each name and adding a reasonable fundraising goal for each individual. You are under extreme pressure to raise money and prove viability as early as possible. For too many, this reality leads to a type of paralysis where time continues to pass with no real plan and no money gets raised. Know that your aggressive fundraising goals have a greater likelihood of being met if you take the time to plan out this process and you proceed with a systemic approach.
Make the fundraising calls. When doing so, get yourself in the mindset that with a fundraising plan and campaign strategy in place, you are asking for an investment, not a one-off handout. You are doing the hard work to make a positive difference in your community, and if it were so easy, more people would be making the attempt.
Even with volatile markets, there is no reason to feel guilty about attempting to raise the resources that will be required to contact voters and win your campaign. Recognize that while this may be a difficult time for some to justify making a financial contribution, your call will allow you to continue to develop the relationship and will likely go a long way in helping to secure a future contribution.
6. Direct voter contact using phone banking, P2P texting and text opt ins
The most cost-effective and proven way to change a voter’s behavior is to have an in-person conversation. While canvassing and retail politics are on the outs in this new environment, you can attempt to replicate these conversations by phone banking. If you haven’t already, equip your campaign with a power dialer or predictive dialer system that will allow you to make your persuasive and mobilizing appeals in an efficient manner via telephony. When in the market for such a solution, look for a system that enables your volunteers to call from home using their own mobile device or computer. This eliminates the need for the campaign to purchase tablets/phones or to organize such activities out of a campaign office.
Peer to peer texting is another strong avenue to explore. Open rates on texts, even from unknown numbers, remains incredibly high. You will still need to recruit volunteers who can send out these messages one at a time, but this too can be done from the comfort of home. This method of outreach becomes exponentially more effective when the text message a voter receives comes from a contact in their phonebook, so help your supporters and volunteers identify who they know that live in your district and ask that they share the good news about your campaign.
Consider establishing a phone number that allows your supporters and prospective supporters to “opt-in” to receiving messages from your campaign by texting a keyword to it. This number should make appearances on any print and video content you produce and should also be promoted on the campaign’s various social media channels.
7. Get the most out of your online, social media presence
Our culture is content starved. Use your social media channels to share meaningful content and stories encouraging your supporters to engage. This is an opportunity to build an online community that will be able to rapidly respond to negative attacks and support your campaign by sharing your media as the campaign progresses.
Maintain your accessibility to your supporters by organizing live tele-townhalls streamed through Facebook Live and Periscope. These tools are extremely versatile, and in addition to taking questions and answering questions, you may consider using them to provide real-time updates on how the coronavirus is impacting people and organizations in your district.
Monitor your social media pages and look to match online engagements to registered voters in district. If you have a campaign CRM, I’m partial to Nationbuilder, this will allow you to build robust voter profiles that you can reference later to find prospective volunteers and coalition build.