Friday, February 7, 2014

Your Campaign's Selling Message

Making the Most Of Your Website And Literature

By Ned Barnett

Missed Messages:  Recently, I had the opportunity to review the websites of every Republican Party candidate registered to run for political office in Clark County, Nevada – that’s Las Vegas to the rest of the world.  In doing so, I noticed that far too many of these candidates traded the opportunity for actually moving and motivating voters, replacing those compelling messages with worthy platitudes that no voter really cares about. 

On a good day, someone who clicks through to your website will stay 10 seconds – or less – before deciding to either stay and read, or move on.  By offering platitudes instead of compelling messages, the website was all but asking potential voters to – as the police say at crime scenes – “move along, there’s nothing to see here.”

Missing out on that kind of opportunity to present your “selling message” is tantamount to missing out on perhaps his one opportunity to deliver a dynamic message that will persuade voters to support you, with their ballots, their time and their contributions.

In explaining this to one candidate for a judicial seat, I realized that most candidates need the same guidance I gave this potential judge. This is particularly important in Nevada, because people can’t vote “straight party” when they cast their ballots. In Nevada, as in many other states, judicial candidates appear on the ballot without partisan reference, making it even more important for them to generate favorable name recognition.

His platform – which, unfortunately, could be any judicial candidate’s platform – makes what would seem to be a strong case for his candidacy.  However, because any judicial candidate could say (and probably would say) the same thing, these messages do not generate voter interest. 

Paraphrasing, these were:
·      Ensure timely justice by avoiding unnecessary delays by attorneys – or by the judge himself
·      Demand civility and respect in the courtroom
·      Promote fair advocacy, ensuring each person receives his or her day in court
·      Enforce decorum and the rules of the court
·      Uphold the Nevada and US Constitutions
These are certainly all worthy goals, but as noted, any judicial candidate would, if asked, affirm these same goals, despite his or her track record on the bench.

The Right Messages:  Instead, I advised this judicial candidate to do something radically different – and this advice should apply to all candidates for every position:

“Voters do not expect to be in your court – ever.  In fact, they pray that they won’t wind up in any court for any reason.  However, they still want assurances that “their judge” will be a person who represents their own personal and political values. In this way, they can be sure that they will be “heard” in court, and on every decision.  These values are about you as a person, not you as a judge.  They are human values.  Many of these values transcend your role as a judge, or perhaps even have nothing to do with what you can, or can’t do, as a judge.

“Tell voters about your family values, or about how you’re a native of Nevada, or about things you believe in.  Give them a reason to respect you – perhaps even to like you – but most of all, give them a reason why they should feel well-represented when they have you on the bench, acting in their stead and on their behalf.”

This basic philosophy, obviously, also applies to representatives going into the executive or legislative branch.  Voters seldom have a reason to go to Washington, or to the state capital, or even to go before the city or county commission, the Mayor’s office, the school board or any other elective government body.  Yet those voters still want to know that the men and women who represent them share their core values – that they will do a good job of representing their interests as citizens, taxpayers and voters.

This is done with the “selling message,” which is – basically – a written form of the candidate’s elevator pitch or stump speech.

Selling Messages:  Sometimes this message revolves around a piece of legislation – amnesty for illegal aliens, or a pipeline running from Canada to Texas.  However, at other times, this selling message represents more of a candidate’s personal beliefs.  The personal issues could be big or small, but they should be ones that matter to voters in a way that transcends the candidate’s office, and its role in society.

That personal belief could touch on a candidate’s support for Israel, the rights of citizens vs. the powers of Homeland Security, the Ten Commandments in a courthouse, a crèche in a public park over Christmas, or even abortion rights. 

For instance, right now (as I write this), a “flavor of the month” candidate for the Governor in Texas is in that position only because, as a state legislator, she filibustered – unsuccessfully – to block a bill that would have made illegal late-term abortions – which many consider virtual infanticide, and for good reason. 

While that extreme view of abortion is not a particularly popular position in Texas, her radically pro-abortion position is widely popular among hard-core feminists, as well as Hollywood’s liberal elite.  Together, those two groups have together raised millions of dollars for her campaign to unseat Governor Perry.  That issue likely won’t get her elected in Texas – which is neither a hotbed of pro-abortion feminism nor of Hollywood liberal elitism – but it did a great job of raising money and catapulting her onto the national stage.

Pros and Cons:  Any strongly held position will attract some voters, while pushing away others.   There is always a risk when taking a stance that it may be more unpopular than it is popular.  However, conservative values continue to remain majority values in America today, despite the outcome of the past several presidential elections.

Many conservative candidates believe that they will do better by not polarizing voters by taking strong positions. However, the lessons of Reagan in 1980, the “Republican Revolution” of 1994 and the Tea Party revolt of 2010, all suggest that when conservatives take bold stands, they do better than when – like McCain and Romney – they try to straddle the fence.

Especially for off-the-front page elective positions, to stand out is to win. 

Examples of these positions where, almost literally, nobody knows who you really are – and which, therefore, requires you to really stand out - include judicial elections, county and state representatives, school board and constable or sheriff elections. 

To stand out, you’ve got to give your core potential voters a reason to first remember you, then support you – with their ballots, their time and their financial support.

Sample Conservative Selling Messages:  What does a strong conservative selling message look like?  It could be as simple as these:
·      I believe that Israel is perhaps America’s most important ally, and I stand foursquare in support of that embattled nation.

·      I oppose open borders and amnesty for illegal aliens – not because I have anything against them, but because this is gaping open door to sexual trafficking and sexual slavery.

·      I have nothing against green energy – when it works – but I recognize that our country’s economy and wealth have been built on abundant access to low-cost energy.   I support government efforts to keep energy abundant and affordable.

·      Global Warming is not a scientific fact – for the past fifteen years, global temperatures have not gone up even a fraction – and I oppose regulations that restrict our use of energy in the name of a scientific mistake.

·      I see late term abortion as tantamount to infanticide; while I recognize a woman’s right to abortion, I support limiting it, and when an unborn child becomes viable, the right to an abortion ends, except only to save the life of the mother.

·      As a father (or mother), I see the evil of human trafficking as one of the most horrific crimes that can be perpetrated – especially since those most at-risk and most victimized are little more than children themselves.  I support all reasonable efforts to end human trafficking and sexual slavery in our city, our state and our nation.

·      I see an increase in the minimum wage at a time when unemployment is still at levels twice what it was during the last Republican Administration to be a mistaken policy.  It will raise costs on all retail goods, leading to further unemployment, especially among those it’s “supposed” to help, people at the low-end of the economic and wage scale, who desperately need to keep their jobs to make ends meet.

Make Them Your Own:  These are, of course, just examples of possible “selling messages,” and should not be taken for your own campaign unless you really believe in them.  Instead, formulate what you believe, and make those issues your own.

These messages should be boiled down to “bumper sticker” length to be used as bullet points on your website, with a link to a fuller presentation on the issue.  Those fuller presentations should also be rewritten as blogs, and posted on blog-sites supporting the campaign, as well as separately on the website. Repetition is not a problem, as long as you re-state the positions each time you present them.

They do not have to be long messages, but they must be powerful.

Examples I’ve Created:  For one candidate, who represented a conservative constituency in the Deep South’s “bible belt,” we knew that voters did not want “leaders.”  They were proudly independent cusses who truly wanted representatives, people who would both serve them and reflect their views.  In addition, they wanted someone who was a man or woman of faith.  

Putting across that message in a succinct slogan was a challenge, but here’s what we came up with:  Stewardship, not Leadership.” 

Obviously, the slogan played to their feeling that they needed no “leaders.”  In addition, in “church-speak,” the word “stewardship” means someone who is in a position to serve.  It reflects the commandment of Jesus:  “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant to all” (Mark 9:35).

Being a steward is an honorable role in the church, and the use of this term sent a powerful subliminal message to the faithful among the electorate.

Another example comes from the time when the Federal Election Commission mandated that all paid political ads had to include naming both the campaign committee and its treasurer.  Typically, this means an ad ends with, “This ad was paid for the Committee to Re-Elect Bob Tyler, Frank Smith, Treasurer.”  That does no harm, but it does no good (beyond following the law), and it takes up six seconds in a 15- or 30-second ad.  At my recommendation, the candidate’s committee legally changed its name to – and ended each of their ads with – the following: “Ten Thousand Lexington County Homeowners Who What to Return Bob Tyler to Congress, Frank Smith, Treasurer.” 

In this way, the required disclaimer also became a part of the selling message.  The contest may not have been in doubt – the candidate I’m calling Bob Tyler was a popular Congressman – but it certainly didn’t hurt his re-election chances.

Humanizing the Candidate:  Even before they cast their ballots, or volunteer, or open up their wallets – today’s voter first wants to be persuaded that this candidate will effectively represent them.  To do this, you must put a human face on the candidate – make him or her a real person, with real and compelling beliefs and values.  Accomplishing this through a brief and effective selling message puts candidates on the fast track to electoral success.

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