I see new candidates posting on websites about running for office, asking, “What should I do first? Get a website?” NO. Every new candidate’s first reaction is to create a web presence and include everything they have ever thought about every issue. Fortunately my excellent designer Beth saved me from myself with her extremely sharp editing pen. Candidates give little thought as to who should design their website. I hear things like, “My sister is a graphic designer.” Great. Does she know how to effectively design a website for a political candidate? When interested voters click on your site, this is your first opportunity to convey your most important messages. It is really easy to lose them forever with a poorly laid out, copy heavy website with difficult to read type. Your site will also need to motivate voters to donate and volunteer. A lot rests on its shoulders.
So what is the first thing candidates should do? Plan your strategy. Figure out your messaging. What will you stand for? Women, green, healthcare? Your key messages should influence your choice of colors for your campaign as well as your logo. Our new Congressman, Joe Cunningham, effectively ran on 3 key issues: no ocean drilling for SC (despite Trump), take no PAC money and term limits (he will serve no more than 3 terms). His logo had an ocean theme. In his TV ads, he was treading water in a wetsuit. His website reflected who he was strategically with photos of his wife and dog, Joe at his kitchen table, Joe on ground level with kids, Joe with his new baby. He had never run for office before, and his website communicated “regular guy.” He ran an integrated, smart campaign. All aspects of the campaign stuck to the strategy. And he won.
Candidates make the mistake of overloading their messaging. You want voters to be able to recall at least one of the key things you stand for. If you are running for a state race, why confuse voters with stances on Federal issues you will not be able to affect? Make sure they understand what you will do for them in their state and in your district. That’s what’s important to them.
Help Women Win is a strategic messaging, design and awareness-building firm. That’s what we believe makes an effective campaign. In today’s crowded field, you will even be competing with Democrats, sometimes in a primary. If you win the primary, you will be competing with Democrats state-wide for resources and financial support. You have to come out the gate looking like a winner, not like your long-lost relative volunteered to design your materials and now you are stuck with them. While we know that you will need local workers as well, I have seen inexperienced copy from inexperienced communications directors and feel strongly that Democrats need more seasoned campaign expertise. If you are in New York or DC, there will be loads of good people to choose from, but not so if you are in southern states or areas that have been Republican dominated.
Another mistake I see candidates making is trusting in the old party thinking. Being told you need to raise a million bazillion dollars in your small district in Georgia before you will be taken seriously is a huge downer. You know what. You can win many races without a huge war chest. Democratic pundits also tell candidates, we just want to fly under the radar. We don’t want to alert Republicans to the fact that you are out here running. SC Democrats told me not to put Democrat on my materials. Seriously? Are Republicans blind and deaf? You want people to be aware of your campaign and your stances on the issues. You want some Republicans to come over to your side and support you. And some will.
Candidates in spread out rural areas think they need to be everywhere and go to everything. That’s great if you can but many of us need to continue to work and don’t have
those resources. Technology is your friend. Social media can help you. People are on their phones all the time. You can build relationships with voters via text. There are lots of innovative approaches to campaigning. Help Women Win has relationships with technology companies that are making great strides in awareness-building for candidates. Many of these companies only work with Democrats, and they are very cost efficient.
So the moral of this blog article is, think before you publish or print. It will save you a lot of time and money in the long run and will give your campaign a more effective start.