Friday, May 1, 2015

When Consultants Collide

Another in the occasional series of  A Day in the Life of a Campaign Consultant:

You can't win them all. Sometimes you can't even get them. Read on to see what happens when life hands consultants lemons.

He walked up to me as though it were perfectly natural, as though we were friendly to one another. The room was crowded with partygoers and well-wishers. The event was for a local politician, a fundraiser on his behalf to get his campaign off to a sound start. I never even expected to see him there.

Let alone have him approach with a big smile on him face. Something was up. This man, we’ll call him Sherman, had stabbed me in a back a few years ago over a political campaign. In fact, he had stolen a campaign away from me, convincing the committee in charge of it that my ideas were all wet, so to speak (It was for a school bond matter that needed to go before the voters), and he, Sherman, could do a better job.

It came as a total surprise as he and I had worked peacefully together on a past issue. It had all worked out well, and we parted on good terms. So when I saw him at the meeting, I naturally said “Hi Sherm,” in an enthusiastic tone of voice.

The look on his face should have been a giveaway. He did not smile back but grimaced, as though his teeth ached. And then he pounced, starting from a crouch, “There seem to be a few problems with this,” he said, pointing to a flyer we had prepared, which the committee had been handing out with no complaints to date. “It doesn’t convey what we want to say.”

“In fact, it makes no sense at all.” Now he was loud. I could see he had half the room on him side, having prepared the moment. The other half sat placidly. No one contradicted him.  There was no point in explaining that the issue was not so much about schools but local control. Hence, the picture we used of people gathering together. 

There was no point in saying this design and message had passed muster with the very people who now joined in his tirade. There was certainly no point in mentioning that we had a contract. All irrelevant. It was a lynching. I crept from the room like a beaten dog, stunned.

Later I was to learn he had taken over the campaign, lost the campaign, and somewhere along the line, lost many of his followers. It didn’t matter. He had become my nemesis. When he turned up in another group I belonged to, I decided to keep a wary eye.

They say there are some people who are pure sociopaths. You can’t reason with them. You can’t appeal to their better nature, they don’t have one, you can only keep a close watch on their movements. Like a sidewinder, they slither up and attack the unsuspecting.

Even when you are alert, their fangs can be sunk into your flesh before you have time to scream.
Today, he was smiling. His most insincere smile I recognized by now. His “I’m coming for you” smile. It froze my blood. What could I do? Stuck in the crowd, fascinated, I watched him go to work.
“Are you [the politician’s] consultant,” he asked.

“I’m helping him,” I say.

“Well, you either are or you aren’t” he said, his smile beginning to harden, his eyes wide and staring.

The psycho bells were going off. The “let me out of here” alarms buzzing in my brain. Without missing a beat, he reached into his bag and pulled out some paper, which he proceeded to unfold. Reams of paper it seemed had been folded down into an 8 ½ by 11 inch package. “Look at this” he gloated, for what else could he be doing? He was showing me his mail from the campaign he had stolen from me. “You can get all this information on here and it mails for the same as a postcard.” He was triumphant. Was I supposed to show surprise, delight, horror?

“But you didn’t win” I say as calmly as I can.

“Only by 179 votes,“ he went on, undaunted. A small crowd seemed to have broken off the main throng and gathered around us. Could I escape?

“Look at all the information!” he insisted.

“People won’t read all that.”

“They do,” he continued, hearing nothing I was saying. He proceeded to tell me how people read it at the door, they read it in the post office.  

“OK,” I said, looking or a way out. “Aha” I thought, if I can’t get out, he has to leave.

"Thank you for sharing; I think that lady over there needs to talk to you” pointing vaguely toward the back of the building. 

“Oh” he exclaimed, quickly refolding him treasure and heading away.
I did the same, snatching up my purse and leaving out the side gate. As I walked home, I wondered when and how he would move in on this candidate, with whom I had only a general understanding not a contract.

If he falls for his crap, I think, he’s not the man for me, or for the job he seeks. Small comfort.

Neither of us got the gig with the candidate and he won his election anyway.

And here is the "When life hands you lemons" recipe for ginger lemon bars. Yum.

Lemon Ginger Bars

1 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 cup butter, cut into cubes
1 Tablespoon crystallized ginger
Lemon Topping:
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 Tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
additional powdered sugar for sifting over top

Heat the oven to 350°. In the bowl of a food processor, combine flour, butter, sugar and crystallized ginger. Pulse until dough starts to form. Press dough into an ungreased 9 x 13-inch baking pan. Build up the sides about 1/2 inch. Bake for 20 minutes.

In the bowl of the food processor — no need to wash it out — blend topping ingredients until light and foamy, about three minutes. Pour lemon mixture over crust. Bake for about 25 minutes until set and no indentation remains when touched in the center. Cool and cut into squares. Sift over additional powdered sugar if desired.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Lessons Political Consultants Learn

Even we seasoned campaigners can still learn from one another and from our clients and others involved in campaigns. Take for example my experience this weekend as a trainer in Direct Mail at the California Teachers' Association Political Training Academy in San Jose.

I was asked by a friend who's a trainer and organizer and all around amazing campaigner, to help her present a short talk on Direct Mail - my favorite topic.

Before our time to speak, we heard another veteran CTA campaigner talk about the ballot statement. How important it is and how you really can say a lot in 200 words or less. In fact, the problem has been to convince the candidates to say less, not more, in their ballot statements, not in an attempt to hide anything, but because brevity is everything in campaigns. The more text, and the denser the type, the fewer people will read it and those that do, may well miss the main points you are trying to make as they skim over the "wall of words."

I also learned that studies have shown that voters tend to look first (and possibly longest) at the side of the mail piece with their name on it. This is contrary to what many think, who think of the label side as the "back" of the mailer, and use it as a dumping ground for their long list endorsers in tiny print, or some dense language with their 12 point program on it.
Wrong. First of all, you don't know which way it will land in the mail box but chances are better than 50/50 it will be label side up as that's what the letter carrier is looking at. That's what you will see first. I wrote a blog post on this very topic in 2013.What's on the back of YOUR miler?

Second, you only get about 3 seconds of the voter's valuable time as he/she glances over your piece. Make the most of it on both sides, especially if it's a post card and those are the only sides you have.

If it's a folded piece, be mindful that both sides have to entice and lure the voter into opening it up, a process made more daunting when there is a sticky on one side, which there usually must be according to postal rules.

Knowing these and other "technical" rules, along with good graphics, a strong bulleted message and good timing, will help you send out the best and most persuasive mail you can to get voter's to cast their vote for you on Election Day.