Political Direct Mail: Strategy and Tactics

Smart and savvy campaigns are using the Internet, e-mail, social media, and other technological tools to get the word out about their campaigns.  They should, because these tactics work.  But many local campaign shave started to ignore another tactic that still works: good old fashioned direct mail.  Ignoring direct mail is a mistake, because it still works, and can be a valuable part of your campaign communications mix.

Why Direct Mail Works

Political direct mail still works because people still read their mail.  Nearly 100% of American households still check their mailbox on a daily basis, and many (if not most) of the people that do are disappointed when nothing arrives on a particular day.  People like to get mail.  They may complain that all they get are bills and ads, but when mail doesn’t come, they get annoyed and they miss it.

Another reason why political direct mail works for campaigns is because it is targeted.  Unlike most forms of political communications (particularly broadcast outlets like TV and radio), when you send direct mail, you don’t have to pay to have your message seen by people who don’t live in your district, or by people who don’t vote or who won’t vote for you, no matter what you say.  (For more on targeting check out: How to Target Your Campaign Tactics).

Instead, with direct mail, you can target just those voters that your campaign wants to communicate with – all the way down to particular households – and you never have to pay to send your messages to a household you aren’t targeting.

Designing Effective Direct Mail

Just because people still check their mail and still enjoy receiving mail doesn’t mean that they enjoy receiving political mail.  Some do – for these people, the super-engaged, your direct mail represents a great chance at communication, something that the voter will read and consider.  But, for the majority of the population (as high as 95%), political direct mail is just another ad – something to be glanced and thrown out.

Because most of the people who are receiving your mail will only see it on the way to the trash can, you need to design your direct mail with those people in mind.  Direct mail creates a great opportunity for your campaign, because people want to receive mail, and check their mailboxes every day.  Direct mail also creates a huge challenge for your campaign, because if it isn’t designed effectively, you will waste this opportunity.  Here are some great resources from Local Victory on designing your direct mail:

Political Direct Mail that Sizzles – A primer on political direct mail design

Top 3 Principles of Political Design – Advanced guide on designing political communications

Types of Direct Mail

As you plan your direct mail strategy, keep in mind that there are several effective types of direct mail:

#1 – Bio Piece – This type of direct mail talks about your candidate, and shows his or her credentials for the office they are seeking.

#2 – Name ID Piece – Similar to a bio piece, the purpose of this piece is solely to raise the name ID of your candidate, and thus, it talks about your candidate, but unlike a bio piece, normally provides less background and sometimes includes information on issue positions.  This type of piece is often sent as “filler” piece to keep name ID high in between sending other types of mail.

#3 – Issue Piece – This type of direct mail focuses in on your candidate’s views on a particular issue that you believe is a cutting issue for this election.

#4 – Comparison Piece – This type of direct mail piece is one of the most effective kinds of mail, and presents a comparison between your candidate and your opponent(s) on qualifications or on a single or multiple issue positions.

#5 – Negative Piece – This type of direct mail talks about why your opponent is not qualified, or has the wrong position on certain issues.  Negative pieces should always be well researched, well documented, and truthful.

#6 – GOTV Piece – This type of mail is sent directly to your supporters for one purpose: to get out the vote (GOTV) on Election Day.

#7 – Endorsement Piece – This type of direct mail is sent to tout a major newspaper, political, or association endorsement of your candidate.

Direct Mail Strategy: Timing & Tactics

I believe that direct mail should be part of the mix for almost every political campaign.  If you are spending money on communications, and you are a local or mid-sized campaign, your campaign dollars are almost always better spent on a mix of online communications and direct mail than on a big TV buy.

When should you start your direct mail campaign?

There’s a rule for political TV advertising that says: you shouldn’t go up on TV until you can stay up on TV.  I advise the same for direct mail.  There’s no point sending out one direct mail piece in September, and then not being able to afford another piece until the week before Election Day.  Don’t start your direct mail campaign until you can afford to send out a piece at least every other week.

How often should you send out political direct mail?

The answer to this question varies by campaign, but at least every other week to your targeted voters.  Once per week, or even twice per week, is not too often, particularly as you get closer to Election Day.

What type of direct mail should you send?

Above, I listed the seven types of political direct mail.  You should sit down with your direct mail shop or political direct mail consultant to develop a timeline for your mail pieces that includes a mix of types.  Generally, you will start with a bio piece, and end with a GOTV piece, and include a mix of name ID, comparison, negative, issue, and endorsement pieces in between.

For example, if you have the budget to send 4 pieces, you may decide to send out a bio piece, then a comparison piece, then an issue piece, then a GOTV piece.


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1 comment… add one
  • Cllr Theo Dennison

    Excellent and concise brief on the use of direct mail but in recommending that a campaign shouldn’t send out a piece of direct mail until it can keep sending it every other week there is a danger of thinking of direct mail as a volume weapon whereas its greatest strength is in its personal nature. I think it is better to think of how a direct mail campaign can conform to the pattern of a personal converstation: so a candidate might introduce themselves to an elector (bio), set out what they think the key issues are (issue), contrast their views and those of residents they have met with their opponent (comparoson) and then ask and remind the resident to vote (gotv).

    Thinking of it that way then makes it easier to think what other pieces might work eg a new year message or christmas greeting, a birthday card, an invitation to an event; and it helps keep the style, tone and messaging consistent while creating a stronger relationship with the resident.

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