There’s not a whole lot more valuable to political campaigns than that one thing a voter gets right before an election that convinces them to vote for your candidate. With the announcement that the Postal Service is going to cease Saturday deliveries, that’s going to be a bit harder to pull off and is going to force some significant changes in the way elections are conducted in Virginia.
One of the political consultants who is active in Virginia, Rick Shaftan, put it this way on his facebook page:
Political mail arriving on the day before the election is of minimal value. Now with the end of Saturday mail, the last practical day for political mail is the Friday before the election. This is just another blow to the already dying political direct mail industry.
The biggest moneymaker in Virginia politics is the direct mail industry, and companies like Creative Direct have made a fortune producing and distributing those campaign mail pieces that flood your mailbox during election season. Because of their central role in campaigns and the money they’ve made from those connections, direct mail vendors have become significant political players in their own right. Even as the relative importance of direct mail has weakened, it still consumes the bulk of most campaign expenditures and Richmond-based mail vendors are heaveyweights in Virginia’s political environment.
But with this change in the Postal Service, that last 72 hour push for campaigns is going to need something other than stuffing your mailbox with huge quantities of recycling bin fodder. Plenty of voters will welcome such a change, but that doesn’t mean that campaigns are going to make any less effort during the closing week of a campaign. Direct mail vendors are going to counsel that campaigns simply push up the deadline for mailing by a day or two during the last week of a campaign, and quite a few candidates are going to bite on that idea, so the flood of oversized postcards isn’t going to decrease all that much, the timing will mostly change.
Smarter campaigns will take this as an indicator that they need to continue the trend away from direct mail — not entirely — but to shift more resources towards the web and personal voter contact efforts. The web is cheap, but campaigns in Virginia are still struggling to find a way to use it effectively. There’s no doubt that personal contact with voters is the most effective campaign focus, but again, most campaigns haven’t mastered how to get volunteers pulling the weight on this rather than the candidate who finite availability for this effort. Even fewer campaigns have figured out the intersection between the web and volunteer engagement which promises the best results, using the web only as a fundraising tool and ignoring the bigger possibilities.
That weakness is going to change pretty quickly as the efficiency and availability of direct mail campaigns erode, leaving no choice but for campaigns to find new ways to engage voters if they want to win. For voters, that’s going to mean fewer of the paper-based “fire and forget” mailers blasted out to wide audiences at the last minute in the hope it might move the needle a bit, and that’ll likely be welcome to them. It will mean more personal, face-to-face engagement with campaigns which they usually tend to appreciate more.
It may also mean that the reign of establishment powerbrokers coming from direct mail vendors might someday come to an end. That would change Virginia politics quite a bit.
The opinions expressed here are solely the views of the author, and not representative of the position of any organization, political party, doughnut shop, knitting guild, or waste recycling facility, but may be correctly attributed to the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy. If anything in the above article has offended you, please click here to receive an immediate apology.
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