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Another Blow For Direct Mail Campaigns

By Greg L | 6 February 2013 | Virginia Politics | 7 Comments

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.



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7 Comments

  1. Diuttyman8 said on 6 Feb 2013 at 8:52 pm:
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    I wish their was an easy to opt-out of those. As a voter, I usually make up my mind months before an election because I actually do the research on the candidates.

  2. Anonymous said on 6 Feb 2013 at 9:54 pm:
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    so, you want the goverment to run a deficit so we can get mail on saturdays that say its bad for the goverment to run deficits? Whats your logic man?

  3. Anonymous said on 6 Feb 2013 at 10:10 pm:
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    Ever hear of going door to door and talking to the voters? Republican Ideology opens discusion with the independant voter who likes to question! Not one repub came to my door during election season but three times the Dems did. I got twice as much propaganda for Romney than the otr guy in my mailbox. In nova, seeing those pictures of having the family around in the morning made me sick! PWC is a commuter suburb of FXco andDC. Who hangs around in the morning with there kids having Bfast then heading to the office by eight? We are not in disney land where all neighbour hood kids are on the same soccer team and walk to the playing field. Lets see you charge Reagan era prices for your goods Ahole in todays market and see how competitive you will be. You adjust for cost increase such as inflation , do you not? You idiots think that reagan era funding is good for virginias road problem?

    I guess you must be one of those people who do not commute? Theres no money left for construction for VA roads. What is it that you dont understand?

  4. Greg L said on 6 Feb 2013 at 11:07 pm:
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    Anon, I’m not in favor of bailing out the USPS, just making a note that the changes are going to impact the conduct of elections. I think direct mail and robocalls are increasingly ineffective and hope campaigns decrease their use of those techniques, favoring more person-to-person and social media outreach.

  5. Scout said on 7 Feb 2013 at 9:16 pm:
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    I can’t imagine that anyone ever decides how to vote based on direct mail. Even less can I imagine that anyone would vote one way if there is Saturday delivery and another if there is not.

  6. Greg L said on 7 Feb 2013 at 9:20 pm:
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    You would be amazed, as was I, when I saw polling data shift after a mailer. The number of “low information voters” out there who swing because of direct mail has been stunning.

  7. Scout said on 9 Feb 2013 at 9:19 pm:
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    I’ll take your word for it on the polling data, Greg. But it’s a pretty sad commentary on the state of the American electorate if voters are so easily swayed by the kind of childish, immature, blatantly misleading stuff that characterizes most direct mail publications.

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