If you are the only candidate in your race, then you don’t really need to clearly articulate who you are and why you are running. For everyone else, this is a critical first step. If you can get this message down on paper in a concise statement, it makes everything that comes after – your website, your advertising, your brochures, your fundraising and your day-to-day operations – much easier to plan and execute.
There is another reason why it’s important for you to sharpen the definition of your campaign. In 2012, there will be thousands of candidates running for office. Not all of them will be on the ballot with you, but all of these candidates compete for money, media coverage and voter attention. The guy running for U.S. Senate may not have any connection to your race for city council, but he is probably asking for money from your voters and he will be the person hogging the media coverage. With the tendency of blockbuster races to reach out across the country for support, you very well could be competing with candidates from other states for campaign contributions and the attention of activists.
For most of the media covering political campaigns, the attention starts at the top of the ticket and works its way down. In 2012, the professional journalists and top-tier bloggers will be focusing on the presidential race and a handful of campaigns for the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House. Eventually the media will work its way down the ticket. You might see coverage about your local race after Labor Day – or if there is a particularly contentious race above you that is capturing everyone’s attention, you might be watching the MLB playoffs before you see coverage of your campaign.
With this congested environment in mind, think again about how you want to focus your campaign message so it breaks through this clutter. Think about past presidential campaigns and their pithy slogans – “Change we can believe in,” “It’s the economy, stupid” or “Morning in America.” These were all simple, clear concepts that reflected the tone of the times and gave voters something easy to remember, even if they couldn’t recall the details of the entire campaign message.
Obviously you don’t have the resources of a presidential campaign to hire “Madison Avenue” PR firms to craft your slogan. But you have the time now to whittle down your message to its essence – and test it against people who will give you honest feedback. Is it clear or complex (if you can say it in 5 words it’s clear; if you have footnotes, it’s complex)? Does it fit your image or is it goofy? Does it mean something or is it too generic? The media environment has moved from 30-second sound bites to the 140-character tweet, so brevity is the touchstone here.
Once you have your core message – whether it’s a slogan, a phrase or a mission statement – use it as the jumping off point for all of your online communication and advertising. If your slogan is short enough to fit in the header of your website, that’s great. But also make sure it’s woven into all of your other online activities, so you’re constantly reinforcing this message. You’ll be blogging, tweeting and advertising about lots of specific issues. If you can take the time to reference your core message in each of these activities – beyond just a tagline included in the boilerplate of your press releases, you’ll greatly improve your chances of creating a lasting impression with voters.
This may seem obvious to many, but sadly we’ve seen too many candidates put off the hard questions of asking why they are running and why a majority of voters should vote for them. When you’re out knocking on doors or churning out the umpteenth blog post of your campaign, it may get stale repeating the same message over and over. Flip it around and put it in the context of all the other campaigns bombarding each voter and you’ll realize that if it’s difficult for voters to focus on the messages of multiple candidates, you’re not helping them or yourself if you are the candidate with the long-winded or ever-changing message.