Friday, August 17, 2012

Button, Button, Who needs a Button?

A recent article on the Winning Campaigns website urges campaigns to buy a button machine and create their own buttons.  If you must have buttons, this isn’t a bad way to go.  But the article goes on to compare the cost of buttons to the cost of other campaign elements, notably direct  mail, stating that most of this will never be opened or read as the voters have other things on their mind. Buttons, he states, by contrast, will be seen by those who meet your candidate or their volunteers at the door, a rally or a fundraiser.

And therein lies the rub.  Most voters are not ever going to meet the candidate or a volunteer, or even an eager supporter with a button, unless that candidate has done such a great job of promoting the campaign through other methods that they “go viral” with the button blast.

Just as we have learned that “yard signs don’t vote,” this caution is even more true about buttons. Yes, mail costs money and uses paper, and phone calls cost time, but they are guaranteed to reach the actual voters in their home, giving them an opportunity to see and hear the candidate’s name, and probably even to absorb on a subliminal level , if nothing else, the basic elements of the message.  A yard sign or a button (or a bumber sticker for that matter) is nothing but a reinforcement, not a substitute for these time proven methods of message delivery.

Candidates who have relied only on volunteers sporting buttons to deliver their message have been disappointed losers on election night, time and again.

So, if you think you need buttons, or are being pressured by volunteers who have seen other candidates’ buttons and wonder why you don’t have them, here are some guidelines.
  • Don’t pay for buttons.  If a volunteer who already has a button machine offers to make them, great.  Make enough for the office staff, your precinct walkers, your family and a few extra.  Ask for donations before handing them out to anyone else.
  •  Don’t stint on the real campaign materials, a winning message, enough mail to deliver it into the voters’ homes (yes, they will throw it out, but they have to look at it on the way to the recycling bin.  This is where a strong mail consultant comes in to assure a viable message delivered in an eye-catching way.)
  •  Use your volunteers wisely, on the phones (you reach more voters via phones , even in this day of cell phones, than by walking precincts , so if you have older volunteers or unwalkable but crucial precincts, make those phone calls) and in the crucial targeted precincts identified by your consultant. This is where your buttons may come in handy, but they are not crucial.  An eager, informed volunteer and a strong handout or door hanger is.
  • And of course, plan early, raise money sufficient for the campaign plan you have laid out, and  even if there’s no budget for buttons or signs, you know you have laid a strong foundation to add them later on, should your campaign message start gaining traction, and you have more money than you can use in the more traditional message delivery methods. 
  • Don’t forget the free things available to boost your name id:  social media, Facebook, Twitter, You Tube videos of rallies and speeches, and earned media – don’t neglect the press releases and other pr opportunities that might get your name in the press, both print and electronic. 

Buttons are great, but they don’t vote, they’ll be seen by only a handful of people, and they could siphon off much needed money and time from the all-important mail, media and grassroots efforts any winning campaign needs.