Project Wonderful

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Direct Mail But Were Afraid To Ask

Ladies and Broworkers, may I present my friend and sorority sister, Bridget Cusick. Direct mail: You've got questions, she's got answers. Thank you very much, Bridget!

1) Who are you and what is your job?

Bridget Cusick, vice president in the campaign and creative services division at BerlinRosen, based in New York City. I do direct mail and other forms of paid communications for progressive campaigns and organizations.

2) How did you wind up at BR, what experience prepared you?

I came to BerlinRosen after six cycles working in field, communications and management on municipal, congressional and statewide campaigns, as well as a number of years at agencies, one focused on political direct mail and two others on corporate advertising and public relations.

3) What does a typical day look like for you?

During "campaign season" – by which I generally mean July through November – my days are dominated by the various steps in producing direct mail for campaigns: writing plans based on extensive consultation with them and their polling firms on message and targeting, working with other members of my team to develop creative ideas for bringing the plans to life, drafting copy for each piece and collaborating with a designer to get copy and photos into a layout, presenting pieces to clients, getting their input, pulling mailing lists and ultimately working with a mail house to print and mail. As part of our services, we also spend considerable time consulting on the broader aspects of our clients’ campaigns. Our mail has a lot greater chance of being successful if the campaign is running on all cylinders and so we use our collective campaign experience to help campaigns make sure they are doing everything they can on the ground and with earned media to be successful.

4) In general, how many different pieces of mail do you need for a mail program to be a effective?/How should they be spaced out?

Typically, if you make a decision to do mail, you should allocate the resources to mail the selected universe of voters at least five times, and you should schedule the pieces so that their impact will build and remain until election day – meaning they should hit recipients' homes at least once a week and should not end more than a week before election day. It's more complicated than this and depends on the overall landscape and other media that are in play (are you better- or less-known than your opponent? Are you also on TV? Are other organizations communicating on your behalf?) but those are general rules of thumb. Sadly, the impact of any medium wears off fairly quickly after communications cease – so if, say, you start mailing early and aren't able to sustain those communications until the election, the impact of your communications will have largely worn off by the time voters go to the polls. You don't want that. There is some research suggesting that mail's impact diminishes after a certain number of pieces because people get used to seeing it and start ignoring it. However, more research is needed here about how design, targeting, timing and other decisions cut against diminishing returns and enable a campaign to continue communicating effectively.

5) What goes into a "good" mail piece as opposed to a "bad" mail piece?/What are general best practices/common mistakes?

To some extent it depends on the goal of the piece, of course. For example, a lot of research has been dedicated to mail aimed at turnout, and some solid best practices have been identified – e.g., telling people that their neighbors will all be voting and other so-called "social pressure" techniques. Less solid data exists on persuasion mail at this point, but there's more research coming out all the time. In general, several things make for a good mail piece:

- Text is kept to what is essential. This is one of the biggest challenges we face and I think one of the biggest mistakes campaigns make: thinking that they need to say far more than they do. Less really is more. There are some exceptions, depending on the audience you are communicating to, but in general, you have a very limited window to say a few important things, and you want to make sure your recipients take away at least a couple of key messages.

- Good organization of text. We want the most important messages to pop out at readers. Paragraphs need to be short; bulleted or numbered points are best. The "rule of threes" applies: people remember things better in threes (and have trouble retaining more than three points). If people see a wall of text and are already only a little bit interested in what we have to say, we've just increased the chances that the piece is going straight into the garbage without imparting any information.

- Good photography – or no photography. We place a high premium on authenticity with our candidate campaigns, so we almost always take the time to conduct a photo shoot after planning to figure out what photos we need. But there are occasions on which we choose to do pieces that do not include photography or graphics at all – instead choosing, say, a letter format and making the sender a neighbor or respected community member; these types of pieces can also have a lot of impact.

6) What are the tradeoffs between mail and other types of media like radio, or TV?/When is mail more effective than TV and visa versa?

Most often it's a question of efficiency. If you have hundreds of thousands of people to reach in a single media market and you have the money to be on TV, then TV makes sense. If you are again talking to a large audience, and it includes people who spend a lot of time in their cars (e.g., suburban and exurban commuters), and you have the funds to be on radio (usually less expensive, but not as much less as you might think, than TV), then being on the radio probably makes sense. Both of these media are great for frequency (repetition of the message to drill it into people's brains), memorable creative executions and emotional impact. When you have a smaller or more niche audience to communicate with – e.g., because you are running a state house race that comprises only a fraction of a TV market or because you're trying to communicate to a subset of the electorate with a message not intended for the masses – then mail is still probably the best medium for you. You of course also might choose mail if you want to include a response component or more detail than you can effectively communicate in a :30 TV spot or even a :60 radio spot.

7) What are some tips for effectively "layering" a mail program with field or other media?

Once any kind of paid communications go live, field folks will hear a lot more recognition of their candidate – which is obviously satisfying. ("Oh - I saw his ad/got some mail from her.") Mail and lit pieces can help get people talking about issues on the phone or at doors (as can a TV or radio ad). Phones can also be used to draw attention to a piece and reinforce its message. In general you want all of your communications to create a virtuous circle that help you and your candidate connect with voters, persuade them and GOTV.

8) What should a candidate or campaign look for when hiring a mail consultant?/What questions should she ask?

Look at their portfolio, ask for case studies and get references. Do your consultants sound smart? Are these folks you could see working well with? It's a lot like hiring an individual for a job. Pricing matters but most mail firms have some sense of what others are charging, so if you see huge differences there (in either direction), you probably should be skeptical and ask the firms to check their assumptions.

9) What should one expect to pay for a mail piece and mailing? What factors impact the cost?

Costs will include postage, printing, photography and agency fees. Different agencies divide up or lump together these costs slightly differently, but those costs are always there. Postage is the most fixed – by which I mean, it doesn't matter what agency you work with – and often billed separately. It will change based on piece size (letter-size vs "flat," AKA large postcards or folded brochures), whether you send nonprofit rate (cheapest but most restricted) standard rate or first class, and the density of the universe. Most political mail goes out at standard rate and gets what we informally call a "red tag," which enables us to mail at the reduced rate but still be in mailboxes within a first-class window of 1-3 days. You also get a discount per piece based on how close together the homes are to which the mail is getting delivered and whether the mail is sorted for mail carrier routes. Your mail firm, in combination with the printer/mailhouse, should take care of these things for you to get you the best prices. Printing costs can depend on a number of factors, from where your printer is located to paper choice to the speed at which you need to print, but the biggest driver is quantity: the larger the run, the less each piece costs.

10) What do you think are common misconceptions about paid mail?

I think the biggest one may still be that mail is going away and being replaced by online communications. Online has a big role to play, but ironically perhaps, its importance increases the larger a campaign gets (think of how many more presidential or US Senate-level online communications you see as opposed to down-ballot races). Mail is still harder to ignore – and though younger voters change their addresses pretty frequently, pretty much every voter has a mailbox!

Sunday, February 16, 2014

When You Support CampaignSick, It's Actually Going To Fox News

Okay so that would be CRAZY and is absolutely totally not the case, but if the National Republican Congressional Committee has anything to say about it, it's not that far-fetched. The fundraising scheme (and scheme it is) is summed up nicely by Jay Bookman at the Atlantic Journal Constitution.
Kyrsten Sinema is a Democratic congresswoman running for re-election in Arizona. So if you wanted to make a donation to Sinema, you might Google her campaign and find yourself directed to the website .

At the "" site, you'd find a large, attractive picture of Sinema, with a large banner reading "Krysten Sinema for Congress" in the same color scheme as her campaign signs, along with a checklist of possible donation amounts.

Except the site is a Republican fundraising site, with contributions going to defeat Sinema. It does say that, in smaller type below the banner: "Make a Contribution Today to Help Defeat Kyrsten Sinema and candidates like her". But by design that single word "defeat" is easy to read past or overlook, and is the only real clue of what's going on. From the URL to the banner headline to the candidate's picture to the candidate's colors, the overwhelming intent of the site is to defraud.

This is pretty freaking gross, you guys and it demonstrates once again both that Republicans don't think their candidates can win on their own merit and that rather than resort to things like more sensible platforms and more likeable candidates, they are all too happy to cheat.

By the way if you still want to support CampaignSick, I promise it will not go to other blogs.

Today In Voter Suppression: California Same Day Voter Registration Delayed Until 2016

The Voting News has the release here, but basically from what I can gather, Secretary of State, Debra Brown says the state won't be meet the legal standards it set for itself in time to implement same day registration by 2014, which (again from what I can tell) the Secretary of State was responsible for:
"The law was expected to take effect in 2014. However, to be operative for the 2014 general election, the Secretary of State needed to complete its HAVA compliance by December 31, 2013. Last month, Bowen took to Twitter to explain why the state won’t be adopting California’s landmark same-day voter registration law anytime soon. 'That law (CA Elections Code section 2170) will likely take effect in 2016 or later,' Bowen tweeted on Jan. 13."
So you know, there's that.

Oh Look! Republicans Re-invented VoteBuilder.

This Gawker article pretty much nails it when it comes to reviewing the video:
"I chose to be a part of Para Bellum Labs because this is something that has never been done before," says new employee Lauren. (By Republicans, no, this has not been done before. Not successfully. But by Democrats, well, um. Yeah.)
I came to this video, of course, with an extreme pro-Democratic bias but it feels a little creepy to me. The language and even the hipster facial hair and office layout parallel what you would expect from a Democratic tech start up but something's not quite there. It feels a little soulless, the "New York Style"-deli-chain-in-the-Midwest of campaign technology if you will. Also as the Gawker article and many Facebook friends were quick to point out, they named it after a famous Nazi pistol, or at least like one.
In fact, it's part of an old Roman cliche, "Si vis pacem, para bellum"—if you seek peace, prepare for war. That's been quite an inspiring little phrase through history, at least to militarists. It was especially inspiring to Deutsche Waffen und Munitionsfabriken, the German government's arms manufacturer from the late imperial era to World War II.
Politically sensitive as always, GOP.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

How to Be an Ally (At one point or another we're all doing it wrong.)

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about privilege and what it means to be an ally. Let's start with a definition. An ally is someone who is a member of a privileged group and advocates for or supports people who do not enjoy that same privilege. Last week my Facebook newsfeed seemed to be blowing up with stories about allies and privilege left and right and while I know I'm one of dozens of bloggers to blog on the subject, I spend my work days advocating for a community of which I'm not a part and most of my free time surrounded by male feminists, so I've had a lot of opportunity to consider what makes a good (or in the below examples poor) ally. Here's what you need to know.

1) Everyone has privilege. #intersectionality Required reading: White Feminism

Everyone. Deal with it. This article was inspired in part by experiences I've had as a woman working with male feminists and in part by experiences I've had as an ally working with gay people, trans* people, and people of color. Education, economic status, age, beauty, body size and ability, health, these are all forms of privilege too. And here is a common misconception: privilege is not an accusation. Good people can have privilege in a variety of situations simply because of the way society is constructed.It's whether you recognize and what you do with your privilege that matters. This gets into a larger conversation about intersectionality that is slowly but surely beginning to take place in the progressive movement. If what we're really talking about is not men, or white people, or cis-people, but privilege can you BE a feminist without acknowledging the disproportionate systematic challenges that face people of color? I'm inclined to say no. Recognizing and accepting your own privilege is the first step to being an ally.

2) You don't deserve a medal.

A couple of weeks ago I posted the above GIF on my tumblr. A colleague posted it on her Facebook wall. Then it BLEW UP. A self-proclaimed male feminist took exception. And thankfully most of my colleague's Facebook friends took exception to that exception. Here are some of his choicer comments:

"I get what the "author" (can you be an author just for posting a gif with a caption on tumblr?) is trying to say here, but I think it comes from the same kind of place as punk kids getting mad at other punk kids for calling themselves punk and not actually being punk enough for the former's liking. Or maybe it comes from the same kind of place as anti-gay activists saying that gay marriage will take away from the worth or sanctity of straight marriage." "I don't honestly think it matters, though. Jerks exist, and it's sad, but considering how much shit many guys get in most places of this country (let alone the world) for identifying as a feminist, the last thing I'd think anyone would want is to turn someone off from being willing to openly identify as such." "I don't care about your experiences because this situation isn't about your experiences. Not every situation is about someone's experiences, and not everyone has to talk everything out. If you'd like to correct me and explain how your experiences make it okay for you to be critical of others, feel free, but for now what happened here was that I had an opinion and you attacked me over it. That's all I see - that's my experience, and it makes it tough to want to engage anyone in discussion about feminism at all."

Until this guy launched into his defensiveness, I totally got where he was coming from. As an ally it can be extremely frustrating and even hurtful to be met with suspicion and mistrust when you are genuinely trying to make the world a better a place! But here's the thing. It's not YOU personally who is being met with suspicion, it is decades of paternalistic allies who want to co-opt [people of color, LGBT people, women]'s experiences and make it about them. These are the same people that when confronted with accusations of insensitivity dismiss them with "you should feel lucky to have me on your side."

As the "author" of this GIF, I can tell you exactly what I meant. It's great (beyond great, should be de rigueur) if you consider yourself a feminist, but show me don't tell me-or at least don't expect me to be impressed by the mere proclamation. Everyone should be a feminist, everyone should support gay rights, and that should be obvious to everyone. If you believe you deserve gratitude for your basic human decency you're doing it wrong.

3) Know what you don't know.

(Required watching).

This Piers Morgan interview with trans activist, Janet Mock was all over my Facebook feed last week, although I don't know how much traction it got in the mainstream media. Morgan makes some pretty classic mistakes when interviewing Mock, repeatedly referring to her as having been a boy or man, referring to her birth name, and focusing on her physical transformation and her surgery specifically as the point when she "became" a woman. Piers Morgan comes off as not only trans-ignorant, but also pretty sexist. The whole interview can be summarized as, "Enough about your body, what does your boyfriend think of your body?"

I'm not saying that to be an ally or even a good person you need to sit home and pour over feminist theory or read every press release put out by the NAACP, but if you're gonna talk about these things, learn about them. It would have taken Piers Morgan 20 minutes on TransAdvocate's Facebook page (or I don't know, skimming the book he was conducting the interview about) to know that some of what he was saying to and about Mock was not okay.

For those of us who are not journalists there's a lesson to be learned:come from a place of listening and ask questions. And I don't mean "what does your genitals look like?" I mean, "what do I need to know?"

4) See people for who they are not what they are.

Start watching this video at 1:30

One of my pet peeves in life is when someone refers to their "gay friend." Like, "this is my gay friend, Steve." Maybe I've just reached a critical mass of gay friendship where it no longer makes sense to make that distinction, but it seems to me that that person's function in your life should be being your friend, not being gay. My problem with "gay friend" is that it essentializes that person into a gay stereotype and functionally objectifies them. (Things on my shopping list, "flashlight, screwdriver, gay friend" you never know when you'll need one around!) It's important that we see things like race and gender because they pervade our culture and are too infrequently discussed. However when all you see is race or gender, that can be equally problematic.

In the above video Kansas Senator Pat Roberts tells Surgeon General nominee Vivek Murthy that Murthy would feel "right at home" in Roberts' hometown of Dodge City because they have Indian doctors there too. He was 1/2 way to telling him he enjoy his people's breads and curries. Yikes.

5) You're going to make mistakes. When you do, own up to them.

While Piers Morgan's initial interview was pretty inexcusable because you'd think as a journalist he would have done some research, it is also not surprising. Our society does a crap job of talking about real trans people and their stories and as a result misconceptions abound. Look, you're going to make mistakes. I've done some things that looking back are absolutely cringe-worthy. I work in LGBT politics and it wasn't until recently that I understood how offensive it is to use the word "tranny." I'm not proud of that, but I shared it because it illustrates how even the best intentioned among us (and I'd like to count myself in that group) can mess up royally. The trick is to learn from it. Piers Morgan's insensitivity could have been a great teaching moment for both him and his audience, but instead his defensiveness and self-righteousness made him look like a total jackass.

No one expects you to know everything. Some of the sweetest men I know who would never mean to say something to offend me have uttered some pretty boneheaded sexist things. The difference between mainsplaining/me not talking to them for a week and an honest conversation that brings us closer is an apology. Sure, it's not great to offend someone, but when you do; apologize, learn from it and move on.

6)You don't get to decide what's offensive.

Speaking of intentions, the road to hell is paved with the best of them. What's so painful about watching this whole incident unfold is how genuinely and misguidedly hurt Piers Morgan is by the accusation that his original interview of Mock was offensive. However as Mock brilliantly points out, "being offensive and being kind are not mutually exclusive things." When it comes to any sort of privilege, you have to remember we're not just talking about one interaction. We're talking about years of systemic, deep-rooted oppression.

When Piers Morgan asked Mock about her surgery, it may well have come from a place of curiosity and interest in her life story, but what many of Mock's followers heard was, "Because you are a woman,a transwoman, and a woman of color, your body and its most intimate details are up for public discussion" and "You were not a 'real' woman until your body looked the way society expects a woman to look." I've had this discussion with my mother who occasionally insists on using the word "fag" to describe someone who is acting dorky. Yes, I know what she means by it but the people at the next table don't and at very least you are subtly reinforcing the idea that gay is wrong or bad even if that's not a belief you hold. Bottom line, when it comes to privilege if people are offended, it's offensive. And by the way, Piers Morgan, screaming over them is not the best solution.

7) It's no one's job to make space for you.

Did you hear the one about the male women's studies student who never showed up to class because he was intimidated by being in a room full of women and then sued the Professor for failing him? Nope that's not a joke. That actually happened. Required reading here. My favorite quote from the story?
“I believe if you want to attract more males to these courses, you have to work with them. My request for accommodation was reasonable.”
This is obviously a ridiculous extreme but it speaks to a larger phenomenon. As an ally it's no one's job to make you feel comfortable. There will be spaces where you are not invited at all and there will be spaces where you don't get to dictate the agenda. Yes, it is just good sense for men and woman to work together for gender equality, but it's not women's job to find a way to include men, it's ally men's job to find a way to work with us. The fact that this man expected to be catered to only underscores his privilege. You want to be part of space that is tailor-made to accommodate men, or white people, or cispeople, or straight people? GO OUTSIDE LITERALLY ANYWHERE IN AMERICA. You're in my house now. You don't get to come in and rearrange the furniture to your liking.

As I said before, we're going to mistakes. These, and others. What I appreciate in an ally and what I aim for myself is striving to do better, knowing that issues of sex, gender, race, body and class will always be fraught with pitfalls. So I leave you with this excellent video about using your privilege in the right way.

Ally Love and Mine,


Monday, February 3, 2014

Advocate From Where You Stand: Delicious Edition

I got my first taste of call time as a Girl Scout. Hours with a list and a pen were spent calling through my parents' friends, neighbors, and teachers, deputizing my father (who I guess is technically my first supervol) to sell cookies at his office and my mother, or Staging Location Director to be the troop "cookie lady" which meant we stored the cookies in my garage...and always had extras to sell to those who suffered non-orderer's remorse. I sold the most cookies in my troop every year and so, ladies and gentleman, a star was born. So the Tea Party can go after my right to privacy, they can go after my uterus, but when they go after my Thin Mints, it's personal.

Here's what happened. The Girl Scouts official twitter account retweeted this HuffPo Live Discussion about who should be 2013's Woman of the Year (for the record, and this is for another article, HuffPo Women is an embarrassment to women anyway).

The segment
included a less-than-sentence-long mention of Texas Gubernatorial candidate and known woman, Wendy Davis, and the conservanet (TM Nancy Leeds 2014) went ballistic. Actually they were already ballistic over the Girl Scouts and many other things, but they chose to rally around this non-incident as their cause du jour. And so CookieCott was born. CookieCott, as the name suggests is a "movement" (if something that is definitely going nowhere can be described as movement) to boycott the purchase of delicious, wholesome, American Girl Scout cookies in response to the Girl Scouts' endorsement of Wendy Davis. This plan is ludicrous for two reasons. First, the Girl Scouts never endorsed Wendy Davis. And second, it's a stunningly terrible PR move. I'm no Olivia Pope (have I mentioned I hate you guys for getting me into Scandal?) but going after the Girl Scouts and their universally-adored cookies is about one step shy of going after puppies.

What's more, you are energizing their base! I mean, I would have purchased Girl Scout cookies anyway because I'm pretty sure Samoas are the edible version of happiness, but now that you've made them the communion wafer of a woman's right to choose, game on. I'm ordering HELLA cookies and my friends and colleagues are too. Heck, when I heard that a friend at a woman's rights organization was helping sell cookies as a sort of boycott boycott, I gleefully ran around my pro-LGBT organization collecting orders. I promise you I did not make that up. In short, it's been a long time since organizing has been this delicious. So I ask you...

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Presidential Commission on Election Administration Talks About the REAL Problems With Election Technology

The findings are so important and affirming that I am just going to let Nate Persily, Research Director for the Commission, speak for himself.

The principal recommendations of the commission are:

1) modernization of the registration process through expansion of online voter registration and state collaboration in improving the accuracy of voter lists
2)improving access through expansion of pre-Election Day voting, and selection of suitable, well-equipped polling place facilities, such as schools
3) endorsement of tools to assure efficient management of polling places, hosted at the Caltech-MIT Voting Technology Project and available through the commission’s Web site;
4)reforms of the standard-setting and certification process for new voting technology to address soon-to-be antiquated voting machines and to encourage innovation and the adoption of widely available off-the-shelf technologies.

The issue of long polling place lines is an illustrative example. Media reports on long lines focus on battleground states, and usually the most populous counties within those states. National surveys, such as those conducted by Charles Stewart, have identified “problem states” where respondents report long wait times. What we need, however, are nationwide wait time data at the polling place level. As anyone who has visited Disney World with a child can attest, calculating wait times does not involve 21st century technology. But until we have every polling place in America using their stop watches for similar purposes, we will not have a clear picture of the location of the line problem and its multifarious causes.

The same can be said for any number of issues, such as the failure to count provisional, absentee and military ballots, accessibility of polling places, and perhaps the easiest and most important, the performance of voting technology. The lack of a nationwide data infrastructure hinders the kind of institutionalized learning and feedback loops that will allow our system of election administration to learn from itself. If the report of the Presidential Commission can push election officials to take even this minor, clearly nonpartisan step, it will have made a substantial, long lasting contribution to improving the voting experience.

Unrelatedly, I have been watching Scandal and House of Cards this weekend as soooo many people begged me to. I'm not gonna say they're not addictive, but we're got enough voting drama right here in real life.

Unrelatedly, I have started watching House of Cards and Scandal, so