Time to get Local: Composing Truly Grassroots Campaign Emails

Internet | Access/Network
“Time to get local” — the subject line of the email from John Kerry’s campaign implores. This rings hollow as the emails themselves come from the national office. Everyday, I and perhaps millions of other Kerry supporters, get emails from a bunch of behind-the-scenes people on the campaign: Josh Ross, Mary Bath Cahill, John Norris, Bill Clinton…

Ok, maybe the last person in that list has enough star power to pull in a few bucks. When the Kerry campaign sought to raise $10 million in ten days in March, they trotted out all of the big names on the emails– perhaps as a friendly reminder to people who’s in the Democratic party these days. (The KerryCore fundraising, only raised $116,448). But now we’re in for the long haul. We’ve exhausted the rocket boosters, and now we need to fuel our main engines for the next 6 months.

What worries me is an observation from the May Atlantic Monthly, “The Front Runner’s Fall”, in which Dean’s media consultant Paul Maslin posited that the contacting has its limits. “One can certainly speculate that we went deep into overkill. A woman in a focus group had told us that she was sick of being called again and again by Deaniacs; multiply her by thousands.” As the email campaign yields diminishing returns, voters will get as numbed to them as they are to “V!agra” and “Home M0rtgage Loanz”. When they see an email signed by the name of a person who obviously will not be able to reply, the messages will not seem at all different from spam. And will be ignored.

In theory, email communications can be targeted to different users. It is said that the Democratic Party has a DataMart of 160 million voters, just like the GOP’s Voter Vault (see Push Campaigning), which supposed has three hundred different pieces of data about each voter. Funny, I get the same message as everyone else, even though I am a recognized fundraising leader. (When I did phone banking in Boston, I didn’t see any evidence of the DataMart there, either.)

The Proposal

I’d like to propose several suggestions for the official Kerry campaign email messages. I’d like to propose that the messages be balanced to address the primary campaign motivations— why people should get involved in a campaign. The message should be stronger; the community and networking opportunities should be plainly listed; some educational text should be provided clearly to direct people to learn more. At present, the information for community/networking is not very informative; it meekly invites people to sign up in the central database.

Each email should identify local party leaders, or even, if possible, be addressed from them as well. This would make recipients feel like they are getting personal mails from people that they can write back to– and those local party leaders should be people who can respond. It will help Social Network Fundraising prove itself, so that voters can be connected to the candidate through locally known leaders.

Here’s a proposed message body. I’ve put things in bold which are variable for each location/demographic group. I put this together from real facts and figures, current for this week. I listed myself among the Brookline stars– not because I’m in the league of the other three, who have have been political organizing over many years– but precisely because I’m newer to this, and the visibiltiy new faces should encourage people to join.


We want to raise $10M, and we’re at $2.9M and the month is almost half over…

“America does not merely need a new Secretary of Defense. We need a new President. One who is strong enough to give our brave troops the allies and the armor they need; and one who is strong enough to take responsibility and, when necessary, correct course. We need a President who knows the difference between strength and stubbornness.”
John Kerry, May 7th, at the Democratic Leadership Council’s National Convention.

In the Boston Area, you’re very important to us as the hub of the New England campaign and the well of Senator Kerry’s support. Here’s some events upcoming in your area:

  • Sat, May 15th– canvassing in Keane, NH
  • Sun, May 16th– canvassing in Concord, NH
  • Mon, May 19th– phone banking at headquarters, 60 Canal St.
  • Wed, May 19th– Young Professionals for Kerry at Ned Devine’s pub
  • Thu, May 27th– Meetup, vote on a location

These are the people of Brookline, MA, who are doing great work for the campaign:

  • Cindy Rowe, Chairwoman of the Democratic Town Committee.
  • Jesse Mermell, chair of Brookline PAX and a director of Massachusetts Democratic Futures; will be attending the Democratic National Convention as a delegate.
  • Cameron Kerry, who has raised $100,000 for the campaign.
  • Jon Garfunkel, who raised $4000 and was the national runner-up in the KerryCore contest, local volunteer. Make a donation through Jon’s KerryCore team!

You’ve showed an interest in Women’s Issues. Here’s some facts and figures from Lisa Rickert, Deputy National Director of Women for Kerry:
“Women and their families are losing access to health insurance — in 2002, 43.6 million American families were uninsured — and health care costs continue to escalate. The latest Bush budget freezes funding for the Maternal and Child Health Block grant, cutting access to vital services such as screenings for newborns and parental care.”
Learn more…

Help us run the kind of grassroots campaign we all know is required for victory.

This should be the structure of the campaign portal as well. The website and email production may be all centralized– like Meetups or Evite– but the presentation should be very much localized to encourage grassroots involvment. If the national office can’t do this, than the state and local committees should be the ones who handle a majority of the email communications.

In addition, the campaign should avoid gimmicks like building a petition for a specific cause, like the firing of Rumsfeld. There was a curious “competition” of who would drive it, and ultimately the Kerry campaign was knocked for doing so, and I think that may have been deserved (and wouldn’t have been necessary if the DNC took up the cause). Why not build mini-“petitions” around every message statement that is delivered? This can be done using ViewPoints as on this website. This would yield a number of positive benefits: it wouldn’t put focus on special petitions; it would allow the campaign to get a “pulse” feel of how supporters feel about any and every issue; it would allow people to simply and quickly “interact” so that their opinion can be counted, without the mess of trying to read through all the emails and blog comments and forum posts.

Overall, my sense is that supporters are still giving the campaign a free pass on emails, dedicated as they are to the cause. With that in mind, the campaign should not hold back from innovating the technology. Optimal use of Internet communications should help us in November and in the election cycles to come.

May 16th update: I should also suggest that 2-3 emails a day is absolutely overkill. It perhaps should be 2-3 emails a week. Also, I should amend the proposal, after considering a thought from Dan Payne’s “Armchair Strategist” in today’s Boston Globe— if the whole country is talking about Iraq, bringing up health care is counter-productive.
June 17th update: the Kerry campaign has slowed their emails slightly, but hasn’t changed the format. Nonetheless, their new online Volunteer Center has put all pieces together very impressively.