A compelling and concise message will make a big difference in your campaign. Staying on that message — without deviating — will make an even bigger difference. Polling plays a very big role in helping to craft your message.
A good message is heard, believed, remembered and repeated. Staying on message can be boring, frustrating, confusing, counterintuitive, and very difficult. Just when you are sick to death of your own message — and even make jokes about it — you will know you have begun to penetrate the electorate.
The Importance of a Message
The “message” is the simple, straightforward, persuasive, and positive information you want to convey.
Your voters have busy lives and their daily activities don’t include taking the time to study and understand your ballot measure. Voters also absorb information in a variety of ways and through a variety of sources, so it is vital that the message be consistent. If you don’t distill your message, the media will.
How to Craft Your Message
A good message describes your effort and provides the rationale for supporting it. The two most common mistakes are having a message that is either too complicated or too simple. Remember the four Cs: clear, concise, contrasting, convincing.
- Start with a clear goal: What will your measure do?
- What benefits will it bring to your community?
- Talk about the accountability elements, including establishment of a citizens’ oversight committee and annual audit of program spending, to reassure voters that funds will be spent appropriately.
- Contrast what your measure will provide with what will happen without it.
- Understand what matters to and moves your voters. If you have done a poll, use the language that achieved the best polling results.
- Connect with real people’s lives: Don’t use technical jargon, acronyms, complicated language or ambiguous explanations.
- Write it down.
When to Use Your Message
Always. In presentations, yard signs, campaign website, your campaign Facebook page, voter contact, and advertising such as direct mail, radio and television ads, and especially the ballot language that voters will see on Election Day. It is crucial to be consistent and disciplined in your message once you have put it together.
Common Message Pitfalls
Do not re-craft your message every ten days just because someone thinks they have a better way to say something. Once you have developed the message, be cautious about repeated changes to it.
A common tendency is to respond to every negative argument or to keep explaining every detail to a question asked. Spend your time and money — through paid media, earned media, and public presentations — talking about the benefits of your measure. Avoid getting pulled into off-message topics.
Be sure to lead with the benefits, not the costs. Be positive about the benefits that your conservation funding measure will bring. Certainly you mention how much your measure will cost the average household, but do not lead with that information or repeat it in every paragraph.
Messages That Worked
Here are a couple of examples of effective campaign messages:
BERNALILLO COUNTY, NEW MEXICO (2014)
The Open Space for All measure will create a dedicated source of funding to allow Bernalillo County to invest in and preserve the water quality of rivers and streams, as well as our natural areas, parks and trails. We have a unique opportunity to protect Bernalillo County’s water, land, agricultural and recreational opportunities for future generations. With 115,000 people expected to move into the Albuquerque area in the next ten years, we need to invest in the lands we have now, so that prices don’t become prohibitive in the future. Currently, the Board of County Commissioners takes money out of a very crowded general fund budget to support our parks and open space. With a dedicated source of local funding, we can make Bernalillo County eligible for state and federal matching funds that would otherwise go to other counties. The measure is a .20 mill levy that, for 15 years, will generate revenue dedicated to protecting the places where families recreate and children can explore nature.
TIGARD, OREGON (2010)
Measure 34-181 will allow the City to ensure that Tigard creeks and streams stay clean, by acquiring sensitive lands that border them, thereby preventing construction debris and pollutants from seeping into Tigard water.
There is not a lot of undeveloped land left in Tigard. Measure 34-181 will allow the City to act now, while land prices are inexpensive, and before developers have the opportunity to build on Tigard’s last natural areas and open space.
Additionally, Tigard has obligations to protect critical state and federally-listed species. Measure 34-181 will allow them to meet these obligations by allowing the City to protect critical wildlife habitats.
Nothing is more important than having clean water, this strengthens our economy by investing in our parks and natural areas which help attract business, research shows that homes near parks increase in value, construction costs are down therefore an excellent time to make improvements, bonds are available at lower interest rates, and properties can be secured at a lower cost to Tigard residents.
Tigard is a parks-deficient City by national standards. In order to remedy this critical shortfall, the City must acquire 82 acres now and 245 acres within the next 20 years. The Tigard Parks Master Plan also calls for parks within a half-mile of every Tigard resident, and Measure 34-181 will allow the City to achieve these goals.