Taradel director of marketing, Chris Barr, interviewed veteran political analyst, Rusty Tutton, for an exclusive preview of the 2018 election season. The following is the transcript of the interview:
CHRIS: Welcome to a Taradel Original Content production. I’m thrilled to be here today with Rusty Tutton. Rusty is a Field Director and Political Analyst who has experience in State legislative and Congressional campaigns. Today, we’re going to talk about, from your perspective and experience, what you see really drive voter turn out and move the needle in the political landscape.
CHRIS: Rusty, what is the biggest challenge facing a political campaign in the current day and age?
RUSTY: Really making sure that you’re connecting with voters. Data analysis is a crucial part of what you do, you can’t run a campaign without it. But sometimes, you can get lost in the shuffle. It’s very easy to sort of forget about connecting with individual voters and talking to individual voters, but sometimes, that can be put on the back burner and that always seems to be a priority. Whether that conversation is taken face to face, or whether you’re delivering a message in a sort of intimate way, that is the most important thing.
CHRIS: So, in the current political environment, do you find, through your experience, that most Americans have an open mindedness — and are willing to hear both sides of an issue?
RUSTY: Our political system is becoming increasingly tribal. That being said, I think even within the democratic or republican parties or whatever party you’re affiliated with, you know, you will find issues on both sides of the aisle. A republican voter might agree with an issue that Democrats mostly agree with, and vice versa. There are definitely sort of crossover issues that voters have and attracting those voters is how you win elections.
CHRIS: What are some of your favorite approaches for influencing voters that may have not indicated that they’re one way or another?
RUSTY: Introducing the (candidate’s) biography and connecting the voter with them first. Then when you talk about the issues, the voter tends to be a little bit more open.
CHRIS: Do you feel that in the digital age, personal or one-on-one connections are even more meaningful?
RUSTY: One-on-one conversations with your campaign are critical to sell voters on your candidate. Now, once you’ve introduced and you’ve had those conversations with your voter universe, using digital targeting and using things like television buys, direct mail, and things like that, those things are absolutely critical. But first you have to make sure that you’ve interacted with them in some way.
CHRIS: Why is it that political campaigns use so much direct mail? Especially, in the few weeks leading up to the vote?
RUSTY: There is this sort of perception out there that direct mail is irrelevant in this day and age — and that is like, the furthest thing from the truth. You have to connect with the voter first right? Now, if you’re just sending direct mail, you’re not running a very good campaign. But once you’ve connected with the voter, and you’ve had that one on one conversation, you have to make impressions on the voter in all sorts of different ways. You have to do things like digital targeting, video, television, yard signs, and so, I think a lot of people feel like you have to make seven impressions on a voter. You talk to them on the phone once, you knock on their door once, you know, a couple of pieces of direct mail, some digital targeting, a yard sign. They need to see your candidate’s name on several different spheres if they’re undecided to get them vying to vote for your candidate.
CHRIS: That’s true in marketing in general. It’s all about the impressions, right? And I think it’s also very true that some impressions matters more than others. So, if somebody sees your blogpost or a quick post on social media, for example, well, that’s an impression. Tt doesn’t necessarily make the same impression as holding something in your hands and flipping through it and having to deal with it. Right? I think it’s more of a direct and more memorable type of impression.
RUSTY: The thing about direct mail that is not true with video or television time, is that the voter can physically touch it, ok? They’re opening their mailbox and they’re interacting with this piece of paper and it’s one of those things where even if they only look at it for half of a second, it buries into their subconscious. They will remember it and it’s been sent directly to their house and there’s something to be said for a physical piece that the voter can touch. It has the candidate’s name on it and has a lasting impact. And to your point, you know, there is this sort of perception out there that if the person that you’re sending the direct mail to isn’t reading it, or isn’t picking up your flyer and reading through the entire flyer, and then maybe going and checking out online what the information on the flyer has to say, if they’re not doing that, then it’s not effective. And that’s not true at all. Even if it’s a quarter of a second, even if they just glance and see the candidate’s name. For example, when I ran the State legislative race last year, we had a piece of direct mail that had our candidate in a park ranger uniform, and it said, “Veteran. Ranger. Candidate.” on the front. In big bold letters. And, it literally take a fraction of a second to read. Even if the voter throws that piece of mail away, it’s still hugely impactful. Because now, the voter is either introduced to the candidate as a ranger — or, it’s reinforcing that’s what they are.
CHRIS: If you are advising a campaign,what are three or four things you can do to optimize a direct mail political flyer?
RUSTY: Sure. Really critical is that it’s colorful, it stands out, the piece of mail is alive, Additionally, it’s a really simple direct message. So, “Veteran. Ranger. Candidate.” It drives home a quick point, it’s got some good imagery on there, and then on the back, you know, if you want to have some sort of bullet points that talk about things that the candidate really believes in, that’s important. But, you do not want to put a bunch of text on there. They’re not gonna read all that stuff so if you go on to the backside and put some information about the candidate, keep it super brief. Once sentence for each point.
CHRIS: In terms of generating a response, is it like other types of marketing where you want want people to visit a webpage and join the mailing list or make a donation? Is there any element of that, or, is it just about awareness and getting the word out?
RUSTY: It’s more about awareness and making sure that the candidate is ID’d. And if you’re not doing direct mail, you’re not going to run a successful campaign.
CHRIS: Are there voters in your database, kind of segmented, so that you know, they’re very likely to vote or on the fence or unlikely? And then, do you direct more resources into the folks that maybe are in the undecided or unlikely?
RUSTY: There’s two things. There’s likely voters and then there’s supporters. And so, the intersection of those two, for example, if you go knock on a door and they’re saying, “I vote every single election, I love your candidate, I’m going to be out on Election Day.” Is there really a point to go knocking on their door again? You know, you might contact that voter again to help you volunteer, or put out a yard sign, but you know that you’ve got their vote. On the other end of the spectrum, you know, “I’m not with your political party, I really don’t believe in the candidate or the things that your candidate is saying… If they feel that strongly, you’re not going to really get anywhere. It’s not a good use of resources to spend time doing that. The biggest thing in America is voter turn out. If you’ve identified somebody that is an unreliable voter, but if they vote, they will vote for you, then getting them to the polls and communicating with them effectively is how you win or lose campaigns.
CHRIS: If you had to choose between boots on the ground or the best database and algorithms that money could buy to run a campaign, let’s say you could just choose one, which would you choose and why?
RUSTY: Boots on the ground. If you’re not talking to voters, you’re loosing and so…
CHRIS: Even with the best data, the best algorithms and…
RUSTY: It’s because it doesn’t matter what you message is. It doesn’t matter how heart warming of a biography video you have. If you’re not having individual, one on one conversations with the voter, then they are going to think that you’re detached from their reality.
CHRIS: Ok. So, it sound to me like there’s a long buildup where you’re making impression after impression after impression.
CHRIS: And setting the stage, introducing your candidate, making sure that people are aware of the issues and what they stand for — to bring all of the people to the concert, so to speak.
CHRIS: And then… that last four days is the blitz where you’ve gotta get turn out and votes. The support is great, but it really comes down to let’s get them out to vote.
CHRIS: Is that accurate?
RUSTY: That’s actually right… and it’s really like last 21 Days, voters really start to tune in a lot more and then the last four days are when voters are, like, thinking about it through several points of their day. And that’s when it’s most effective. When voters are thinking about an issue, whether it’s a product or campaign or whatever, we’re going to be more likely to engage.
CHRIS: Why are you in politics? I know it’s a very cut through thing industry…
RUSTY: It’s not as bad as some people say.
CHRIS: Is that true?
CHRIS: So, why do you do it? Why do you love politics? Why do you dedicate 80-plus hours a week to run a campaign?
RUSTY: Because democracy is the bedrock of our civilization. If we’re not talking to people about, you know, the things that run our society… We are so fortunate to live in a democratic society, a democratic republic if you want to get technical. There’s nothing more important that a person can do, than to influence our democracy in a positive way and get people out to vote, and connect with them on issues that they believe in.
CHRIS: Rusty, it’s been an absolute pressure, thank you so much.
RUSTY: Thank, Chris.