How Much is too Much? by Mark Pack and Edward Maxfield

By at August 12, 2013 | 3:24 pm | Print

How Much is too Much? by Mark Pack and Edward Maxfield

Edward Maxfield 2013

Why you must learn to hate trees.

Leaflets work. Many leaflets work better. One winning campaign we worked on saw 200,000 leaflets delivered by the volunteer team to the 50,000 households on election day alone.

It is not always a popular approach with campaigners. Indeed, chances are at some point you will hear a member of the public complain, ‘I’m fed up with all these election leaflets.’ So why do some campaigners talk about delivering so many leaflets and letters to voters?

 Imagine you are on the doorstep trying to persuade someone to vote for you. Even if the conversation goes really well, it is hard to persuade anyone of anything in less than ninety seconds. Now, factor in that typically one of your leaflets will only get a brief glance from a voter before being binned, dropped or ignorned – say, three seconds. If a leaflet typically gets three seconds of attention, then thirty leaflets (a large number!) only adds up to the same amount of time as that one hurried ninety-second conversation on the doorstep.

 Though there is a little of apples and oranges in this comparison, it makes the point: you need a lot of pieces of paper, phone calls, emails, text messages and more to add up to much of a correspondence with the voter.

Think of another practical example: a family home containing two adults and their two teenage children. In the final week of the campaign, you are planning to deliver a leaflet at the weekend, one on Monday, one on Wednesday evening and one on Thursday morning (election day). Dad is digging the garden when you deliver the leaflet on Sunday. He picks it up from the doormat, reads it and sticks it in the recycling bin. Daughter arrives home from school before anyone else on Monday and bins your second leaflet without reading it, because she is not interested in politics. On Wednesday evening, the son is heading out to football practice as you are delivering your third leaflet. He takes it from you, glances at it and leaves it on the floor of the car where it is tidied away the following weekend. On Thursday, mum is first out of the house, picks up your final leaflet, votes on the way to work and opens your final enveloped mailing on her coffee break at work.

 It is not a far-fetched scenario, is it? Four leaflets, two read, each by one person in the household, one is read three hours  after the person has voted. And in your campaign you plan that all four people will have read four leaflets each in the last few days of the campaign.

 The toleration level varies among people, which means that if nobody is complaining then you are doing less than the least tolerant person wants – and far less than the average person wants. It is only when you get a complaint or two that you are heading towards what the typical voter is happy with.

 So, the really scary thing is not to hear voters complaining about too much literature; it is to hear no complaints at all.

Moreover, even if complaints are about the quantity of leaflets, what usually causes them is the quality, not the quantity. Poor quality letters and leaflets bore people much more quickly and prompt complaints about ‘too much’. When the leaflets and letters are well written and lively on relevant issues, the complaints dissipate.

 In other words, chop down those trees, turn them into leaflets and letters and get them through people’s letterboxes as if paper were going out of fashion.

This lesson was taken from our book, 101 Ways To Win An Election which in addition to the 10 in this series has another 91 for you to learn from! Buy the book

Dr Mark Pack is the co-author of 101 Ways To Win an Election and former Head of Innovations for the UK’s Liberal Democrat party, where he ran the party’s 2001 and 2005 online general election campaigns. His internet campaigning firsts include arranging the first British political party leader on Facebook and the first British election candidate website to take online donations.

@markpack on Twitter

Dr Edward Maxfield has worked as a campaigns and communications professional for over a decade. He currently runs the constituency office of Norman Lamb, UK Member of Parliament and Health Minister in the Coalition Government. Ed was a member of the Liberal Democrats’ national campaigns team from 2001 to 2006 and has also worked as a lecturer, a lobbyist and for some of the world’s biggest business consultancy firms.


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