The Six Principles of Effective Direct Mail by Kevin Mack & Phil LaRue

By at September 1, 2011 | 7:10 pm | Print

The Six Principles of Effective Direct Mail by Kevin Mack & Phil LaRue

(1)   Keep it Short: A common direct mail mistake is to cram as much information into each piece as possible. That goes against every piece of communication research available. Voters are busy. They scan mail and get information in sound bites.  Don’t fight what people have been trained their whole lives to do. Embrace it.

Bottom Line:  Seven word headlines. No more than 100 words total on an 8.5 x 11” postcard or 250 words on a brochure.


(2)   Keep it Simple: The message of your piece needs to be front and center, not buried. Headlines, body copy, fonts, colors, and images have to reinforce your message. That sounds easy, but it’s a consistent problem. Ask yourself, what’s the main goal of this piece of mail? If any element of the piece detracts from that goal, delete it. Regardless of how “important” it may be.

Bottom Line: Never let design get in the way of message. Simplify!


(3)   A Picture is (Still) Worth a Thousand Words: Pictures matter. More than words.  If you are the new face, with new ideas and new solutions, then a photo of you in a blue suit, with a red tie, standing in front of the courthouse, with 16 elected officials, just won’t work!  Think about the story you want to tell voters, and then get professional pictures that tell that story.

Bottom Line: Make sure each photo tells your story.  Be creative. And invest in a professional photo shoot.


(4)   Add to Your Mail by Subtracting Elements: Resist the temptation to force that extra photo, extra quote or extra bullet point of information into a mail piece. The extra information will rarely get read, and it actually decreases the chance that anything gets read. Voters just aren’t willing to commit “extra” time to a piece of political mail.

Bottom Line: If you think you’re forcing extra photos or text onto a piece, you’re probably right. Resist the temptation. It’s more important that voters actually read your core message than the extra information.


(5)   If You’re Going Negative, Go Negative!: There is no “fact-based negative” or “issue negative” or “half-negative.” It’s all negative. Don’t water down your message or bury it to make yourself feel better. If you’re not willing to firmly attack your opponent’s record/plans, don’t bother at all.

Bottom Line: All in. Don’t water down attacks on your opponent by adding qualifiers or over-explaining information. If you are explaining, you are losing.


(6)   Hierarchy: Think about the hierarchy of the information presented on a mail piece. What should voters read first? What should they read second? What is the most important piece of information on the piece? Use headlines, sub-headlines and visual cues to let voters know how to read the material you are presenting.

Bottom Line: Your mail should make it easy for voters to get your core message. Have a clear visual path and that lets the reader know how and what to read.


Kevin Mack, Partner and Phil LaRue, Senior Political Writer at  Mark Crounse Group    MCG understands that political communication is not about candidates, consultants, pundits or blogs. It’s about connecting with real people who lead real lives and don’t spend much time thinking about politics. When developing a plan for our clients, we embrace a collaborative approach, working as a team to devise sound strategy and creative concepts that can be brought to life with eye-catching design.

Mack|Crounse Group           2001 N. Beauregard St. Suite 420              Alexandria, VA 22311        703.341.4440                       


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  • Dotty LeMieux

    Good tips. I sometimes use a teaser on the front cover to get the voter to open and read. Not giving it all away up front can intrigue the voter into reading more ion the inside. This must only be done in hot races where the teaser brings up important issue the voter cares about or clever way to point out negatives of the other candidate.

    If it just says Joe Smith, experienced leader, with his smiling picture on the front, no one cares, no one opens, no one read. But if it says What Jim Jones (the opponent) doesn’t want you to know about >>>>> you are curious.

  • Kmack

    Hi Dotty. Thanks for the insight. We sometimes use the “teaser” if we do ten or more pieces of mail in a race to mix it up. The mail testing from the past few years shows the direct approach works much better because (unfortunately) most voters aren’t that curious anymore. My recommendation is to deliver your message on the front and back of the piece so you don’t have to hope they open it to learn more. Interestingly, testing shows they get the message by reading a headline. I think it’s because people are so conditioned to get information through headlines, screen crawlers, facebook and text messaging. Interested in what others think.

  • Dotty LeMieux

    I agree about the headline. We often “break the rues” about cramming too much in, purposefully, for those who care, but make sure our Headline says it all, so no one has to read further. So far, it’s been a winning combination. And we get good press out of it to boot.