Why most campaign emails suck

Every candidate wants to believe their campaign emails are worthy of the national archives—precious correspondences of the utmost interest to their distribution list. 

The reality is most of those emails will languish unopened in inboxes or moved quickly into a deleted items folder.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  When executed properly, a campaign email plan can be a useful tool.

This isn’t a post about optimizing the color blue in your email for a .4% increase in click through rates. This is about fixing the overarching problems with candidate emails.

We first need to understand why so many candidate emails sucks.

Take a moment and think about the emails you never open.

What emotions do these unopened emails elicit?

Maybe a little guilt for not reading them.  Probably annoyance for cluttering your inbox.  Overall, the feelings are negative.

Now think about that one person or company whose emails you read every time.  You see their email in your Inbox and you make a point to read it right away, or add it to your mental To Do list to read it later

Why do you love some emails but ignore others?

It usually comes down to one of two reasons. These emails provide:

  • an emotional connection with you as a reader, and/or
  • content so useful you don’t want to miss it.

Most campaign emails don’t provide either. At best there’s a weak connection—if any connection at all—and the content is usually mediocre.  They yo-yo from long, boring “Campaign Updates” to hyperbolic donation pleas explaining how a $5 donation will fend off the apocalypse.

Don’t do this.  Instead follow these four principles for campaign email excellence.

Four Principles of Campaign Email

1Purpose & Relevance – 
Have one specific goal for the email

People are busy. Your emails should build a relationship with the readers to make them interested in you.  But long and unfocused messages will bore even your most ardent supporters.

Before you draft your email decide on its specific goal and purpose.

Is this a donation email? Is this a recap of a campaign event? Is it to recruit volunteers for your upcoming phone bank?

Just pick one goal and purpose.  It’s tempting to include more, but don’t.

A great way to break down the purpose of an email is to answer these three questions:

  • What do I want the voter/reader to know?
  • What do I want the voter/reader to feel?
  • What do I want the voter/reader to do?

These questions were adapted from a discussion on creating pitches by Daniel Pink in his book, To Sell is Human.  While they were intended for pitching potential customers they equally apply to candidate email.

2Personal & Conversational –
Write to a single voter and speak American

You want to shine in your emails.  Most people who sign up for your emails are at least somewhat interested in your campaign. Develop that relationship.  Create a greater bond with them.

When drafting your emails think about writing them to a single voter.  Put their name at the top and write like it’s a personal correspondence.  Don’t use “Dear George,” no one uses “Dear” in an email—it’s too formal and impersonal.  Use something like “Hi George” or “Hey George” or even just “George”. Write it like one normal human would write to another.

As you write to a single individual your writing and tone will be more friendly and conversational. This is what you want.  Most people who will vote for you will do so because they like you not because of a platform of issues.  Your emails should show a little bit of your personality.  It’s OK to joke in your emails, or tell a quick story about how your baby niece spit up all over your favorite shirt.  People want to elect someone who is normal like them.

Include compelling stories.  People remember stories much longer than they remember facts.  Write about a small business you visited on your Main Street walk.  Tell a story about a volunteer who went above and beyond to help your campaign.  Share a personal story of some life event that shaped your political views.  The idea is to get people to relate to you, to see that you actually care and are a thoughtful normal person they’d be comfortable representing them.

After you finish your draft, read it out loud.  Does it sound like how you would talk one-on-one with someone?  If not revise until it sounds normal and conversation not stiff and formal.

3Connect & Concise –
Lose the design and connect

Because we process so many emails a day, we often subconsciously categorize emails based on their appearance.  We see a highly designed email and we think “impersonal” or “sales and marketing”.  On the other hand, emails from friends and family usually are just simple text with an occasional picture.

Gettysburg Rule ­– No more than 270 words in your email. President Lincoln delivered one of the greatest speeches in American history in 270 words. You can figure out how to announce an event or request a donation with the same amount of text.
Do you want voters to feel like your email is a sales and marketing pitch or a personal message from a friend?

Lose the formatting, fancy headers and images of your signature.  Sure, all that formatting might look very nice, but it also puts up a barrier with your voters and immediately frames your emails as an impersonal, electronic junk mail.

Focus instead on concise content.  You want voters to get in the habit of reading your emails.  If your emails only take 2-3 minutes to read you will get more repeat readers.  A good rule for email is what I call the Gettysburg Rule ­– No more than 270 words.   President Lincoln delivered one of the greatest speeches in American history in 270 words.  You can figure out how to announce an event or request a donation with the same amount of text.  We’re not kidding about this rule, if you can’t get it under 270 words, Do Not Send It.

You can also use video in your email to enhance your connection with the reader (See easy video with your iPhone).  They don’t have to be complex.  A quick story about the campaign or an update on a specific event makes a great vid.  So does a video of a supporter sharing why he or she supports you.  But, just like emails, a campaign video it needs to be interesting and engaging.  If you take a video and it’s crappy then don’t use it.

How many emails do you receive from friends that have an image of their physical signature?  For some reason many candidates believe this is an essential part of any campaign email.  You may think it’s a cool idea, but it usually shows up like this right-click-to-download-picture

4Subject lines & Calls to Action – Get them to open, get them to act

Subject lines can have a dramatic impact on how many people open and read your email.  The most successful types of subject lines either pique voters’ curiosity or provide them specific info that’s useful or interesting.   A subject line of “Campaign Update #7” is not going to get as many clicks as “17 cups of coffee, 148 miles and 352 voters”.  It might be the exact same email but which would you rather open?   Make the voter want to find out what you are talking about and what they are missing.

For calls to action, remember the question of what you want people to do after they read your email?  Be simple and direct.  Do you want them to forward the email to a friend?  Donate $5 to your campaign.  Volunteer at your next phone bank?  Give you their opinion on a specific issue?  Whatever your call to action is, make it specific and clear so the reader knows exactly what to do.

Campaign emails can be a great way to develop a greater connection with supporters and undecided voters.   Every email you send should be designed to increase this connection.  Provide content that is useful and emotionally appealing to readers.  Otherwise, you’re wasting your time and theirs.  Follow the four principles and you’ll be amazed how effective your campaign emails become.

About the Author

Trevor Bragdon

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Hi, I’m the founder of EquipGOP. Every election cycle I meet smart, hardworking Republicans who are running for the first time but don’t know where to start. EquipGOP's goal is to help these local Republican candidates learn tactics and strategies they need to win on Election Day.