Your chamber or nonprofit organization has decided to engage in a referendum campaign. Whether you are marketing only to those affiliated with your organization, doing a get-out-the-vote campaign, or executing a community-wide influence campaign, you will need messaging, a team, and marketing to win.
WIIFM (what’s in it for me) is alive and well at the ballot box. Craft your messages to focus on benefits delivered. For example, instead of promoting a new road, talk of getting home to the family faster or shorter commutes to the office. When the benefits are defined, develop the campaign slogan and tag-line.
If the referendum is for projects funded by sales tax and your area attracts shoppers from other counties, the message should include a tax reduction benefit.
The local government entity asking for the referendum cannot actively market, but it can provide information. Work closely with the local government to ensure the campaign doesn’t misrepresent any information. For transparency, provide access to wonky details on your campaign website or link to the local government’s information website.
Campaign leadership is critical. Well-respected former elected officials are excellent choices for campaign chairs. They know the process and understand campaign strategy. To avoid partisanship, have co-chairs representing each party.
Campaign team members should include individuals affiliated with your organization and partnering organizations. Tap people active with the county Republican and Democratic parties that may not be affiliated with your organization. Just as there are vocal, politically active people within the parties that often oppose referendums, there are those that support them too. Ask the party reps to assist with responding to social media posts that could hurt the campaign. These people are trusted within their party. When they reiterate facts about the referendum, it can reduce, and sometimes eliminate, negativity.
If your campaign doesn’t have a big budget, cost-effective marketing options are available, especially if you have a good group of campaign volunteers.
First and foremost, the campaign needs a good website with a web address that aligns with the campaign name or slogan. A good website doesn’t have to be expensive but make sure it is informative, visually attractive, and easy to navigate.
Social media is effective but be prepared to manage negative comments and trolls. Your local trusted party committee members and former elected officials tackling the comments can mitigate negative social media.
Have a speaker’s bureau to reach local civic groups and homeowners associations.
Executing call-nights with your team calling voters is a powerful low-cost tool. Costs include buying a call list and likely springing for pizza.
Ask community leaders that support the referendum to write letters to the editor. Likely local voters still read the paper, and it is easy to repost the letters on social media or link to the website.
Modern marketers scoff at yard signs, but there is nothing better to reach local voters. A few well-placed signs in front of popular businesses or homes of community leaders have a great impact. Follow the law and place them only with permission. Do not place them in the right of way! Once the referendum is over, get all signs down ASAP!
If you have the funds, invest in mailers. Buying newspaper, radio, local television stations, or cable ads can also increase your reach.
Thankfully, campaigns are usually short but intense. So good luck and happy campaigning!