Setting the Terms
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Setting the Terms

πŸ“Ί Getting Positive Earned Media

Positive earned media is important to getting your campaign's message out to your voters. Most voters need to hear your message more than once, and media is another avenue to get your message to your voters. A communications director/team will be able to help your campaign with effectively gaining positive earned media. If you don't have communications staff, gathering people who you trust and know your community can help you put out authentic and effective statements.

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What is earned media? Earned media is any media coverage that your campaign receives that is not directly created and paid for by your campaign. Examples of earned media include letters to the editor, traditional news coverage and social media hype.

Letters to the Editor

LTEs are a very common way to get earned media in newspapers. Campaign staff can help the letter writers draft the letter and stay on message. Some things to think about in regards to LTEs are:

  • What are all of the newspapers in your district and what are their requirements for LTEs?
  • Who are your letter writers?
  • What do you want to be the message that you are highlighting?

Traditional News Coverage

To get traditional news coverage, the media must know that you are doing things worthy of coverage. Media advisories and press releases can help your campaign notify the press about events and other campaign activities. You can also ask around in your community and find people who work in local media to pitch stories to. In general, having an active campaign will garner you some traditional media coverage.

Social Media Presence

In 2021, it is clearly important to have a strong social media presence for your campaign. Most campaigns are at least on Twitter and Facebook. Not all social media posts are equal and it will be important for your campaign to familiarize itself with what types of posts do well on each platform to try to maximize the impact.

Videos used to be considered the golden post on Facebook and Twitter however, there is evidence to suggest that that is no longer true. In May 2021, CAP Action showed that the Facebook posts that got the most interactions in April 2021 were not videos but rather statuses and images.

What's Trending?
What's Trending? 100 days by CAP Action and Alex Witt

⛔️ Defining Your Opponent

As much as you want to have a clear story as to why you are the person for the job, you will also need to have a clear narrative as to why your opponent is NOT the person for the job.

A few questions to answer about your opponent:

  • Who is your opponent?
    • What is their background?
    • What part of the district do they represent?
  • Why is are they the wrong person for the job?
  • If applicable, are there votes that go against the community that your campaign can highlight when necessary?

πŸ’¬ Defining the Issues at Stake

You are likely not running for office because you think that your district is doing perfectly well. There are problems that you think you can address.

  • What are the issues that you think are most pressing to your district?
  • What are the issues that the voters in your district are the most pressing?
  • How do you talk about these issues?
  • How do voters on both sides of the aisle talk about these issues?

πŸ…Defining yourself

Now that you have defined your opponent and what is at stake, its time to define yourself. How do you want to run?

A good first step is to complete a Tully or Messaging box exercise. This is a classic campaign messaging tool that helps candidates define themselves and more specifically, how they are different from their opponents. It also allows candidates to develop a message that is resilient to attacks from their opponents.

To conduct a Tully box exercise, create a four boxes:

  • What we say about us: put your stump speech talking points here, why are you running? What are you running on?
  • What they say about themselves: how does your opponent construct themselves?
  • What do they say about us: how does your opponent frame you and your campaign?
  • What do we say about them: how do you respond to the arguments and framing of your opponent?

More instructions on conducting a Tully box exercise can be found here.

After you have filled out the box, pick common themes to develop a core message.

Case Study: "Gun Reform" and "Gun Violence Prevention"

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Rep. Jayapal (WA-7)

β€œGun violence is a public health crisis. It has claimed thousands of innocent lives and we must do everything we can to enact common sense gun reform. The American people are tired of sending thoughts and prayers and are outraged at seeing children die because the gun lobby puts profit over people.” β€” Jayapal

District context:

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WA-7 includes most of Seattle and is one of the most Democratic districts on the west coast and has been a Democratic stronghold for decades. It is predominately white (76%).

Rep. Spanberger (VA-7)

"Thousands of Americans die each year due to violence, suicide, or accidents involving firearms.... As a former federal law enforcement officer, I used to carry a firearm every day for my job, and I support responsible gun ownership and our Second Amendment, but the ever-increasing number of Americans who die each day requires that we take action." β€” Spanberger

District context:

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VA-7 is a suburban district that was held by a Republican for 36 years before Spanberger flipped it in 2018. This is a majority white district (66%).

Both of these representatives at the end of the day are saying similar things β€” too many Americans are being impacted by gun violence and there needs to be action taken to reduce gun violence in America. You can see that both representatives have a message that fits their state and their district and that the message is different.

The Differences in the Message

Rep. Jayapal directly says that she is looking for common sense gun reform because Americans are tired of "thoughts and prayers" while the gun lobby puts profits over people. The gun lobby is the opponent in Jayapal's statement on gun reform. This is in line with a more liberal gun reform stance.

Rep. Spanberger highlights that she is a former law enforcement officer that carried a gun and she explicitly supports the Second Amendment but she does think that there is a need to act on guns due to the growing impact of gun violence in America. There is not a clearly defined opponent in Spanberger's statement for gun violence prevention. This is a more moderate to conservative stance.

πŸ† Earning and Leveraging Endorsements

Endorsements are helpful in signaling what type of candidate you are to voters. An example of this would be Moms Demand Action Gun Sense candidate endorsements. A Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate clearly tells voters what gun policies are supported by that candidate.

Groups like Moms Demand Action typically have a standardized process for endorsing candidates where as individual community leaders might not have a standardized process.

Tips for Earning Endorsements:

  • Start early, especially if you are trying to earn endorsements in a primary.
  • If you are seeking an endorsement from a national group that has local branches, you will want to reach out the local group directly to see what their process is for endorsing candidates. They might not have requirements and protocol up on their website.
    • Examples of groups that have a local branch are Moms Demand Action, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Indivisible and League of Conservation Voters.
  • Make sure that you fit the type of candidate that they endorse and that their values align with the type of candidate that you are striving to be.
  • For individual endorsements, it will obviously help if you already have some sort of relationship with the individual or some other direct connection with the individual. However, if you don't you should try to reach out and establish that connection before asking them to endorse you β€” again, the earlier you start on this the better.

You'll need to decide what mix of group and individual endorsements you want to pursue and what would mean the most to your constituents.

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An example of mixing endorsement types is from Rep. Cori Bush (MO - 01) as she has endorsements from large national organizations down to local activists. Her endorsements from large organizations include: Justice Democrats, Sunrise Movement and Moms Demand Action. Her state and local organization endorsements include: Missouri AFL-CIO, Clayton Township Democrats and St. Louis Young Democrats. She mixes her individual endorsements from nationally known progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Ayanna Pressley to local city council members and activists.

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