Tales from the campaign trail: part ten – marketing judo

[Note: The observations, impressions and interpretations found here are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Jeff Johnson, who’s campaign this series is about. This series is about the marketing behind Jeff’s campaign. This is part x in a series. Parts one, two and three can be found here (part one), here (part two), here (part three), here (part four), here (part five), here (part six), here (part seven), here (part eight) and here (part nine).]

In this election, Jeff Johnson was a complete unknown.  He was a self-made small businessman with a wealth of life experiences – from racing hydroplanes to doing stand-up comedy. When Hurricane Katrina hit, he flew down to help clean up, when floods hit Lake Forest Park, he cleaned out the homes of people he didn’t even know. Jeff came to this election with little name recognition, but a ton of life experience.

This was where his opponent, Chuck Paulsen, made the exact mistake we hoped he’d make.

In 2011, when local national and international governments are falling apart left and right, people are looking for solutions from people with real life business and problem-solving experience. They are not looking for people with years of government experience. In the eyes of many, those are the exact people who brought us the fiscal crisis’ that towns all across the country are facing.

In these times, this was the direct mail piece to LFP homes that Chuck Paulsen opened with:

He predictably highlighted his years of LFP city government experience and contrasted them to what he thought was Jeff’s lack of experience. Within 30 minutes, we answered with this post on our Facebook page, which was seen over 700 times prior to election day:

“Just got this in the mail today from my opponent, and he nailed it. This is exactly what I’ve been trying to say since I started this campaign. I’m not one of them. The choice couldn’t be clearer: More of the same from all the same names or a new perspective from an independent thinker with a variety of real life successes and experiences. We’ll see which direction people want to go on November 8th.”

In fact, for the days following the arrival of that mail piece, we took it with us when we went doorbelling to call attention to his involvement with the current fiscal crisis facing LFP.  It proved to be quite effective.

We would subsequently touch on this theme several more times on our page with entries such as this:

“I’ve heard the objection that I don’t have any experience. On the contrary, I think it is one of my strengths. If you read my “about” page, you will see I’ve got a very diverse, interesting, unusual and even entertaining background that I’m very proud of. I think the real objection may be that I don’t have much experience sitting in a room, thinking about things and writing long papers. My experience leans more toward action and results. And along the way, I’ve worked with the rich, the poor, liberals, conservatives, white collar and blue collar. And don’t we want someone who likes and understands people and what they need? It is up to you to decide.”

This post included a link to our website, which received quite a bit of traffic from our Facebook site.

Shortly after that arrived, mayoral candidate Dwight Thompson sent out an attack piece against LFP Gov Watch, a citizen watchdog group who had endorsed Jeff. At this point, we had decided to run against all four of the incumbents, not just Chuck, so we went after Dwight’s piece with an hour of seeing it. We posted this image on our Facebook page:

And posted this on top of it:

“This is a portion of a direct mail piece that Dwight Thompson put out about Gov Watch. My question: If the City of LFP has so much money, why did he, Paulsen, Stanford and Sterner feel we had to raise taxes – so much so that they all contributed their personal money to support Prop. 1? This is why I’m running. Our government doesn’t represent it’s own employers… the people. I do, and I will.”

It was a strong statement that was again seen by more than 700 people prior to election day. We would also take this flyer around to talk about, and we inspired an editorial in the Patch asking the same question.

We actually posted two sections of Dwight’s foolish attack on Gov Watch, this was the second image:

And we attached this response above it on our Facebook page:

“I’m not sure who Dwight is talking about, but I can only speak for myself. I’ve had my goals and priorities on my website – jeffjohnsonforcouncil.com – for some time now, and like in every endeavor I undertake, they are decidedly YES. I’ve accomplished a lot in my life, and it was because I see opportunities and seize them with positivity. This opportunity is no different. I know I can make a positive difference in this City, and that’s what I intend to do.”

This response allowed us to contrast ourselves against Dwight and the other three incumbents and speak to Jeff’s positive outlook on life, LFP and the coming election.

It also gave us a chance to share some of Jeff’s ideas – many of which he’d develop and share in the two candidate forum events and while doorbelling. Here’s a sample:

“Dwight thinks I don’t have ideas? Here’s an idea inspired by someone I met going door-to-door. Why not rezone LFP so neighborhoods can have local convenience stores. This would reduce the need to drive to the Commons just for milk, it would build our business tax base, people would walk a bit more and they’d interact with their neighbors more often, fostering a sense of community.”

And another:

“Here’s an example of another idea I had – 15 years ago. When we needed a bridge between Hamlin and Brookside, I said then that we could make it a Boy Scout project, have them drop a couple trees across the stream and build a bridge. Our City government thought we needed to spend more than $400,000 on it – including the extra cost for the artistic touch. We don’t need fashion, we just need function.”

That one showed off Jeff’s reluctance to turn a simple problem into a complicated one while identifying with the angst many people have about government bureaucracy.

During the course of the campaign, I would go running around the City and look at all of the signs we and the other candidates had posted. I was shocked by how often Jeff’s signs were torn down, ripped up or vandalized – while the signs of the four incumbents were pristine and untouched. I wanted to call attention to this, but Jeff was hesitant to do this.

But then one day, I discovered this sign:

That was the excuse we needed to take a very subtle jab at our opponent and cast his supporters as vindictive and petty. We accompanied the image with this post:

“I guess this is a sign that I’ve arrived in politics. Someone really doesn’t like me. (Someone with a spelling issue.) You can tell from what they wrote, this wasn’t just a teenager vandalizing a sign. I don’t want to see this on my signs, my opponents signs or anyone who is taking the time to run in this fall’s election. This is the kind of animosity I’d like to end in our city politics.”

Jeff started to wonder if someone really had it in for him. And after some doorbelling, we both compared notes and realized we were getting a lot of questions that started with “Is he the Jeff Johnson who…?” People were confusing him with a number of different Jeff Johnson’s in the Seattle area. This gave us the chance to show of some of Jeff’s personable nature and sense of humor:

“Jeff Johnson is apparently a popular local name. To clear up some confusion, I am not: the bassist, the head of the AFL-CIO, dead (my condolences to Jeff’s family), the dentist, an activist, the local gymnast (although I see how one might get confused on that one), the medical device liability defense lawyer, the LFP Elementary graduate or the Leschi Moorage Manager. I’m the owner of Johnson’s Auto Repair who’s running for LFP Council. Nice to meet you.”

As we neared election day, we learned that Chuck Paulsen had asked for the City’s email list – a list made up of people who had requested information from the City – and sent them an unsolicited email asking for their vote. We were briefly annoyed that he had accessed a group of people we couldn’t, but then we saw the opportunity in it, and posted this:

“My opponent, Chuck Paulsen, chose to spam the City’s private email list. While legal, it’s an error in judgment. People gave the City their email expecting that it would be used only for things like receiving the Towne Crier. This illustrates his thoughts on your time, privacy and how he would use your personal information. In contrast, my campaign is set up for you to interact with me on your terms, not mine. Remember, you are in charge.”

This was later born out by a number of people who were very mad that their email had been spammed, and they let Chuck know about it. This was probably the most direct attack we would ever make on him.

But my favorite post that really illustrated the power of social media and how quickly you can respond was this one. Late in the campaign, Dwight had sent out yet another direct mail piece. After sending a piece dedicated to attacking his opponent and another attacking Gov Watch, the neutral citizen watchdog group, he somehow had the sheer nerve to send out a piece claiming that “Far too many politicians these days seem to think that if you yell the loudest, you’ll be heard.” (This, after sending out about 7 direct mail pieces – 4 more than anyone else.)

He then went on to say “I will continue to run a clean and honest campaign… I will not resort to dirty politics.” As soon as I received this, I ran to Jeff’s house and insisted we mash these pieces together and post them. Jeff did not object, so we posted this collage:

With this post:

“WOW! Here are three of Dwight Thompson’s FIVE mailers (“yelling the loudest?”). The one on the upper right came today saying you don’t win elections by lobbing attacks. The other two are earlier mails dedicated to attacking Goss and Gov Watch. Our memories aren’t that short. (I just hope he doesn’t focus his clean campaign on me, next.)”

This was seen by more than 700 people. Dwight lost by less than 300 votes. Jeff won by less than 140 votes. In elections that tight, I believe that Jeff’s Facebook posts quite possibly made enough difference to win him the election.

And as a complete aside, but a matter of pride for us, Jeff had 87 likes – 6 more than Dwight did on his Facebook page. But the key stat is that 37 of ours were actively reposting, while only 10 of Dwight’s were doing the same.

A campaign is the sum of its parts, and we certainly had many ways to make an impression, but I believe the sum of Jeff’s Facebook posts made a large enough difference to win the election. By comparing and contrasting Jeff and his opponent and just sharing some of Jeff’s observations throughout the campaign, I think we were able to humanize him in a way that people identified with, and it probably turned the election.

There was really just one post on Jeff’s Facebook site that was strictly me simply sounding off in a passive aggressive style. After quite a bit of doorbelling, I was starting to get really sick of all the attack dogs that would bark throughout my entire presentation, so I threw this one up as a personal little vent to myself:

“This is an aside, but if you ring enough doorbells in LFP, you can’t help but conclude that every house in this city must have at least two dogs. A burglar would have a tough time making it in this town.”

All of Jeff’s posts are still on his Facebook site and can be seen here, at www.facebook.com/jeffjohnsonforcouncil.

This series will conclude with part eleven… the results.

-My name is Jon Friesch, and I’m hoping to use this blog to erase my Internet past.

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2 Responses to Tales from the campaign trail: part ten – marketing judo

  1. Pingback: Tales from the campaign: part nine – digital marketing | Q Logic

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