Print Politics

Print Advertising: Simple, Effective, Irreplaceable

As political campaigning evolves online, don't forget that political printing needs to evolve along with it. Failing to cover all your bases can leave you between a blog and a hard place.

Political campaigns have always relied on print advertising to get a candidate's name and message out to the voters. Over the years, radio, TV, and now the internet have all had their chance to step in and contribute. However, time and time again, print advertising has proven itself to be the most effective form of voter contact involving the least amount of potential for embarrassment.

Thank goodness for the interwebs! Without it, we could not follow Hilary Clinton's every move, nor could we enrich our personal databases of political trivia with the latest campaign blogging scandal. From the perspective of campaign management, online campaigning is a bit of a mixed bagged. Sure, it's a new, very effective medium for reaching voters, but in its very newness, it tends to throw all kinds of curveballs that are almost impossible to anticipate, and if possible, makes candidates into bigger targets than they already are.

For example, unlike a yard sign, a candidate website has to be updated constantly, or it becomes old news fast, which means you need to add a whole team of web developers onto your already exploding budget. Suddenly, a form of advertising that looked cheap on the surface becomes very expensive, but the reality is that if you don't update constantly, you might as well not have a website at all.

And then the unique politics of the internet have to be taken into account. It's all well and good to hire some of the loudest political voices on the internet to blog for you, John Edwards, but it can become a real media storm when the free speech so touted on the web becomes the subject of your running opponent's scrutiny. You can bet that more than a few campaign managers are going to be spending the rest of this week discreetly background checking their bloggers-for-hire.

Online political campaigning first reared its ugly head in the late 1990s, and since then has become, if not old hat, then at least an assumed must for any major election or advocacy campaign. After all, approximately 69% of the U.S. population uses the internet, but it's important to remember that the number of users being reached by online campaigning is not quite so large. Once you sift out those of us looking exclusively for porn, Hilary Duff, or Lost conspiracy theories, you end up with the few, the proud, the willfully politically informed.

Now relegate TV to the status of radio, and newspapers to the status of looking-for-info-at-the-library, and you are left with only one form of campaign advertising that is both unavoidable and unlikely to offend: print advertising. Media like flyers, posters, and yard signs might be older-than-old hat, but they still represent a critical tier of campaign advertising that cannot be replaced by online campaigning.

This is obvious to any campaign manager worth her lapel buttons, but the danger of this political season still lies in the fact that as we focus on online campaigning, it can be easy to forget that print campaigns must continue to evolve.

Print advertising can convey so much more than a name and a flash of blue and red. Mediums like full color direct mailing and vehicle wrapping prove that it is possible to compel, provoke, and excite with a print campaign. At the same time, however, the perennial charm of the print ad lies in its ability to send a simple, powerful message without stirring up any controversy, or creating any of those embarrassing moments that something that seems impossible to avoid something that seems impossible to avoid online and on TV.

Consider the mechanics of connecting with voters. You'd like to make contact at least 5-7 times per voter during a campaign. And maybe, maybe you have a dollar to spend on each voter. The expense of an online campaign involving site and banner design, daily site updates, creating videos, and hiring pros to make it all happen can spiral out of control. On the other hand, a direct mail campaign costing perhaps $0.11 per postcard can help you to dramatically offset your online campaigning costs.

Ideally, online and print advertising should not be seen as disparate streams of voter contact. Online and print campaigns work best when run simultaneously, and in concert. All print advertising should direct voters to your online resources, while your website should support and evoke the visual impact of your print advertising.

Aligning online and print campaigning can actually be very simple, as some printers, such as Hotcards.com, also offer web design services. This way, you can work with web designers that already understand what you're doing with your print campaign, and can construct and manage your site accordingly.

Of course, getting the site built and not likely to crash is but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to successful online politicking. It's a good thing that print advertising will always be there to smooth the campaign trail. Just remember to give it the love and attention (and room to grow!) that it deserves. After all, when voters see a sign that says, “Vote for Hillary,” they're not going to say, “Hey look, Duff is running for President,” but visitors to the Clinton campaign site might just ask where they're supposed to find the new perfume. Ah, the heady world of politics…

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