Andrew and Sarah recently had the opportunity to sit down with BJ Perry of Talient Action Group and ask for his direct mail insights for political candidates. BJ has extensive experience helping candidate bridge the gap between traditional, print media and digital channels. We had a wide-ranging discussion with lots of helpful strategies for campaigns of all budget ranges.

Listen to the interview:

Interview Transcript

Sarah:
Hi, it’s Sarah and Andrew with Candidate Boot Camp today talking with BJ Perry of Talient Action Group. Hey BJ.

BJ:
Hi Sarah. Hi Andrew, thanks for having me on.

Andrew:
How are you doing today?

BJ:
I’m doing great.

Sarah:
Well we really are thrilled to have you here to share some of your insight on direct mail for campaigns of all sizes. In particular BJ, we’re looking to help those candidates they may have not run before, have a small budget and don’t really know where to start.

BJ:
Well at Talient Action Group, we pride ourselves on working with those first time candidates and those smaller campaigns. We always, the more local the better. I got my start in politics because of local campaigns like a school board race where my father was a school board member in Manchester, New Hampshire. I understand limited budgets and so forth. It is important. Sometimes you can have large dollars, you can have small dollars. The bottom line is making sure every dollar matters.

Andrew:
How do you make every dollar matter? Especially a lot of candidates that we talk to who are running smaller races say I’ve only got $1,000 and I want to use it in the best way possible or maybe I have $2,000. I don’t want to spend it all on mail. I don’t want to spend it all on one particular area. How do I get my best bang for my buck?

BJ:
Well, sure I think the first thing you have to look at is targeting. I’m a big believer in targeting. The more local the election, the smaller the universe you’re going to have. Think about it this way, how many people came out and voted in a presidential election? Then you move to a town election, you’re talking about anywhere up to a 40 to 50% drop off minimum. Why am I going to go ahead and target people who aren’t going to vote in that election? Furthermore, why am I going to spend money on a particular voter who’s going to vote against me? I’m not going to send something about lowering taxes to someone who wants to expand a program. That means more spending potentially of more taxes. You don’t want to do that. You know it’s like I’m for eliminating the color blue. I’m not going to send it to every person who loves blue. You’re just, all you’re doing is encouraging them to come out and vote against you. You’re defeating the purpose of what you’re here to do which is to win.

Sarah:
It sounds like you really rely on good data to determine this.

BJ:
Absolutely, data is key. If anything, as much as your wording and your messaging which I’m looking forward to talking to in just a few minutes, data is valuable. The cleaner the data, the better the data. Working with organizations or working, a mail vendor, whoever it be who has very good data and has very good tools and always keeping that data clean, always keeping it fresh and always keeping it current. I know there are things at the Candidate Boot Camp allows that to happen and it’s a valuable, valuable tool.

Andrew:
It can be really intimidating when you’re just running for office for the first time and you start meeting with mail vendors, vendors who maybe send out mail for the president. Talking to these people at first, what are some questions that people should ask a mail vendor when they first sit down and meet with them and what are some of the things that are really important for them to think about?

BJ:
Well I think when you’re sitting down and you’re meeting with a mail vendor like myself, I want to get to know them. Even before I got into this business when I was using mail companies, I want to get to know them on a personal level. I want to know where are they based, how fast does it normally take, what is the relationship with the post office because there are rules and regulations that you don’t need to think about or know about. What you need to know is that you got a good, reliable mail vendor who’s going to give you a good quality product, who’s going to meet your demands, who are going to have a quick turnaround and to get the job done so you can focus on your campaign. The bottom line is any vendor you use, mail or not they have to be an extension of your campaign.

Sarah:
Let’s say I’m a first time candidate. I’ve met with a mail vendor. We feel good about each other and I’m confident that they can create a product that will help my campaign. What are some things that I can do, the candidate can do to make sure that you have the best tools to get a great mail piece out the door? What are some things that we can do during the campaign, before I meet with you to hand to you so that you can make the best mail piece for me?

BJ:
I always ask when I meet with somebody or if I know I’ve gotten the honor to earn their business is I say okay, here are some basic things that I need. I need a photo. I need a headshot, okay. I need a family photo because you want to be as personal as you can when you’re touching these voters, not so much the red, white and blue standard whatever like you said …

Andrew:
Suit and tie …

BJ:
Exactly, let’s loosen it up a little bit. Give me that too. Give me options. Let my creative team have some fun with this but at the same time respecting your criteria. Also, give me a bio. I’d rather have seven pages of stuff about you that I can use to my advantage so I can build you a great, great piece of direct mail. I’m going to tell you right now I’m not going to use all seven pages. It’s just not going to happen. I want to know your contact information. Your phone number, your email, your Twitter handle, your Facebook, your website, I need to know these things so we can make it accessible and easier so the average voter can contact you.

Andrew:
You have all that information, what do you think would be, what does a first mail piece look like? Let’s say as Sarah said I’m running for the first time, small, local election and this is kind of my introductory piece to a voting block. What, on a basic scenario what does that look like?

BJ:
I think you hit it perfectly right there, the intro piece. That’s what I refer to. That’s nine times out of ten it’s what you normally do. That intro piece is going to talk a little bit about who you are, where you came from, what do you do for work, are you involved in the community, are you a coach, do you have kids in the school district, are you retired, were you a former teacher, did you own a small business that employed 750 employees and it was the largest employer of your town at one point, whatever. You want to talk about what you stand for, what you care for, what you’re passionate about, the boards that you stand on and serve on.

Have you ever held elected, were you appointed to something? You could’ve been the moderator counting ballots 16 years ago or did you come from a family of elected officials? We want to be able to use this one piece to cover all bases. It’s what’s going to stick. Then they’re going to say okay cause if you do a second piece or when you go door to door or when you make a phone call or if they see a Facebook ad or something, they’re like I remember that person. I remember that. There’s a way for them to connect with you. It’s like you know what, their daughter was Sally. Sally and my daughter Ruth were in the second grade together or they were in girl scouts or he coached Bobby’s little league team. I remember him. He’s a great guy. He was very hardworking there and he’s going to make a great town councilor.

Andrew:
Small little connections that add up to votes in the long run.

BJ:
Absolutely, I mean they say all politics is local but politics is also very personal.

Sarah:
Talk to us a little bit about how you can repurpose a mail piece. We have a small budget and we believe in getting our message out there with this introductory piece. How can we take the extra mail pieces or maybe you can print off extras for us, how can we repurpose that one piece that’s really a stand out?

BJ:
You know Sarah, I think you’re asking a great question and that’s also something you should ask your mail vendor all the time. One thing you have to remember, the cost when you’re printing something is a lot of it is the set up. When you hear the price per piece or so forth it’s the matter of the quantity. It’s the time that it takes to run the full job. If it’s literally, I say this all the time, if a palm card is $250 to run 1,000 of them or it’s $300 to run 2,000, let’s just do 3,000 now and do it once for all. I like to be able to say okay, I want 500 run offs in addition.

Then you can make that mail panel that you would have where you put the person’s address or label or something, you can actually write a personal note like sorry I missed you. You can go door to door. I believe in multi purposing things all the time. I did that when my father was on the school board. It helped us because we literally ran on a $1,000 budget. We had a piece of mail, a palm card and the signs and we were able to get it done.

Andrew:
What are some common mistakes that you might see with someone when they do mail? I know that living in New Hampshire we see a lot of mail. A lot of that mail sometimes is not the best just from quantity wise. One off the top of my head is just people who put too much content on a piece. What are some things that you’ve seen in the past that you would recommend people avoid?

BJ:
Well I think you hit it right there is too much. You don’t have to sound like the smartest man in the room. You just need to be the smartest person in the room. When it comes to direct mail what I like to say is you’re not just competing against the person you’re running against, you’re competing against every other campaign. You’re competing against the market basket flyer that week. You have to stand out. Nine times out of ten it’s someone going from their mailbox up the driveway to the door. What I like to say you have seven seconds, seven seconds to sell yourself. We coined the phrase at Talient Action Group seven seconds of readership. Give me bullet points, make it big, less words. I can literally say I am for reducing the overall budget and the cost of the way we do business. You’re for less spending. Let’s go ahead and let’s just reign it in a little bit and get the same impact with less words.

Andrew:
Absolutely and with mail too I think that sometimes people try to be maybe a little too creative, right. They maybe try to have maybe too trendy of a look or a color or a design and it almost can be distracting from the mail itself. With that seven seconds, what are some of the basic points that you think should definitely get across in those seven seconds if you’re a first time candidate?

BJ:
If you’re a first time candidate I think it’s brand identification. If your sign is red with white text and your mail better have some red with white text in it. The logo better be on there. Everybody knows what the golden arches are, it’s McDonald’s. I love it more than I should. It’s brand identification. It’s that when they’re seeing the sign going 50 miles an hour, you want to know it when they see it when they get a piece of your direct mail or when they see it in the newspaper, if you buy the web banner, the sticky note on your little weekly paper. It’s stuff like that. Keep the picture the same. Keep the same phone number. Keep the message concise. You always hear the phrase, stay on message. It’s very, very important. If you have a catchphrase you use for everything, make sure it’s on there.

Sarah:
BJ, I’ve seen in some small town races candidates pooling their money and resources together and going in on a mail piece for multiple candidates. Is that something that you’ve seen work in the past? Is that something you would recommend people avoid sort of like a list, a roster of candidates that believe in the same cause sharing their resources for this sort of effort or are there dangers with that?

BJ:
Well I mean in some cases it is great. In some cases, it’s not. You have to, the biggest thing is knowing your environment. If you’re running as a first time candidate and you’re running with a beloved incumbent, absolutely every single day because what that person has is name ID, already has a built in network of support and is already going to help you on their way. Why not, it’s called coat tails, use it. Absolutely, the other thing is we can now stretch a dollar. That’s what I love doing is stretching a dollar, getting more for that bang. What we do is that if you’re going to spend a $1,000, Andrew and I are running. We each are going to spend $1,000.

Well if a mailer costs $500, we can now mail twice. We can hit that universe twice. I believe in that. I would rather have a hyper micro targeted universe which I truly, truly believe in and focus on that than having a big, huge network. Once again, the targeted universe, we can hit them twice, we can educate them twice. I’m going to ask, you know we remember that the Red Sox won the 2004 World Series. Do we remember what the score was? No, we just remember that they won. That’s what people are going to remember. That’s what historians are going to remember. They’re going to remember the W. Bill Belichick says a field goal is the same as a touchdown.

Andrew:
Sure, so you see value in hitting one list multiple times with different pieces as opposed to just one really large universe once?

BJ:
Absolutely.

Andrew:
There’s definitely more value in targeting and hitting those groups multiple times.

BJ:
Absolutely because the more local the election you have to educate, it’s your responsibility to educate the voter even more. The higher up the election, you’re going to get that built in earned [inaudible 00:13:28] so forth. Of course everybody knows that you vote for president every four years. Most people then, you get down to the next year, do you know that you vote for a US senator every six years or that you keep going and going and going and before you know it it’s like I vote in March, I vote in [inaudible 00:13:43]. It’s because it’s more local. I personally believe that the more local the election should be the more engagement. It’s just it’s not, it’s called the sex appeal if you will. There really isn’t. I mean CNN’s going to cover the presidential election all the time. I wish they would cover more town elections and talk about ballot initiatives every single day because that’s where the rubber meets the road and that’s where the impact’s truly being made.

Sarah:
BJ, let’s talk a little bit broadly about your industry. I know that a lot of candidates, especially those first time candidates might have a little bit of a trust issue when they’re meeting with consultants and they think well my nephew’s really good on the computer and can make a mail program for me, no problem. Why should candidates believe that mail vendors truly want their clients to win? Can you speak to that a little bit about the need for your industry to survive is to help in an authentic smart way these candidates win?

BJ:
Well I think I use the example time, I get that asked all the time and when people ask why should I use your service, why should I use your your suite of service, I should use your stuff, I love it. This is what I do for a living. I’m not here to sell you print. I’m here to help you win an election. I don’t go to the mechanic to talk about my open heart surgery. The mechanic fixes my car. I go to the experts. I go to the dentist for a reason.

He’s an expert in what he does. I go to my doctor because I have an issue going on in the health. I have my accountant do my taxes because he’s the expert. You go the experts. Maybe that candidate’s nephew is the best track and field star and rocks it on Facebook. Well guess what, when I’m ready to buy a nice pair of running shoes I’m going to call the candidate’s nephew because he knows that. I like going to the experts. We all go to the experts. That’s what you need to do. I think you’ll see the reward. I’ll be the first one to tell you if you need a service or not need a service. It’s just the way we operate.

Andrew:
Yeah, sometimes what candidates forget is it’s a benefit to the mail vendor when a candidate wins. You want them to win, it’s additional work in future elections for the vendor. If you have a good vendor, they have stake in the game too. They want to see you succeed.

BJ:
Absolutely. That’s a without a doubt. If I’m going to keep losing, losing, losing I shouldn’t be in this business. I love what I do every single day. We work with candidates across the country from the White House to the state house. It’s a blessing to work with them. We get to build a really good relationship and ultimately an awesome friendship and enjoy many, many victories together.

Sarah:
Well this has been really insightful BJ. We appreciate your time. Before we conclude, I’d love for you to just share some of your contact information for folks who are listening to this and might want to reach out to you for advice and for potential business.

BJ:
Well I appreciate the opportunity. Thank you, Sarah. Thank you, Andrew. Thank you, listeners. Yes, I’m BJ Perry, I’m the political marketing manager of Talient Action Group, a print and direct mail company based in the first in the nation primary state in New Hampshire. We are located in Manchester, New Hampshire. I can be reached out 603-623-0802 or I’m a guy who doesn’t mind giving out my cell phone, 603-801-2007. Give me a ring, looking forward to hearing great things about your campaign and onto victory.

Andrew:
Thank you, BJ.

Sarah:
Thanks!

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