SELLING THE CANDIDATE

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What's new in the business of political campaign marketing?

Sure, one can make a case for applications of new technology. We have former GOP Gov. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee seeking his party's 1996 presidential nomination by conducting live call-in talk shows each month via cable and satellite, reaching more than 3,000 U.S. locations. "In 1988, it was 800-numbers. In 1992, talk shows dominated the campaign. Now we're moving to satellite," observed a political consultant.

But let's not overestimate the power of technology in this arena. When it comes to state-wide campaigns, GOP Senate hopeful Oliver North of Virginia is doing it the old-fashioned way-with mailing lists. He sent out 1.75 million pieces in one six-week period, paid 24 direct mail marketing firms $1.2 million for their services, spent $227,651 for postage, and got back $2.6 million in new contributions. He's expected to raise between $15 million and $20 million by Election Day.

So we're finding that while new technology helps build campaign databases, direct mail remains a potent political weapon. And we also are reminded that, despite the upgrading of technological options, in politics the tried-and-true practitioners, like their practices, can't be ignored.

An example is Ed Rollins, the seasoned campaign professional who managed Ronald Reagan's 1980 Presidential campaign and in 1993 managed Republican Christine Whitman's gubernatorial campaign in New Jersey.

After her stunning upset victory, Mr. Rollins stated he had distributed $500,000 in "walk-around money" to African-American ministers so they would hold down the vote in the traditionally Democratic state. During the ensuing uproar, Mr. Rollins said he had lied; the payoffs never happened.

This indiscretion hurt Mr. Rollins for all of about 15 minutes, it seems, since he's busy managing at least five political campaigns this year. In the "old days," commented one campaign consultant, "he would be dead now-all over."

But these aren't the "old days." Or are they? When it comes to marketing politicians, creating their campaigns and winning elections, it's clear that even with the availability of the most state-of-the-art technology, it still comes down to old-fashioned know-how-and the people who have it.

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