Obama Raises $55 Million in February. Whew!
Ed note: In last week’s edition of his snarky e-letter, Business Common Sense, direct-mail pundit Denny Hatch weighed in on the online political fundraising. This article is excerpted from that; to read the whole article, click here.
The campaigns of Hillary Clinton and, especially, Barack Obama have discovered the Midas touch in terms of milking political Web junkies for cash. It looks as though they will go down to the Denver Convention in late August having spent zillions to bash each other, and very possibly destroy the Democratic Party’s chance to win back the White House in what should be a slam-dunk election.
How do you raise millions and millions and millions on the Web?
See what others are doing and then steal smart.
When I first saw Clinton’s 30-second ringing phone commercial, red flags started waving in what Ernest Hemingway called my “built-in, shock-proof shit detector.” The pictures are of little kids asleep with a father looking in to see that all is OK. Here is the voice over:
ANNOUNCER: “It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. But there’s a phone in the White House and it’s ringing. Something’s happening in the world. Your vote will decide who answers that call … whether it’s someone who already knows the world’s leaders, knows the military — someone tested and ready to lead in a dangerous world. It’s 3 a.m. and your children are safe and asleep. Who do you want answering the phone?”
CANDIDATE: “I’m Hillary Clinton and I approved this message.”
The Gaffe Nobody Caught
For 25 seconds of the 30-second spot, the phone kept ringing and ringing and ringing — for a total of six rings. My immediate reaction: “Holy smoke! Something terrible is happening in the world and the White House operator is asleep at the switchboard! This is nuts!”
This is Not About Politics
When Clinton’s “ringing phone” spot triggered a deluge of commentary and speculation — and in some quarters, outrage — by political operatives, pundits and the talking heads of cable news, I fully expected somebody to point out that if the White House red phone is not answered during six rings, the person in charge is an incompetent nincompoop. Nobody “got it.”
Within hours of the commercial’s introduction, the Obama camp responded with a version that used much of the same graphics and voice-over. But the message was to skewer Clinton for her Iraq War vote, not the fact that nobody seems to answer the emergency phone in the (Hillary) Clinton White House.
Everybody, it seems, missed this obvious (to me) gaffe.
Denny E-Mails the Obama Campaign
For the record, I have not made up my mind about (in alphabetical order) Clinton, McCain or Obama. In 1969, I wrote a political chiller, “The Fingered City,” about the Mafia running a candidate for mayor of New York City. Political process and communication fascinate me.
So to stir the pot — and maybe get a fix on the efficiency of Obama, his campaign crew and possible future administration — I went to www.barackobama.com and looked for a place to leave a comment without being forced to register or make a pledge.
It was clear the campaign was not interested in kibitzers, for I had to search hard in the Web site. It wanted people to sign up, volunteer and give money. Period. I am an Independent. I did not care to register.
Finally I found a place to leave a comment — a rebuttal to the Clinton “ringing phone” ad that basically said, if nobody answers the White House emergency phone, the president is a failure.
And then I waited.
What I Was Looking For …
The ideal message would be for an Obama operative to thank me profusely for pointing out the Clinton goof and tell me it was being immediately forwarded to the communications team for possible use. The message to me could have added, “Oh, by the way, the Obama campaign could sure use a person like you; click here to tell us what you are interested in doing for Barack.”
My ego would be stroked and, more to the point, it would be evident that the Obama team has knowledgeable people answering its e-mail, as opposed to Hillary Clinton, who let the world know that her White House emergency phone will go unanswered.
The first response was immediate, arriving the next day — March 2.
Over the next six days I received a blizzard of correspondence — 11 e-mails, some long, others short, for a total of more than 5,000 words.
* No reference to — or thanks for — my e-mail message was made. My e-mail address was vacuumed up and instantly added to the list.
* There was no mention of what Obama’s candidacy would do for the American people, the country or me. They were all about what I would be willing to do for — and give to — Obama.
* “Short words, short sentences, short paragraphs,” said freelancer Andrew J. Byrne. This was not operative here. One sentence had 75 words, and a sentence in another e-mail was made up of 95 words. This is the sloppy prose taught in academia and practiced by eager young Turks who have not spent a lot of time in the real world creating easy-to-read communications.
* The e-mails were all over the place — some on formal letterhead, others as memos and several combining the two formats. Some were pinned to asking for money, others urged phone calls be made on behalf of the candidate, still others talked about the endorsement and involvement of various union leaders with press releases attached.
* “In the marketplace, as in theater, there is indeed a factor at work called ‘the willing suspension of disbelief,’ wrote the late copywriter Bill Jayme. No suspension of disbelief here. Obama did not write me a personal e-mail, even though he signed it. His return address was email@example.com, which means he has zero interest in hearing back from me on a personal basis.
What in the World is the Obama Campaign Doing?
The entire series of efforts was a mishmash of styles, typefaces, formats and myriad messages from various operatives — including the candidate. I was about to condemn this bizarre olio of verbiage as something created by well-meaning amateurs who did not know the rules of communication.
Then I read that the Obama campaign raised $55 million in February.
One rule I came to late in life: You cannot judge good direct marketing; it judges you.
In other words, good direct marketing does what it was designed to do. It doesn’t matter if you hate it/don’t understand it/are horrified by it. If it works, it’s good. And it’s your job (and my job) to analyze it and figure out why it worked. And then steal smart.
The New Online Fundraising Paradigm
* “PR is the business of letting people in on what you are doing,” said my first mentor in the business, ex-Ziegfeld Follies showgirl Evelyn Lawson, publicity director at the Ivoryton (Conn.) Playhouse in 1951. This is precisely what the Obama campaign is up to.
* By spewing out daily letters, diaries, press releases and blogs from all over the campaign and from around the country, the campaign makes its flock feel like real insiders — integral parts of the great democratic political process.
* It is very sexy to receive inside information and then see it breathlessly reported in the media the next day.
* Every e-mail message from the Obama crew conveys news — urgently reported — and urges action. You are asked to participate in a phone-in news conference, make phone calls on behalf of Obama, join the local Obama team in Philadelphia or donate money.
* In those e-mails where the campaign wants action, it sprinkles live hyperlinks throughout the message. Thus the moment a prospect decides to act, the click-on mechanism is right there. Force a person to hunt for a hyperlink and chances are you have lost the response.
* These communications are not always smooth and written by professional copywriters. Rather they are real missives from real people. The smell of stale coffee and pizza dinners along with crazed deadlines and late, late nights practically leaps from your computer.
* All but one of the e-mails stay on message. To ask a person to make phone calls, join a local campaign team or give money all at the same time is creating choices. “Never try to sell two things at once,” said the late guru Dick Benson. Or, in the immortal words of consultant Paul Goldberg, “Confuse ‘em, ya lose ‘em.”
* The exception is Effort No. 11, which is a complete directory of contacts for all facets of the campaign and its organization.
In short, this is a masterful new fundraising technique that keeps donors and volunteers involved, excited and feeling like they make a difference.
Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.