Michael Worley: Campaigning in the era of coronavirus

Our communities are collectively facing a lot of uncertainty.

**The following is adapted from an email that our firm, MDW Communications, sent to our clients earlier in March. After many requests from our clients and colleagues to distribute that email, we have decided to publish a modified version of the letter here.**

Over the past month, political campaigning in our country has changed drastically. Candidates up and down the ballot are adapting to a world where rallies, door-to-door canvassing and community meet-and-greets are no longer viable options, for at least the foreseeable future.

For candidates with small budgets who rely on these low-cost campaign methods, this time has been particularly difficult.

But in the midst of this uncertainty for campaigns lies incredible opportunities to leverage modern, low-cost campaign techniques to reach voters while maintaining social distancing.

Using campaign websites as coronavirus resource hubs

Many candidates have already found success launching landing pages on their existing websites outlining a number of critical resources for the community-at-large. These pages include links to CDC and WHO resource pages covering symptoms, quarantine procedures, social distancing best practices, and much more. They also include the hotline numbers to local health departments, price gouging hotlines and resources for managing stress/anxiety.

Here is an example of a resource landing page for State Rep. Javier Fernandez.

Additionally, many candidates have been modifying their websites with pop-up banners that alert new visitors to the addition of new coronavirus resource pages on the site.

Check out an example on the website of State Rep. Kionne McGhee.

Using email programs as crisis communication tools

For candidates who are currently incumbents, leveraging their campaign email list as a rapid response tool can be particularly effective; sending emails that outline what their offices are doing to help mitigate the effects of the coronavirus crisis and sharing important resources to the community. Many campaigns are temporarily moving away from aggressive digital fundraising and focusing on making sure voters and residents know what their elected officials are doing to help. Inspiring confidence in local leadership is critical to mitigating this crisis.

Here’s an example of how State Attorney Dave Aronberg is communicating to voters about what his state is doing to combat price gouging.

Crafting social media outreach plans 

Social media is perhaps the most powerful tool campaigns will have at their disposal to communicate and mobilize throughout this crisis. Smart campaigns are updating their social media content strategies, placing a major focus on sharing coronavirus information, updates about local policies and efforts, as well as positive and uplifting content that can bring our community together.

Here is an example of how Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava is using social media to thank those who are on the front line of this crisis, such as health care professionals.

Sharing relatable content showcasing ways that candidates are personally coping with this crisis sends a strong signal that we’re all in this together.

Some candidates have had to make unique life changes in this crisis, including Russ Rywell, candidate for Miami-Dade School Board. Russ is a full-time teacher in Miami Beach and has had to adapt to teaching classes online. Russ’ experience was recently documented by WSVN7 in Miami, and his campaign has been utilizing their social media presence to share his experience with voters throughout his community. 

For current elected officials who are taking direct action in the legislature, on their county commissions, or at the local level, a smart tactic is to leverage social media to share and promote information about the steps they’re taking to bring relief to communities affected the most.

Check out this example of how State Rep. Shevrin Jones is leveraging Facebook to communicate with voters about his efforts to bring immediate relief to individuals who can’t afford to pay their rent or utilities.

Shifting to virtual organizing

Candidates up-and-down the ballot understand the need to shift toward digital organizing during this unique period. So, what exactly does that entail? Here is a list of actions campaigns are already taking:

  • Hosting digital/telephone town halls.
  • Pivoting volunteer efforts to virtual phone banks.
  • Planning and promoting Facebook Live events.
  • Leveraging email, with customized landing pages, to help candidates trying to qualify by petition.
  • Creating rumor-control social media content to keep people calm and focused on the facts.
  • Crafting rapid response programs via email and paid social media promotion to get important information to residents quickly.
  • Shifting extra resources to peer-to-peer SMS programs.

Traditional canvassing will not be a viable option for potentially months, which will have a significant impact on campaigns and will require a reallocation of resources.

This means creative use of direct mail, a significant investment in high-impact digital such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, an extra focus on persuasion-based email communications, and an increase in SMS/phone program spending.

The good news for campaigns is that social media platforms are reporting record usage levels during this crisis. There are more opportunities to leverage these platforms, as well as other digital assets, to reach voters than ever before.

Final thoughts

Our communities are collectively facing a lot of uncertainty. Now more than ever, the public needs to know what our elected officials are doing to combat this crisis and bring them relief.

In the short term, campaigns will need to double their efforts to utilize digital platforms as a means of informing and reassuring voters and their families. But in the long term, there will need to be some significant changes.

As Fall approaches, vote-by-mail will likely surge as a preferred method of voting, especially in areas like South Florida where it’s already popular. Campaigns will need to encourage new vote-by-mail registrations, especially within communities that historically prefer to vote early.

This will require extra investments in expanded direct mail targeting and increased digital ad budgets to maximize both the frequency of voter contact, as well as the overall reach of each individual contact program.

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