Automated Phone System Scripts and Special Interest Group Questionnaires with Kristina Keats CW 29- Transcript


special interest group questionaireJohn Tsarpalas: We have two shorter topics today on Commonwealthy. First off, Kristina Keats and I are going to talk about some scripts for automated phone calling systems. If you listened last week to Commonwealthy #28 with James O’Hara, we talked about automated personalized phone, video, and social media systems.

Today Tina and I are going to talk about some scripts for those phone systems. It’s important that you capture that caller’s attention before they go ‘click’ and hang up on you. And then in the second part of our show today, we are going to talk about special interest group questionnaires.

You are going, “What? What does that mean?” Well, I guarantee you if you are running a campaign of any note or any size, you’re going to get different groups sending things in the mail to you, asking questions. You need to understand what they are, what to do with them, and how to handle it.

Commonwealthy #29, Automated Phone System Scripts and Special Interest Group Questionnaires with Tina Keats.

Well, I am here with Tina Keats and we are going to talk about scripts for automated calls, the robo-call. How do you get somebody’s attention and keep their attention so they will listen to it versus them hanging up and it suddenly just going ‘click’?

So, Tina, where do we start on this topic? How do we keep people interested so they will stay on the line?

Kristina Keats: I think it is good to understand the history of robo-calls and why we got to doing them the way that they did. When they first came out and nobody knew that it was an automated call, they actually thought they were talking to their congressperson or their state senator or that he was personally calling them and leaving a message.

So when they first came out, they were very effective because people would say, “Wow, I got a call from my congressman,” right? But then once they started being used a lot, everybody knew it was a recording. You didn’t have that benefit anymore.

People still were doing the same kind of robo-call: “Hi, my name is So and So and I am your congressman. I am here to tell you…” which is a really boring call when you think about it. What could be more boring than someone announcing who they are and what they are going to tell you?

So the important thing in designing robo-call scripts is to understand it is a media just like radio or television. It’s a way to get information to people. Imagine if you saw a TV ad that had the congressman on the screen saying, “Hi, I’m So and So and here’s why you should vote for me.” You wouldn’t pay any attention to that anymore than you would pay attention to a robo-call.

The average robo-call is hung up on within the first six seconds, which probably is sooner than that. As soon as they hear, “Hi, I’m…” they hang up. It’s just that they only measure robo-calls in six-second increments. So that’s why we know that ninety percent of them get hung up on within six seconds.

Some people argue, “Well, at least I got my name out there.” Well, maybe. But so what? You got your name out with an annoying call. Think about that. You want to avoid annoying calls. Nothing is more annoying than starting out with, “Hi, my name is” fill in the blank.

So start thinking creatively about how to start your call in a way that might get people interested. I’ll give you an example of one that was incredibly effective. We got something like eighty percent of the people to listen to the whole message.

It started out like this: “Breaking news! The Chicago Tribune just endorsed Joe Blow for state representative. Joe…” Then you keep going. People thought that the call was coming from the Chicago Tribune. Now, we never said that. At the end, we said, “This is paid for by Joe Blow.”

But people thought that they were getting information, which in fact they were. They were getting the information that Joe Blow had been endorsed by the local newspaper. The point is that they listened to the whole message because we started out with, “Breaking news!”. That’s one example.

Another important thing is that people will listen to a female voice longer than they will to a male voice. That’s important to think about when you are making your call. That’s true with callers, too. Females have a much higher percentage of people who will talk to them than males.

Who knows why. It just happens to be what is. You can make your own explanation of why people will listen to a female more than a male. One could argue that males listen to a female because it’s a female and females will listen to a female because they are not concerned about someone being aggressive.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

Kristina Keats: I don’t know. I have never read a study about why that is. It just is. When you think about it, when you listen to radio commercials, pay attention to radio commercials and how they start and which ones you find interesting. A robo-call is exactly like a radio commercial. It’s information coming at people.

The big difference is when you listening to the radio and you are driving, you are not going to turn the commercial off while you are driving most likely, although I have certainly been known to do that when a commercial is incredibly irritating. I’ll turn it back on sixty seconds later so I don’t have to listen to it. But with a phone call, they have the instrument in their hand to stop the commercial the minute that they don’t want to hear it.

But other than that, in terms of creativity, think about what will get you to listen to a radio commercial and apply that to robo-calling. Another way to do it is, “Are you concerned about healthcare costs? So am I! That’s why I am supporting So and So for Congress because he’s promised…” If you start with a question, people in their mind answer the question.

John Tsarpalas: Right. It’s the same thing as public speaking. With a speech, if you ask questions, the audience in their head, answers it.

Kristina Keats: Right. If you ask questions, then you are getting people to mentally answer them.

John Tsarpalas: Engage, right.

Kristina Keats: And they are engaged. So that’s how you should approach your robo-calling. You’ve got the concept. Now be creative.

John Tsarpalas: Right. The secret to automated, recorded messages is creativity. You’ve got to give them a reason to hang around. You’ve got to peak their interest. You’ve got to ask questions. You’ve got to say something that seems it is important or it is coming from an interesting source.

That’s one way to do an automated call- get a celebrity. We’ve had a lot of success here in the Chicago area with Coach Mike Ditka, Super Bowl champion of the Chicago Bears on automated calls. “Hi, this is Mike Ditka.” Even if it’s a recorded call, people will still hang on because it’s like, “Oh, wow, this is cool.”

Kristina Keats: Right. The other thing I want to say is when you are using an automated call vendor, make sure you get one who will give you a report of how long people stay on. That’s the only way that you can test whether or not your robo-calls are working.

Robo-calls are really, really cheap to do. So it’s definitely a tool that you want to use. But you have to learn how to be creative to get people to hear your message.

John Tsarpalas: Correct.

Kristina Keats: So that’s the important thing. Ask yourself if you would listen to this message? I wouldn’t listen to a message that starts out with, “Hi, I am So and So and I am your state representative.” I just wouldn’t. That’s not interesting.

You have to make it interesting. You should as a campaign know what topics people are interested in. If you don’t, then you better figure it out or else you are not going to be successful. The best way to figure it out is by testing robo-calls.

By the way, if you want to test the robo-calls, send it to a thousand households instead of all twenty thousand. Test it first. If you have good database management, you can send certain robo-calls to Republican households, another one to independent households, a third to Democrat households, and you can change your message.

John Tsarpalas: Correct. And if you’ve got issue ID, if you know where people stand (They are tax sensitive. It’s about property taxes for them. Or if we are talking about school races, they are worried about curriculum.) and you’ve got accurate data, you can craft different messages. “Here’s an alert. Common Core is being ratcheted up in our next school board meeting.”

Kristina Keats: Here’s the way I would say that: “This is a property tax increase alert!” or “Are you worried about your property taxes going up? You have a good reason to worry. They are going to vote on it next week at the school board.” That sort of thing. Think creatively and ask questions whenever possible.

John Tsarpalas: Absolutely.

Kristina Keats: The word ‘alert’ is useful, too. Only use it if it is really a news alert. Don’t say, “News alert! John Smith is running for Congress.” That’s not a news alert. The thing is if you are not honest in your robo-calls, people wouldn’t listen to them.

John Tsarpalas: Well, you’ll also lose votes if you are being negative.

Kristina Keats: Oh, yeah, if people feel that you are being deceptive. So you always have to be honest. Here’s an another important detail, and I don’t know if this was mentioned by your robo-call provider-

John Tsarpalas: Well, you know. It was James O’Hara. You know James.

Kristina Keats: Most companies can use whatever phone number you want them to use. Because everybody has caller ID now, I would recommend using a cell phone number. That will come up ‘Cell Phone.’

John Tsarpalas: Oh, good idea.

Kristina Keats: Then people will answer it because they don’t know everybody’s cell phone and they think it might be one of their friends calling. So that’s something to think about, too.

John Tsarpalas: That’s another great tip. Thanks!

Kristina Keats: If you are going to do multiple robo-calls, use multiple cell phone numbers. Believe me, people will figure out if it is cell phone 1234, not to answer it because it’s a robo-call.

John Tsarpalas: That’s true. So use variety with that.

Kristina Keats: If you want people to listen to you, you have to say something that’s worth listening to! It’s kind of that simple.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, it is that simple. It’s like getting people to read your blog; it’s got to say something worthwhile or people aren’t going to look at it. It’s the same thing. And it’s true of any kind of advertising, any ad or any message you are trying to put out. You need to put it out in as interesting of a way as possible. It’s just another medium.

The other thing that we talked about with James was variable messages. You know how James records all the names- Jim, John, Joan- doing the variety in there. That helps people stay on. First of all, that’s only being left on an answering machine or in a voice message.

Kristina Keats: Right. That’s good James already went into that. You can have a message for live pickup and another one for answer machines.

John Tsarpalas: Correct.

Kristina Keats: That would be incredibly valuable. I am sure he went into people in Sunset Canyon are unhappy about this or whatever.

John Tsarpalas: Right. In fact, he was using Will Met as an example because he was going back to the old days. I knew the area. So there’s a lot of ways to do it, though.

Kristina Keats: Yeah, it is worth it to spend a few cents more if you can personalize it.

John Tsarpalas: Absolutely. And it’s worth the time and the set-up time. As I mentioned to James, one of the beautiful things about robo-calls is they can be put together quickly and gotten out quickly to blunt that last minute October surprise or whatever they are hitting you the weekend before the election.

As I mentioned to him, if you are going to do the variable ones, you should get these recorded early on so it is ready to go.

Kristina Keats: Yeah, because it doesn’t cost anything to record. If you are going to be a smart campaign manager, you have to think what you will do and what your opponent will do. By thinking about your opponent, you shouldn’t get obsessed with it and say, “Oh, my god, he’s going to do this.” No, you can think, “If I were running their campaign, what would I be doing?”

All campaigns try to ID people and get their vote out and try to persuade. Okay, so think about things that they might do. And also you should study campaigns that have been run by your opponent in the past.

When I was running campaigns in Illinois, I knew Mike Madigan’s playbook backward and forward. I knew exactly what he was going to do. But he was always changing it, too. He got more sophisticated. But you should be prepared that they are going to say a certain thing at the last minute.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, here in Illinois it is always the last minute anyone who is conservative or Republican, they are going to get the coat hanger piece mailed that you are going to drive abortion into the backroom, even though you are running for county board and it’s got nothing to do with it.

Kristina Keats: You can know what is coming. So be prepared with a robo-call to deny it. You can broadcast. It does make those last minute drops less effective.

Also, early voting makes those last minute drops less effective. If you can vote thirty days before the election, it’s really hard. Bigger and bigger percentages of people are voting early. It’s hard to time a nasty piece that can’t be rebutted. If you drop it five days before early voting begins, then your opponent has thirty days to rebut it.

So it does help. Being able to communicate quickly does change the game a little bit.

John Tsarpalas: Another thing to think about for automated calls is think of it as how you can use it as a part of your Get Out the Vote plan. With early voting, it’s not a bad thing to get a robo-call out to your district to your supporters the first day of early voting. Let them know what is happening and where they can vote at. Most of them don’t know early voting is happening and where it is.

Kristina Keats: Right. That’s good. If you are running your campaign right- I don’t know if this is true in every district, but an awful lot of places will give you the data who voted early- you can update your database so you don’t send the robo-call to someone who voted already.

You can even use it if you notice that you’ve now noticed you’ve done three robo-calls. They are so cheap, you can do them everyday to remind people. On the third day, you can say, “If you go vote, these calls will stop.”

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, that’s good!

Kristina Keats: Use the annoying nature. But you are going to be creative in how you do it. You can’t have everyone who started up, “Early voting started!” You have to say, “You could vote earlier.” I don’t know how you do it, but you’d have to progressively every time you send it say, “This is your second friendly reminder to vote early. If you vote, we won’t be calling you anymore.” That sort of thing.

John Tsarpalas: There’s a certain obnoxiousness to that. It’s kind of like Big Brother is watching. “We’re watching if you voted. If you haven’t voted, you are going to keep getting this calls.” It’s a little bit-

Kristina Keats: You are right. You have to be creative when you use the robo-calls. I haven’t done that with early voting.

John Tsarpalas: Well, I did. I did it when I was at the state party. We blasted out the first day of early voting because it was new in Illinois. It had just started back then. It was the first time they had done it. So we had automated calls go out to Republicans. “Hi, this is the Illinois Republican Party reminding you that we have early voting and it started today.”

Kristina Keats: Right. Well, I did it like that, but I never did a progressive, which you could do. Really, there was a study and I forget who did it. The only thing- the only thing- that motivates a voter to the polls is a personal contact. So the robo-call, if you do it creative, that can be a reminder.

But I am talking about the people who will vote your way if they go, but aren’t likely to vote. Again, you can look at your data. It is easy to do a sort that tells you who is least likely to vote in this election, depending on what kind it is. You just look at their voting history.

The ones that are least likely are the ones that you are start with and you make personal phone calls to them or knock on their door. That is the most effective way to get them to the polls. We are sort of digressing to Get Out the Vote.

John Tsarpalas: No, I think this is important. I think people need to realize that automated calls have a purpose, but it is limited. It is never as good as a real person making live contact on the phone or at the door. That is always your highest and best way to make voter contact. Absolutely, the very best is the candidate.

However, they can be effective in different situations. The more creative, the more effective they are. They have their use and their place. They are very cost-effective. That all needs to be factored in here.

Kristina Keats: Right. So it is a tool you absolutely should use. You shouldn’t refuse to use it because you say people hate robo-calls. Yeah, they hate the robo-calls that most people do. Don’t do that kind.

John Tsarpalas: Right, exactly. Well, thanks. I think we covered this enough. I wanted to give that extra boost after last week’s podcast with James. We will move on to a new topic.

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In today’s second segment, we are going to talk about questionnaires from special interest groups. One of those groups are PACs. A PAC is a political action committee. They are formed by trade associations, industries, or special interest groups.

PACs do provide a lot of money to campaigns. However, at most levels there are some limits on how much they can raise from their association members or donors and then how much they can turn around and give to a candidate.

The other thing a PAC can do is they can help with bundling. They can find multiple people in their group to write individual checks to that candidate’s campaign. So we want to be aware what a PAC is as we go into this. I think you will find this really interesting and something you haven’t thought much about.

Tina and I are here together. We are going to talk about something that might happen or might not happen, depending on the size of your race and where you are located. That’s getting questionnaires in the mail.

Some campaigns and candidates will receive questionnaires from PACs, from newspapers and other organizations seeking information on whether they should endorse you or support you. It can be a real mixed blessing at best.

Kristina Keats: Well, special interest groups.

John Tsarpalas: So let’s start with special interest groups.

Kristina Keats: Special interest groups are people who have a single issue that they care about. Whether you should answer them depends on whether you agree with them. If you agree with, go ahead and answer them and they will support you. If you don’t agree with them, then there is no benefit in answering because they are just going to use your answers to run ads against you.

A lot of these questionnaires have pretty extreme positions if it is a special interest group. So you can get into a lot of trouble by answering it unless you happen to agree with them.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, so think about it. You get this in the mail or email. You need to think about if this is a group that is going to work with me or not. If you think there is any question about it, don’t bother. Throw it out immediately! Don’t think twice about it.

Everyone goes through, “Oh, geez, should I do this? Shouldn’t I do this? Should I?” It is only going to be used as ammunition against you, unless it is some group you are 99 percent certain they are going to be with you.

Kristina Keats: Right. And if they are not going to support you in some way, like send emails to all of their members or make a donation to your campaign, there is no point in wasting your time answering the questions. A lot of these questionnaires come from people who don’t live in your district, who are trying to trap you into saying something you don’t really agree with.

They will ask you all of these questions, which are basically, “When did you stop beating your wife?” kind of questions. You are going to spend a lot of time on it. A lot of first time candidates think that just because somebody asks them to answer questions that you have to. No, you don’t have to.

Now, having said that, that was talking about special interest groups. If you are in a campaign for state rep or state senate and you need to raise a lot of money, part of raising money is sometimes raising it from PACs who will support you because they support your positions. Then you would have to answer the questions in order to get a donation.

Just be very careful about this. Don’t just answer questions because somebody asks you. Newspapers questionnaires, however, are different. You need to answer those because if you don’t, it looks like you are not transparent. But again, a lot of the newspaper questions can be, “When did you stop beating your wife?” type of questions.

Based on what your position might be, be careful about that, especially about the ones that give you multiple choice answers. They don’t allow you to nuance your position. If you can write a short essay, that’s the best because then you get to put exactly what your position is and hopefully they will reprint it.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Something else to think about here too is this takes a lot of time. Every now and then you can find a volunteer who writes well and is articulate, who can do some of this. Then you review, edit, and refine it. But it takes out half the time for you.

I’ve seen candidates spend weeks on this stuff. It doesn’t get you much.

Kristina Keats: This is what you should do way before you decide to run, or in the early months, like two years out from when you are actually running. You should sit down and write out a short paragraph on every position you hold. Get it down.

And then from that, distill a sound byte so that you can say, “My position on X is…”. That’s your sound byte. But have your full paragraph where you’ve actually carefully thought out what your position would be on all of the issues that are going to matter in your race.

Believe it or not, regardless of what you are running for, people are going to ask your stand on abortion and guns.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, no matter what you are running for.

Kristina Keats: Even if you are running for school board. You should know what your position is. Whether you discuss it for a school board race depends on you.

John Tsarpalas: It depends on the district, too.

Kristina Keats: And the district, too.

John Tsarpalas: And who you are responding to. Are they going to use this to beat you up? Are they going to use this to say, “Oh, isn’t this person great? They are in harmony on this with us.”

Kristina Keats: Right, exactly. Just understand that those two issues you are going to be asked about so you better figure out what your position is before you asked rather than looking like a deer in the headlights. Believe it or not, abortion could be an issue in your school district.

John Tsarpalas: Well, Planned Parenthood is big in sex ed in a lot of school districts.

Kristina Keats: In a lot of the school districts. And they have, at least in Illinois, a program called LINKS where they provide rides to abortion clinics and birth control clinics directly from the high school without the parent’s knowledge. A lot of parents don’t know that goes on.

It is possible that these issues could actually be issues in your race. So make sure you understand what they are. Regardless, you need to know what you think and have thought it through. Write it down.

John Tsarpalas: Have someone look at it, edit it, and spell check it. And then just have it put away somewhere. But this is when you have some time and you give it some thought.

Kristina Keats: Right, so that you are not doing it under duress.

John Tsarpalas: But again, back to the basics of questionnaires in the mail. Think about who sent it to you and if it is going to help you or hurt you. Don’t waste your time on anything that you have any doubts on whatsoever. Throw it out immediately and keep going.

Kristina Keats: It should be don’t fill it out unless!

John Tsarpalas: Right. Only fill out those you absolutely need to do to get their support.

Kristina Keats: There should be a reason to fill it out because they are very time consuming. But the newspaper ones you do have to fill out.

John Tsarpalas: Right, the endorsement ones from papers are very important. And perhaps radio stations if that happens to play or some type of media. Be careful with blogs. You don’t need to do anything with bloggers. It depends.

This is maybe a little off track, but there is always the cable TV guy. We got one around here that’s the biggest pain in the butt. All he does is he is trying to catch people so that there is something that can be used against either side. He loves to have the “Gotcha!” moment. Avoid these people if you can.

Kristina Keats: If you’ve got one.

John Tsarpalas: Okay, well that covered a lot of minutia that people need to avoid. Good luck!

I think the two key takeaways from the two segments today are: The first one being scripts. Be creative! You’ve got to come up with ideas for automated calls that are going to hook the listener and keep them on the line. Questions work well, as we said. But be creative and think about it. If you are not going to listen for more than five seconds, why would anybody else? But automated calls are an important part of any campaign strategy because they are inexpensive and you can get them out quickly.

Our second topic is when we were talking about questionnaires. Have that garbage can ready. Do not hesitate to throw things out! You only want to answer questionnaires of people that you are ninety percent certain are going to support you or send you money. If you have doubts, the odds are the information you are supplying in that questionnaire will be used against you. It’s just the way it is.

If you have questions for me, I’m always available on Twitter @JTsarpalas. You can always contact me through There are lots of ways there. You can leave voicemail messages and you can send a message through the system and email me.

I hope you got something good out of today’s show. I look forward to hearing your comments. Thanks!

Kristina Keats: Special interest groups are people who have a single issue that they care about. Whether you should answer them depends on whether you agree with them. If you agree with, go ahead and answer them and they will support you. If you don’t agree with them, then there is no benefit in answering.

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