John Tsarpalas: In our last podcast, Commonwealthy #59 Election Campaign Graphic Design with Razzaq Lodhia, I talked with Razzaq about the basics of design for mailers. We talked a lot about mailing and postage and working with mail houses. There were lots of good ideas and thoughts there. We talked a little bit about yard signs and that kind of a thing.
If you didn’t listen to #59, today’s episode will make a little bit more sense if you do. However, Razzaq also does other things for his clients. Commonwealthy #60, Political Campaign Use of Photography, Video, and Novelties.
Razzaq, there are a whole lot of other things that require design work and our important in a campaign. Those are photography and now the use of video. So let’s talk about that.
Razzaq Lodhia: Okay.
John Tsarpalas: So let’s start with the photography.
Razzaq Lodhia: Photography, the headshot of the candidate is the most critical as a part of your branding. What I don’t like to see a candidate looking like a lawyer. I want them to pose as naturally possible, get the expression on their face that says, “Hey, you know, I can trust this guy. He looks trustworthy.”
That’s what I do as a part of my design process. When I started, I was begging the candidate for a photo. They’d say, “Alright, Razzaq, go to my website. I have a bunch of pictures there.” I am like, “But they are not printable. They don’t look good. So let me just kind of come with my camera, take a nice shot. I know exactly what to do.”
John Tsarpalas: And you know what you are looking for.
Razzaq Lodhia: Exactly. I pose for the piece. Is it left side or right side? Some candidates look better on their left side.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And this is something candidates should do early in the campaign. Get these photos out of the way because then you are going to use them all through the process over and over.
Razzaq Lodhia: Do it in two time intervals. If you are doing it early in the year (primary season) which is winter time, then you have this winter feel to this with the foliage and color and the clothing. So you don’t want to keep using the same pictures. You want to have at least a good five shots of different poses because they are used differently. There’s a walk card. There’s a friendly gesture. There is all of that.
That is part of the service that I provide as my campaign starter kit. They get used throughout. Once you have the package, then you can just do another revision on that.
So photography is very critical. You don’t want to go as a candidate to a studio and have a very good picture taken. In terms of the technical image, yeah, the picture looks good. But it is kind of staged. Pose naturally.
Wear a polo shirt or whatever. If you are running for a judge, you probably want to put a tie on or something. But if you are a candidate and you are going around saying, “I am a local neighbor guy,” then you don’t want to look stuck up.
John Tsarpalas: And the background should be a local neighborhood scene.
Razzaq Lodhia: Exactly. People can do that.
John Tsarpalas: Or it is the family in the park. So often there is a photo of you and the kids.
Razzaq Lodhia: This is a very important comment in the visual of the person. The other thing that I actually find very interesting to me personally is I go to these websites of these candidates. Not the ones that I have done, but just generally speaking. You have this nice picture. You have this copy. You have all of these endorsements. But I have no idea what this person sounds like or looks like.
So I started offering videography. I know it is talking head, but people need to hear you and look into your eyes when you are speaking and say, “I am so-and-so. I am running for this candidate.”
John Tsarpalas: Right, a short video on your website. People can see the character of the person. Do they trust you or not trust you? They can make a decision based on that.
Razzaq Lodhia: There’s so much body language just looking at the face. You have this video accent that you can put on your Facebook and you can create a YouTube channel. One candidate I am working for, I shot a bunch of videos of him talking about an issue. And he’s a natural on the video. He just sounds like a very nice. That kind of makes sense.
John Tsarpalas: Yes, I have watched them. They are good.
Razzaq Lodhia: Yeah, if you read what he is talking about, that is one thing. But listening to him is very nice. So that is very effective. In terms of production costs, it doesn’t have to be glitzy. Basically, I would bring a video camera. If the room is lit naturally, fine. Then I would have a video light, a wireless mic, a lavalier mic, and that is it. Just give a candidate an hour or two hours or however long they need. Just talk without any cue cards. Just talk to me as a camera.
John Tsarpalas: Talk naturally.
Razzaq Lodhia: That actually is very helpful in my opinion. People don’t do that. The campaign doesn’t think about it because they think about glitzy commercials. That I can do, too. Nowadays, if you want to do a puff piece about the candidate-
John Tsarpalas: But these are not TV commercials.
Razzaq Lodhia: No, they are not TV commercials.
John Tsarpalas: It is something that is supposed to look natural and simple so that people can get a feel for who you are.
Razzaq Lodhia: Yeah. The most critical part about photography in technical terms (You can shot a nice video with your smartphone nowadays) is the audio quality. Make sure you have a wireless microphone attached with no external ambient sound around you. If the sound is quality, the video will be good. First of all, it is going to streamed.
Once the video is there, you want to keep doing that a little bit more during the campaign. Also, it would be nice to get the voters testimony, a real person saying on mic and on camera, “Hey, why do you want to vote for this person?” That actually would be powerful because people associate themselves. “You know what? That person looks like me. A lot of it makes sense.”
Endorsements from known political figures, eh, big deal. I don’t find it really critical unless someone like Donald Trump comes to a local candidate and says, “I am endorsing him.”
John Tsarpalas: It is rare to get an endorsement at the level we are at.
Razzaq Lodhia: Exactly.
John Tsarpalas: It is not going to carry that much weight. What is going to carry weight is another normal, average person that looks like the person watching.
Razzaq Lodhia: Exactly. That is what I offer, too- a small, handheld HD camera with a very good microphone that I that is actually meant for interviews and say, “Why are you going to vote for that?” Plus, the one thing you want to do is make sure people know you are going to be using the video. They are a little bit suspicious, like, “Are you going to cut and paste and make me look like a fool or whatever?”
You’ve got permission. “We are going to be using for this candidate’s campaign. Would you like to see something?” But if the person is voting for that candidate, he or she should not object unless they don’t want to be on the video. And there are people who don’t want to be on a camera.
John Tsarpalas: Sure.
Razzaq Lodhia: So now it is like you have this print collateral. It could be anything that needs to be printed obviously. Then you have this online presence, which is web and email blasts. And then you have this visual package, your photography and your videography.
Once you have a good set of photos, then you can send these out to different media groups so they use the same image for your field. You are basically branding.
John Tsarpalas: Right. I think video is very effective. If a person is interested enough to go to your website, you need something to close the deal. I think the video does. I think the video sells it. Especially in this day and age, people’s attention spans are short. To sit and read things, to read your positions, there is only a small number of people who are going to do that. But someone will click on a minute or two video and get a feel for who you are and go, “Oh, I like that person.”
Razzaq Lodhia: Right. It is so shareable now. You have Facebook. You share. Boom! The same video is on your timeline and people get to share it. It is effective only if it is short. People will watch ninety seconds to two minutes, but no more than that.
And then obviously you have the first eight or ten seconds an intro and outros with a logo and disclaimer. So a ninety second spot is actually seventy seconds. That is more than enough to say what you want.
But you don’t have to do the whole thing in one go. You can do issue by issue in small segments.
John Tsarpalas: Right. The other thing, too, is you are going to do an email blast twice a month. You are going to put the latest video of the link in the email. You are going to ask people to send it to their friends. You are going to try and get something going on social media. It gives you something to send to people that they can be working to promote you to help your campaign.
Razzaq Lodhia: Right. That email blast is very critical. What happens is you don’t have enough names on your distribution list. So if you ask people to pass it along to their friends, it just gets propagated, right?
John Tsarpalas: Right.
Razzaq Lodhia: Some people are interested. I love getting all of the political blasts because I want to know how the messages are done. It is very critical. And the cost of doing the mailing, obviously email is cheaper. But the critical thing is where you get the email list.
I would suggest to campaigns, do this: instead of asking for a donation, say, “I tell you what. Donate twenty-five dollars and we will send you a t-shirt” or some sort of a manageable gift that is useable (a mug or something). The issue with that is fulfillment. I mean, who is going to do that?
I could manage that, but that is something a national campaign does all of the time, merchandising. I think local candidates should do that, too. That is extra money. Say, “I am going to get a t-shirt.” Or “Send me a hundred dollars and it will get you a t-shirt.” For me, I am getting a t-shirt, fine, I will sign up.
If you are going to be donating twenty-five dollars to a campaign (there should be a minimum obviously. A shirt costs about five or six dollars, right), and then you do this transaction online. A PayPal is 2.9% or 2.7%. That is all part of the business now. It is online. It is fine. How else would you collect money if there is no PayPal? Make it easy because people trust PayPal, right?
So whatever you collect is fine. You got that money. Ideally you want your donors to write you a check. But that requires cold calling, personal calls, to the person saying, “Send me a check.” And the largest donations do come through checks.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And the candidate is going to be doing that. But why not have this other simple back channel of having them donate through the website. It takes like two seconds.
Razzaq Lodhia: You’d buy thousands of names for X amount of dollars per month. And you have unlimited emails. But you don’t want to be sending the same email to from the same campaign every week. People get annoyed. But you can make a segmented list. You can say, “You know what?” I do that.
If you send an email blast, twenty-four hours later I send the same blast to unopeneds. So the unopened gets it. And then thirty-two hours later, I do that. Send it to everybody never opened anything from this campaign. Boom! MailChimp sorts that list and segments it. It goes there.
What happens is as people start unsubscribing, you are not going to be wasting your money mailing anything to them. Right?
So that is the whole part of the package. I think I have done a good job explaining it, but sometimes when you get into campaigns, after things are done, it is too late to fix it.
John Tsarpalas: Yes, it is. I am actually flipping through something here. The podcast that was posted on May 10th of this year, Commonwealthy #56, Good Data Big Data, is about buying email lists. So two podcasts ago I talked with a fellow named Peter Anderson of Cobalt Media Group. We’ve got lots of information on how you can buy email lists. So take a look at that podcast or listen to that podcast.
I think email is the cheapest way to go obviously. But you’ve still go to have a design. You’ve still got to have a look. You’ve still got to have a logo.
Razzaq Lodhia: And the continuity. You can’t just do one blast and then not do anything. You want to show you are still active. They, as in donors, want to know that you are active. I send you a hundred bucks; what are you doing with it? Not with his or her hundred dollars, but as a campaign, what are you doing and where are you going?
So it boils down to actually the candidate themselves, how aggressive they want to be. Do you really want to win? It’s one of those things. It is a very interesting challenge because you are not working with a business mindset; it is an individual wanting to run a campaign.
They need to be taught the process and the cost involved. There are lots of things that I can show you, like what not to do. There are certain things you don’t want to do, even if you are saving money. You are saving money, but you are wasting your time.
Let me just do this for you. I’ll charge you good money, but it will get done and you don’t have to worry about it. And I’ll follow through. If you want to print booklets, for instance, I did a couple of those fundraising letters, last minute fundraising letters, for the 2014 election cycle.
One campaign had a budget leftover and they wanted to do a last minute mailing. Otherwise, what happens if money is left in a campaign, then they have to carry it through and what not. So they just want to spend it, right? That makes sense, right?
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, absolutely.
Razzaq Lodhia: Because it is a bunch of paperwork to do legally. So I said, “You have X amount of dollars left. It will dictate how many pieces you can mail.” So it was a single letter with the envelope, addressing, and postage. I literally got that done in one weekend. I printed the letter, folded it, put it in an envelope, addressed the envelope directly on the envelope (no labels).
John Tsarpalas: Hand written?
Razzaq Lodhia: No, no.
John Tsarpalas: Oh, just printed on the envelope.
Razzaq Lodhia: Yeah, you can set up your printer to label your print directly.
John Tsarpalas: On the envelope, okay.
Razzaq Lodhia: So it gets back from the printer, boom, boom, boom. It turned out to be twelve hundred. I don’t remember, it was about a thousand pieces of letters. It got folded and stuck. The point is it was a fundraiser letter. So the fact was it was done Monday morning. It went to the post office. It probably got delivered the next day.
If you are doing a fundraising letter, make sure it gets out in time because people aren’t going to write you a check immediately. They will see it. They will think about it.
John Tsarpalas: They will throw it in the corner and they will do it when they are going to pay their bills a week later.
Razzaq Lodhia: If you need this extra cash for the campaign, you get that out soon. That is where my value add is. I can literally do things in a short amount of time. But I obviously charge for that, but it gets done. Then you get money and it is returned from your fundraiser.
But if it is not mission critical, just do it easy, the cheapest way as possible, and then get that done.
John Tsarpalas: Perfect. Interesting techniques. That’s a good one for the fundraiser. That’s a good idea.
Razzaq Lodhia: It is actually a pretty good idea. People who don’t vote as an American should be embarrassed.
John Tsarpalas: That’s true.
Razzaq Lodhia: Voter turnout is, my god. When Iraq had their first voting, eighty-one percent of the people came out and voted with the blue finger.
John Tsarpalas: Right, I remember.
Razzaq Lodhia: I mean, wow! We get less than fourty, that is the twenty, thirty, forty percent. It is embarrassing.
John Tsarpalas: It is embarrassing.
Razzaq Lodhia: And people are jaded. It doesn’t make any difference. Well, you know the reason it doesn’t make any difference-
John Tsarpalas: Because you don’t show up.
Razzaq Lodhia: – because you don’t vote.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah, you don’t show up.
Razzaq Lodhia: I mean, think about it. If all of these people were angry with Romney in 2014 that had stayed home and didn’t come to vote, if they had just gone out and voted-
John Tsarpalas: Where would we be now?
Razzaq Lodhia: – where would we be now?
John Tsarpalas: It’s absolutely right.
Razzaq Lodhia: Seriously, you should charge money for voting.
John Tsarpalas: You are right. You are absolutely right. So there are lots of thoughts and lots of techniques. I think the big takeaway from our discussion is it requires planning. It takes doing things in advance, sitting down, thinking it through, and then getting to work with someone like you that is a designer. Get a hold of you. Get that schedule. And then start pulling back those costs and those thoughts.
Keep working at it. Start early. You can’t do things last minute. You’ve got to have a plan and you go to work it. I think that is just key.
Razzaq Lodhia: You remember with the yard sign you can wait until the very last minute just before the primary because people don’t start using their pre-ad sign. But you plan ahead. For instance, that is a good example of planning ahead.
A yard sign costs about $2.50 or $2.40, but if you buy them in bulk way ahead of time, you can get it down to $1.75. You know 200 is not going to be enough for the general election. You are probably going to need a thousand or two thousand.
John Tsarpalas: Sure, easily.
Razzaq Lodhia: So get the budget now for something you know you are going to be needing. Logo and branding is already done. Make an order. Say, “Hey, I want two thousand, three thousand yard signs. Give me a really good rate, like $1.50.” The money you are saving, my god, is a big difference.
John Tsarpalas: Right. And here is something for fundraising. You go. You find out what it is going to cost to design the yard sign, what it is going to cost to print it, and if you get it done early what the cost will be. You go to your donor and say, “I need to buy yard signs for my campaign. They are going to be this much if I can have the money now and it will be that much if I have to wait. Please can you write the check now?” It gives them a deadline to write the check now.
Razzaq Lodhia: That actually is a very good point- assign how the money is going to be used.
John Tsarpalas: Exactly.
Razzaq Lodhia: That is a very good point, John. It depends upon which district, like U.S. Congress 9th District is a huge area. So you have five thousand yard signs and it will be plenty. Get it printed in advance and it will be much cheaper. And the signage company will love a big order like that.
John Tsarpalas: Especially when it is a slower period. Do it early. When I am coaching people to fundraise, I am often telling them or reminding them, pick out one part of your campaign and go to a donor. Every donor knows you need yard signs. Have them buy you yard signs.
And then when they see the yard signs, take a picture and send it to them saying, “Our signs are up. Thank you! You paid for this.” It makes it so tangible versus just giving to your campaign.
The same is with the palm card. “We are going to need a thousand palm card or five thousand palm cards. Here is our design.” You can go in with the actual design. You can pay for that part up front.
“Here’s the design. Here is what it is going to cost to print it. Could you pay for five thousand of these? And if that is too much, could you do a thousand dollars worth of it?” You can break it into chunks and spread it out amongst five donors or something.
Razzaq Lodhia: Or “Can you commit to five thousand, but pay for half now?”
John Tsarpalas: Right, exactly. But you’ve got something tangible and that person paid for something tangible. And then you send them a sample and say, “Thank you. You paid for this. This is so important.”
Razzaq Lodhia: Right. This is actually a very good point. It should become a defacto way of doing things. You wait for money to come in to do a project for you campaign. It is better to say, “This is a project. This is how much it is going to cost down to the cent,” because you know upfront how much it is going to cost. “Could you donate for this?”
John Tsarpalas: Exactly. I like to coach people with that thought behind it. Just ask for something specific like that. It is much more tangible for the donor. And it is easier than asking, “Hey, can you give me a check?” That doesn’t work.
Razzaq Lodhia: Then wasting money on novelty items like water bottles or balloons or whatever. Do you do that? I remember for the 2014 Fourth of July, Jan Schakowsky-
John Tsarpalas: She always had her fans, the Jan Fan.
Razzaq Lodhia: Now that was a brilliant idea.
John Tsarpalas: Yeah. “I am a Jan fan.” She has been doing those for the Fourth of July for twenty years.
Razzaq Lodhia: Now, that kind of novelty item is very clever. You do spend money on that because it is hot, right? There were Jan people on the parade line. Kathy Myalls’ campaign was handing out their walk card. “Don’t take that. Don’t take that,” they were telling their kids and families.
John Tsarpalas: It was something people could use immediately. This is our local congresswoman around here.
Razzaq Lodhia: I think the principal is, honest to God, how well you are funded. Once my logo is designed, the campaign has it and you can use it on a t-shirt or a water bottle or fan card or whatever, right? It is not my work anymore.
But then again, I don’t want to see campaigns wasting money on certain things. Forget it. Who wants it, right?
John Tsarpalas: But on a hot summer day at a Fourth of July parade, people were taking the fans or they would take a water bottle because they need it and they are going to use it and they are going to look at it. If you hand them a piece of literature, they don’t want to hold this thing. They are looking for how they can get rid of it. They don’t want it.
Razzaq Lodhia: What they do is litter the sidewalks, boom!
John Tsarpalas: So all it does is litter.
Razzaq Lodhia: When I saw that my design piece printed for a client, discard on the sidewalk, I said, “Oh, four cents, four cents, four cents.”
John Tsarpalas: There you go.
Razzaq Lodhia: It is adding up, right? You say, “But that is the cost of doing business.” But you are right, you want to see what the venue is. Why hand out something that is going to be thrown away?
John Tsarpalas: Right, exactly.
Razzaq Lodhia: For that you want to use something like a business card, a mini-walk card. It just has a name and a photo and a URL for the website.
John Tsarpalas: I have seen candidates with booths at like Chamber of Commerce sidewalk sales or business events. They will print a cheap grocery bag or a bag. So people are going to other booths are putting literature in and they end up holding the bag. That is something that is smart to do, something like that.
But you have to look at the event and choose your situation. But again, that is back to planning, thinking it through, and then trying to see if you’ve got the budget to it or not, and if it will be effective.
Razzaq Lodhia: Exactly right.
John Tsarpalas: Thank you, Razzaq. I want to let people know how they can get a hold of you. You are electiongraphics.us. I will definitely have the URL for your website in the show notes on my website. But in the meantime, people should you write to you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get a hold of Razzaq early on in your campaign. Start figuring out what the plan is and what the budget is going to be. You are going to have to start with the basics and start with the basics. Start with that logo and that basic one page website, which is all anyone needs to start with. And then go from there.
Razzaq Lodhia: And if this season is too late, let’s talk about 2018.
John Tsarpalas: Well, how about 2017? We have local elections comings. I am all about 2017. People who are listening to this podcast right now are people who are gearing up for 2017.
Razzaq Lodhia: Oh, of course. If you plan ahead, then you have so much flexibility and you are not panicking.
John Tsarpalas: Absolutely. Yup, back to planning. Thank you so much. I appreciate it. It was great.
It was good to chat with Razzaq about all of these things because Razzaq is just good at what he does. I had dealt with him for a few years. My friends have used Razzaq. I know Paul uses him a lot. Razzaq has always been someone who give you lots of different ideas quickly and make changes quickly.
He’s gotten himself into the photography, the video, and the novelties. I think they really add a lot to a campaign. I think a little bit more on novelties is you’ve got to be real careful on how you spend money here because there are things you are going to do that are a waste of time and a waste of money.
People do refrigerator magnets. Well, maybe that works in certain communities in certain situations. But most people just never take it home and put it one their refrigerator.
But I do think it is smart to get t-shirts, especially to have your volunteers wear them for different events and parades, around town. I think that works well. Handing out that water bottle or that paper fan at the Fourth of July parade or some warm event or situation works well.
But just passing out literature along a parade route is pretty boring to people. So novelties do work in that situation. So give it some thought on those novelties. Give yourself some time to think about it. Really think it through. You might want to try a small quality.
One of the advantages of being an incumbent is you get to try something one year and if it doesn’t work, you try something the next year. So think about that for your ongoing campaign, whether you win or lose and you are going to come back and run next time. Hopefully you are going to be smarter about where you put your money in those novelties.
And don’t get too carried on novelties. That is not going to win it for you. You’ve got to get out and do the door-to-door and the hard work of raising some money and doing some mailing.
As always, we will have show notes and a transcript of today’s podcast at Commonwealthy.com. If you’ve got questions, you can reach me at email@example.com. I am happy to answer your email questions.
And if you need more help with your campaign, I am a candidate coach. What makes me different than a consultant? Well, I help you to formulate your plans. I can review your plans for you. I can help you with public speaking, fundraising, and Get Out the Vote. I coach you.
And then I hold candidates accountable if they’d like that type of coaching. Many candidates will call me once a week or every other week and report in how many donors they’ve talked to, how many phone calls their volunteers made, and how many doors they knocked. Literally, I hold them accountable. They explain where they are having trouble and difficulty. I help them get through that and I keep them on track to their winning campaign plan, which I can help you formulate.
My first half hour of consultation is free. Often it runs a little longer than that. I don’t mind. I’ll let you know how I can help if you want to use my coaching beyond that point. But it is really helpful to most people to talk to me because I come up with some ideas and get them on track in their first half hour.
So feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please tell your friends about us. Let other activists and candidates know that we exist.
We can think about politics. We can talk about politics. That can go on forever. Talk is cheap; let’s win some elections.