Signs and Designs for Political Campaigns CW 68- transcript

signs and designs for political campaignsJohn Tsarpalas: Today’s Commonwealthy podcast posts on October 25, 2016, exactly two weeks before the November election. I want to talk about yard signs. Why? Because what better time of the year and time of the season than a presidential year to go outside, look around your area, look around your neighborhood, and look at the yard signs?

They pop up everywhere right now. That’s what we are going to talk about today on Commonwealthy #68, Signs and Designs for a Political Campaign.

So hopefully you are really busy right now. And I get that. I know I am! We’ve got political campaigns happening all over. We’ve got people we’ve got to take care of. We’ve got jobs to do as volunteers.

And hopefully if you are listening to this podcast and you are not a candidate running, you are hopefully involved in some campaign somewhere as a volunteer at least, so that you can learn and see and grow. And as students as campaigns, we are always learning. We learn from every campaign every election every time we are getting involved.

Today I wanted to take a little time out to look at yard signs and the signage that is up because right now there isn’t going to be more signs until four years from now. Presidential years are always the big ones. There are always more signs now than ever.

So what’s going on in your neighborhood? What are the sizes of your yard signs? What are the colors being used? What are the fonts? Take a look. Think about this when you are out driving down the road or in your neighborhood.

All of the elements of a yard sign are important. Number one is can you read it and can you read it from a distance? I prefer yard signs that are bigger. Now there are limits in some towns about the size a sign can be. You should check out your local sign ordinances with your local municipalities and county. That should be probably posted on their website, but you can give them a call if that is not how it works in your area.

The bigger the sign the better. Now I am not talking about four foot by eight foot giant plywood billboards on a corner somewhere. These often happen in rural areas. Here in my Chicago area, you’ll see some that are four foot by four foot. Some big ones in people’s yards. Often you just do it and just ignore the local sign ordinances and just put it up.

What is more important is your sign is legible, readable. Number one, they see the name. You do not want to overload the sign with too much detail. You want your name. Perhaps you want the office they are running for. Maybe in smaller letters your campaign website so people can find more information on you. You don’t want a whole lot more.

Some areas it is important to have a union label that these were printed and manufactured in the union facility. But that is not necessarily true in most places. However, years ago that used to be more important. So perhaps you have to have that union trademark. They used to call it the little bug. It just looked like a little scarab beetle down on the bottom.

Anyway, check that out. If you think this is a heavily unionized area, that is important. Fine. If it is not, who cares? Don’t waste the money on it. And don’t waste the space on it.

I want to emphasize how important good design is. You want a font and a look for your entire campaign that match. You want colors that match from your website, your t-shirt, your literature, and your yard signs. You want it to look professional. If you are someone with great taste, perhaps you can do it yourself. Perhaps you know someone with taste. Perhaps you should hire a designer.

I think a designer is worth investing in for your yard signage and your basic campaign look and signs. It is money well spent. Hopefully you will continue with that design for many years on. It is not just a one shot deal. It is for many, many years.

There are places to find designers if you don’t know a good designer. You can go to and other places on the web that will do designs for your campaign. You can ask around of other business people and things like that who have had design and you like their design. Who did their look? Who did their design?

And a good designer is going to cost you a few dollars but worth it. And it also depends on who you are trying to reach with your design. Perhaps you need to get someone local who kind of has the flavor for your neighborhood, the flavor for the generation you are trying to reach.

One of the problems I find with a lot of candidates and myself too is my esthetic taste are stronger than some people’s so I can say, “I like that” and “I don’t like that.” But I don’t why.

And then there are people that just have bad tastes. I know some friends of mine that have websites that I think are horribly ugly and out of date. Their taste is twenty years ago.

So find somebody who you think has some style or taste, someone you think dresses sharply or you like the way their house is decorated or you like the paint colors they chose for the outside of their house. Ask them to help you. A lot of people will help step up on something like that is in decisions of taste.

And be careful of a committee. Committees always water things down and boil them down into something mushy and innocuous and nobody really likes it. I would say find one person with taste, have them give you a couple of choices, and then show those choices on a one-on-one basis to different people and see which one they like better.

And then I would test it for distance if you have some way to make a mock-up. Can you read this thing at twenty paces away? Can you read it from across the street? Can you read it when you are driving down the street? How far can it be read on a mocked up yard sign?

It is about being seeing it. You don’t want to get into too many other slogans and stuff on your yard signs. Just make sure that it is crisp and clean and they can see it.

So let’s think about colors. If you are running as a Republican or a limited government person, or just a patriot, you probably want to stick to red, white, and blue. White background is good for yard signs that are in being put up in the summer or the fall.

However, if you are in a primary in winter in snow, you don’t want a white yard sign because it is just going to blend into the snow and get lost. So here in the north, our primary signs tend to have darker backgrounds.

Something else that happens around here in the Chicago area (and I don’t know if this is true all over), green tends to be the color of the Democrats because their they are greens. They are all environment. So there are certain signals in the colors that you need to be aware of in yard signs. And be mindful of that.

Now yard signs are made out of different products. There is the plastic bag kind that just is a printed bag and you slide it over the metal stand. There are the ones that are plastic-y. I think it is called Coroplast. Sometimes it is sort of a foam core so a little stronger. Those slide over the stakes.

And those are handy in that you can pull them off and you can use those in other situations. They can be put in a window. They can be put In a storefront window without the stakes. They can be held up at parades. So they are a little more versatile. They cost a little more than the bag signs.

Think about how many locations you think you can get yard signs out to. Now there is a debate that happens amongst politicos about the validity of yard signs. I know Tina Keats who is on this podcast often is a big believer in yard signs. She thinks it is about name ID, name recognition, and if your neighbor’s got a sign up, people are around are going to think twice that they should vote for you because that person likes you.

She has a solid point there. I believe that yard signs have value for that, but I think there is a better way to get the maximum value out of a yard sign. That is when a person wants a yard sign, you ask for their name and address. You create yourself a mailing list. Ideally you get an email address as well. But you have a mailing list and an email list that you are collecting of people that are gathering yard signs.

Now one trick that I have found in presidential and gubernatorial years, especially if you have an organization like a Republican organization. People will come in and they will want a yard sign for the President. They don’t want a yard sign for some state rep that they’ve never heard of or some lower office candidate.

It is important at that moment to say to them, “I am happy to give you a presidential candidate yard sign. However, it would really the entire ticket, and if you are conservative or if you are a limited government person, it helps for us to support these down ticket people by also putting up their yard sign. Would you mind putting up a sign for them, too? And, oh by the way, we do require a name and an address and an email address so we can stay in touch with you in case something changes.”

And most people will give you that information. You can stress to them that you are not going to spam them. You might send them an email or two during the campaign. One of the tricks is to try to get some of those presidential signs in your campaign headquarters or have them somewhere where people can see them. And then they come in to get them. You can talk them into taking this other sign for your campaign as well.

But to why you want to get their name and address. This is quality voter IDing. It’s as good as if you knocked on their door or you called them on the phone and they said they are voting for you. They are putting a sign in their yard for you. My goodness, how much more could they actually do?

And they might go a little further. You at some point should invite them to your small fundraiser or to your big fundraiser. Try to sell them some tickets. Of if you are doing a little mailing for money, ask them for twenty-five dollars. If a person puts a sign up for you, they probably will send you twenty dollars or twenty-five dollars.

This is good data. It should go into your database. You should keep track of where your yard signs are at in your database. If you are using the Voter Gravity system, it goes in there. Why? Because the next time you run (you are running for reelection or you are running again), you know people who supported you and these are easy call right up front. “I am running again. Would you mind putting up another yard sign for me?”

So here is where I feel like I am a little out of order, but still it is important. How did you find people to put up yard signs? Well, in the primary, if you are running as a Republican, you are calling Republican voters. If you are running as an independent or in a nonpartisan race and you are calling people who were Republicans because you are a fiscal conservative.

You are going to call and explain who you are and you are going to ask in those early calls of people that should lean your way, “Would you please put up a yard sign for me?” And you don’t say, “Will you put up a yard sign for me?” You have to make it sound more important.

So you phrase it like this: “It would be really powerful if you could put up a yard sign in your neighborhood for me showing support. A yard sign is a way to convey to your neighbors just how important this race is and that there is somebody that you believe in. This is so important to me as the candidate” or if not the candidate asking, “It would be so important for John Doe our candidate to have a yard sign in your neighborhood. Would you mind putting a sign up? We’ll drop it off.”

You ask like that. You just don’t do a flip line like, “Would you put up a yard sign?” “I don’t know.” You need to have gravitas, weight. Ask with some weight and importance. And often they will say yes.

One of the things that I don’t like to do, but it might be effective, is just have a crew go out with signs and throw them up everywhere. Put them along highways. Put them on busy corners. Part of me feels it is like spamming the world and it is littering. I don’t like doing it.

However, if there is a tradition of doing it in your area, and often it is more rural areas (you are not going to find this in the cities), then I would consider it. I would try it. I would see what kind of push back you get on it. And you are doing this six weeks before an election. You are doing it before early voting to get your name out.

And then see if you get a lot of complaints. See if the city complains. See if they take your signs down immediately. Often along highways they will be up for weeks. In other places they take a crew out the next morning and they take them all down and throw them out. You are just wasting money.

So I would test it on a small scale. I guess I am telling you to be lawless and that is probably not legal. So I would say you need to talk to your election law attorney about it. You need to check out your local laws. Don’t do it because I said so. It is up to you. Make up your own mind on what you want to do and have aggressive you want to be.

So think about your signage. What is going on out there in the real world? It is important to see what other people are doing? It is important for you to have good, effective signs. I touched a little on size. The bigger the sign the better. Find out what is the maximum allowed in your area and go for it. I think it is important. I would double check that everywhere.

We also spoke about campaign graphic design and election campaign graphic design in Commonwealthy #59 with Razzaq Lodhia. There is a whole lot of information there on design. You can check out Razzaq. He is listed on our resources page as a good designer. He does a lot of political stuff. He kind of gets that it has to be clean and it has to be readable. That might be a good podcast for you to back and listen to or read the transcript, which is also on own webpage.

I appreciate you listening today. I am going to keep it short because, well, literally it is two weeks to the election and things are pretty busy and hectic around here. I will let you get on to volunteering somewhere or running your campaign.

And if you haven’t volunteered, there is two weeks left. Go find a phone bank and go do it for an hour or two one day and see what that is like. Get an idea of what it is like to talk to voters. There are lots of ways to test the waters if you are thinking of running for office.

And if you need help putting together your campaign plan or you are thinking about running for office and you can’t make up your mind, I offer a free one hour consultation. Get in touch with me at

I will give you feedback and let you know what you need to work on and some thoughts for the future and give you some ideas. And perhaps I can help you make up your mind. And perhaps I can help guide you to resources and things that you could use for you or your campaign to get ready to run.

We should be thinking about running here for the spring elections of 2017, local elections. Lots of nonpartisan races out there. This is all huge. We are going to get into the nitty gritty of that moving forward as soon as the national elections are over here on Commonwealthy. I am looking forward to it.

If you are sitting on the sidelines and you are talking about politics, you are listening to the radio, you are watching TV, you are going to Tea Party meetings or GOP things, and you do a lot of talk, well, talk is cheap. We need to win some elections. Let’s win some elections.

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