Let me start by saying that predicting how campaigns will be run in three or six months is like predicting who will be President in 50 years. We can and should all contribute to this discussion, but obviously, none of us know the staying power of this crisis.
Will this subside and we have the record turnout we all expect in November? Will we all be voting by mail? Or will any of us be voting at all in 2020? You can make an argument for any of these scenarios, and all of these scenarios call for completely different playbooks.
What we do know is things have already changed, dramatically. We are in uncharted, unprecedented, and unpredictable times.
People’s behavior has changed more radically than any of us ever has seen, and with it, so has the how, when, and where of reaching them.
Holding rallies and fundraisers are out. As for advertising, radio seems like a not-so-good idea when very few are commuting to work. No live sporting events make TV less appealing.
Even digital has drawbacks. Many advertisers are justifiably sensitive to their ads appearing next to COVID-19 content. Keyword blocklists can help them avoid this, but when the whole world is focussed on one thing that presents problems of its own.
Then there is the question of how campaigns can responsibly utilize the support of their volunteers.
Phone banking should see higher response rates with people staying home. But we shouldn’t expect volunteers to gather at campaign headquarters to make phone calls. Sure, many platforms enable volunteers to make calls from home (including ours), but this will present technical hurdles for those used to making calls from manual dialers. A systematic approach to training callers will be critical.
While a shift in strategy with volunteer phone banking could actually make it more effective during the pandemic, the same cannot be said for canvassing. In fact, you can’t make a case for canvassing at all. At least not in the short term.
Even after we get over the hump (and we will) most voters will still no doubt be uneasy about opening the door for anyone. Worse yet, campaigns could damage their brand if voters who do answer the door, or identify the campaign though a doorbell camera, consider it to be socially irresponsible.
The one thing we can say with a high degree of certainty is that phones aren’t going anywhere, and voters are likely to be more responsive while confined to their homes. Live calls and texting are set up to become more effective tools.
Texting could be used in lieu of canvassing. What we have learned from helping clients with their texting programs is that voters really value an authentic interaction with a real person.
Telling voters that you are contacting them via text instead of in-person to protect them, along with campaign volunteers, is a real and honest way to connect with them. The same can be said for phone banks.
Things are changing fast. We are dealing with new realities and campaigns are having to adapt on the fly like everyone else. The way campaigns communicate with voters during this crisis is critical, and the message will likely determine who wins and who loses.