Quick Hits – Newspaper campaign mailers DON’T WORK

You people are bleepin’ relentless! “Write this, write that, and how could you possibly miss this!” When, a couple of columns ago, I joked about not having a “supervisor,” I had no idea just how Zen that statement truly was.

I don’t have one boss, I have all of you! Lucky me! So, who’s gonna give me that big raise I so richly deserve?

But I digress!

As a result of Tuesday’s Quick Hits, some of you aptly noted that State Senator Sue Rezin wasn’t nearly the only 14th Congressional District candidate sending out fake newspapers. And sure enough, the self-declared (and likely) 14th frontrunner, State Senator Jim Oberweis, has also been dabbling in the artificial tabloid game.

It would seem that, having made fun of some of Jim’s previous mailers, he struck my name from his voter list. Smart man!

And while I certainly appreciate the folks who took the time to send me electronic copies of Oberweis’ missives, the issue isn’t and has never been their content! The issue is, not only are newspaper mailers expensive to print and post, but they don’t work.


This campaign messaging flop goes all the way back to Kane County Clerk Jack Cunningham who pioneered the use of tabloid formatted mailers in his unsuccessful 70s run for State’s Attorney. And that was a time when voters actually read newspapers, too!

So, here’s why they’re such a bad idea:

1. They violate the First Commandment of campaigning

And that Commandment, regularly repeated throughout my newly published book, ‘So You Want to Win a Local Election?’ is:

The average American voter has the attention span of an off-meds ADHD sixth grader coming down from a three-day sugar and videogaming binge.

If you don’t understand and accept that very basic concept, you will never win an election.


2. They violate the First Postulate of campaign mailers

That Postulate, regularly repeated throughout, ‘So You Want to Win a Local Election?’ is:

The entire point of a campaign mailer or door hanger is to get the voter to read your name, and perhaps the intended office, in the ten seconds it takes to get from the mailbox to the recycling bin.

A “newspaper” is the utter antithesis of that Postulate.


3. They violate the Second Commandment of campaigning

Which is:

On a reasonably level electoral playing field, the candidate who racks up the most “impressions” well-targeted voter impressions always wins.

I just spoke with my favorite political printer, Frank Babich at Team Concept Printing, and he told me Rezin’s 17 by 12 full-color 20 page virgin newsprint mailer (not recycled like the newspapers), likely cost three to four times more than an 11 by 6 post card mailer.

At least Rezin’s paper semi-prominently featured her name regardless of the position in which the paper showed up in your mailbox (above or below the fold), but she could’ve generated two to three times more impressions for the same price.

Oberweis’ thinner newspapers did not highlight his name, which makes it a patently pointless piece. He got virtually zero impressions for two to three times the traditional mailer cost.


4. No one reads newspapers, and particularly print newspapers, anymore

When I regularly ran through my brand-new 2001 Geneva, Illinois, subdivision, a morning newspaper was thrust on every third driveway. Now, as I walk the dogs through those same subdivision streets, just one in 30 driveways hosts a newspaper.

A campaign managing friend firmly believes newspaper mailers work with older voters who grew up accustomed reading the Chicago Tribune. There is something to that thought because the average age of a Northern Illinois Republican primary voter is an astonishing 61 years.

But I’m 61, I once subscribed to five daily print papers, and the only reason I opened Rezin’s mailer is I’m a political consultant. Otherwise it would’ve been deposited directly in the paper recycling bin with all the other useless mail.


5. It violates the Third Commandment of campaigning

Which is, “The choir never elected anyone!”

Why would any self-respecting candidate waste precious campaign resources appealing to voters who are already gonna vote for them? But despite the blatant simplicity of that statement, 80 percent of candidates fervently believe the choir is what matters.

That’s why so many first-time candidates lose.

The only voter who will crack open and read a newspaper mailer is a voter who’s already in your camp. If they’re undecided or you’re not their cup of tea, trust me, it goes right in the trash.


6. If newspaper mailers worked, then so would newspaper endorsements.

But newspaper endorsements don’t work. Some years ago, I wrote a column on how the best way to lose an election was to get the Tribune’s endorsement, and the statistics aren’t much better for the local papers.

A print media endorsement can be helpful because it demoralizes your opponent and provides a great tagline for a traditional mailer.

Ah! But political ads in newspapers, particularly if their remaining subscribers are a preferred demographic, are actually a pretty good bang for your campaign buck.


So, there you have it! This is why newspaper mailers are a bad idea. To make matters worse, I cannot fathom why Rezin included a picture of Oberweis in hers, and Oberweis featured a photo of Democratic opponent Lauren Underwood in his, but it’s immaterial because no one opened them anyway.

The only thing worse than these artificial tabloids is the book Jeanne Ives mailed during her ill-fated 2018 gubernatorial primary race.

If the term KISS (keep it simple stupid) ever applied to any human endeavor, it would be political campaigning. Of course, mailers can’t be too small, or they’ll blend in with the other direct mail, but a simple well-targeted 9 by 6 white card with just the candidate’s name on it would be far more effective than a fake newspaper.


Since we’re talking about it, if you are running or thinking of running, and you’re interested in talking about campaign management, please email me at jeffnward@comcast net.


Oh! And after four Quick Hits this week, there won’t be one tomorrow. Goddamn slave drivers!