A campaign’s resources should always be spent in the most effective way to persuade voters and to drive turnout. Yet when confronted with a last-minute infusion of cash the weekend before an election, campaigns often fall victim to the myths and bad habits of spending late campaign money.

Every campaign is different but the next time you find an extra few thousand dollars the Friday before Election Day, here are a few things to consider.

Myth: It’s Too Late to Buy More TV

Television still remains the most effective way to persuade your late-breaking voters. Too many campaigns take this powerful persuasion option off the table due to the myth that it is too late to buy more time. Contrary to popular belief, television stations don’t close their ad inventory at 5:00 p.m. the Friday before Election Day. The truth is that you can often purchase new slots for your ads and bolster your current ad buy throughout the weekend.

This probably wouldn’t have worked two or three cycles ago, but stations are now making themselves available at the last minute. With new technology, stations no longer have to wait 24 or 48 hours to put your spot into new slots. The trick is to call the station, send emails and call your station representative directly on his or her cell phone. They might not have the 5 p.m. news available, but ask them what they do have and compare that with your polling targets. Cable buys are slightly different, but if your media buyer has a good relationship with the local cable representative, you should be able to get more air time – even if you’re buying it on Saturday.

Bad Habit: GOTV Spending Based on Anecdotal Evidence

Most of what passes for GOTV effectiveness is nothing more than an anecdote passed along from campaign to campaign. A few years back Yale professors Dr. Donald Green and Dr. Alan Gerber conducted rigorous experimental science to determine the most cost-effective way to increase voter turnout. They discovered that many GOTV tactics were less effective than normally believed by campaign managers and political consultants. If you’re not familiar with their work, go buy their book, Get Out the Vote and commit their metrics to memory. At the very least, read pages 90 to 96. Here’s a thumbnail of their research when determining how to allocate your last minute dollars over the weekend.

  • Email: “No detectable effect” on voter turnout.
  • Robo calls: “No detectable effect” on voter turnout.
  • Paid Phone Calls: “One vote per 30 completed calls,” costing $45 per vote
  • Door-to-Door Partisan Leafleting: “One vote per 66 registered voters contacted,” costing $14 per vote.
  • Door-to-Door Knock & Talk: “One vote per 14 contacts,” costing $19 per vote.
  • Partisan Direct Mail: “One vote per 600 recipients,” costing $200 per vote. There has been more recent research on “social pressure” direct mailings that are low cost and very effective. However, you couldn’t launch this the Friday before Election Day.

You’ll note that social media was not included in their GOTV voter turnout studies at the time, nor was paid media. However, these are important voter mobilization metrics for any campaign in the final days when new money flows into your coffers.

Bad Habit: Having Money You Don’t Know About

In the final days of the campaign you might have a big sum of money you didn’t even know you had in media “refunds.” Campaigns need to make every dollar count and the last thing any campaign wants is to get a big, six-figure check two weeks after they lost the election, due to media “refunds.” 

Most people think “refunds” are good things, but not when we’re talking about refunds from your media buyer. If you have money refunded, it’s not because your savvy buyer got you a discount, it’s because your spots didn’t run when the stations said they would. This can be easily avoided by ensuring your buyer tracks media spending in real time to guarantee that if spots don’t run, you get your money back immediately – not a month or two months after the election. 

In 2010, I worked closely with Meenah Hulsen of the Davis Group to make sure we were tracking Illinois Governor Pat Quinn’s media buy in real time. The result was that we weren’t surprised with a big refund check after the election, and we were able to make every dollar count. While most campaigns will always have some money refunded, if you’re tracking your spend in real time, you minimize that amount to reallocate prior to Election Day.

Ben Nuckels serves as vice president at Joe Slade White and Company, and is a veteran of state, local and presidential campaigns. He was recently named a 2011 Rising Star by C&E. Prior to joining Joe Slade White & Company, Nuckels was the campaign manager for Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s victory in 2010.