There are plenty of new and exciting developments in the campaign world this cycle, but some things never change and yard sign theft is one of them. Just as soon as your campaign and its supporters start placing yard signs, you can be sure thieves and vandals will begin targeting them.
First rule: never underestimate the lengths people will go to steal or vandalize yard signs. The proof is endless, and often fairly entertaining. I put together a top ten list of campaign yard sign theft videos that includes electrocuting sign thieves and painting a front lawn, among others.
Here's video of one extreme example from 2008 of two young men who set fire to a John McCain sign with homemade Molotov cocktails.
But campaigns can and should work to leverage stolen signs to their advantage. If played the right way, it can help earn media, recruit volunteers and even acquire small dollar contributors.
Earning media from yard sign thieves
A Google News search for "yard signs" returns 39,000 news results in just the last month. Long story short, the media loves to report on yard signs—including sign theft and vandalism. When a supporter recounts their story of a stolen sign, ask if you can include information about the theft in a press release. Once the campaign has accumulated a few similar stories, issue a press release decrying the actions of your opponent's supporters, and offer quotes from your supporters about the purported thefts. With any luck, you'll get a sympathetic news story.
Sign theft and volunteerism
Angry supporters are ripe for a volunteer ask, and yard sign theft is a powerful source for supporter anger. When a supporter calls the field office to share their story and ask for another yard sign, you're likely to get a "yes" from a volunteer ask because they're motivated by anger and want to reciprocate. In addition, many campaigns successfully trade a sign for a volunteer shift, which also works well.
Turning sign theft into dollars
Using the same process as above, small dollar contributions in exchange for a yard sign are common, and upset supporters will be quick to open up their wallets for a few dollars to replace their sign for virtuous reasons and spite alike.
Keep an eye on your opponent's supporters
Yard sign laws vary by state and locality, but knowing when campaigns can put out signs, any limits to the size of a sign and disclaimer requirements is important to identifying other campaign sign improprieties, in addition to theft and vandalism. With a new twist on the basic concept, campaigns can also use these types of violations to motivate the media and supporters to action.
Ben Donahower is a contributing editor to the free guide, Get Out The Vote To Win, and a campaign veteran. You can connect with Ben on Twitter at @iapprovethismsg.