To subscribe to the monthly C&E email newsletter and event announcements click here.
Candidates want to deliver a message that voters will remember. To do that, they need that message to be four things: Brief, memorable, positive and consistent
Not only does the message have to be all of these, but it also has to be communicated effectively through the channels of speeches, social media, direct mail, newsletters and yard signs – often simultaneously. On top of all that, it needs to sound original.
That’s where an effective copywriter comes in.
Copywriters aren’t just speechwriters. They can work across a campaign’s channels to can help a candidate hone her or his message. Just how helpful is a good copywriter? Consider Hal Rhiney’s copy for Ronald Reagan’s 1984 “The Bear” commercial.
Many practitioners consider it some of the most effective copywriting done in the campaign arena, including Luke Sullivan, veteran copywriter and author of the book on copywriting Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads.
“Authenticity is the thing most brands and candidates lack. 'The Bear' spot still sticks with me today, over 30 years later.”
The 30-second commercial shows a brown bear walking in the woods accompanied by a soundtrack of a heart beating. The copy in the voiceover reads: “There’s a bear in the woods. For some people the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious, and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who’s right. Isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear? If there is a bear?”
The commercial ends with the silhouette of a man standing across from the bear. It’s brief, visual and gets you to think. All in under one minute.
“Candidates need to be interesting, And to be interesting, they need to say things imaginatively, originally and freshly,” Sullivan told me.
Now a local or state-level candidate without a TV budget is unlikely to get access to a top media consultant’s copywriting skills. Sure, their mail consultant can help with messaging. But a copywriter working directly with the campaign is better suited for honing a personal message than a consulting firm staffer working on maybe dozens of different races.
Fewer words, stronger responses
My career as a copywriter developed from years doing stand-up comedy. After one particular show, a headlining comedian taught me a comedy lesson in copywriting.
After my set, he pulled me aside and said: “Hey, your first joke is really good. I think you can get to the punchline quicker though by taking out a few words.”
I went back to my set and saw that the first laugh didn’t happen until 60 words in. Sure enough, I tinkered with the setup and punchline and was able to achieve the same response in just under 40 words.
Like Frank Luntz said in Words That Work, “The simpler an idea is presented, the more credible it will be.”
The same brevity and impact used in campaign speeches, or stand-up sets, can be translated into other mediums as well.
Candidates would be wise to condense their message to 140 characters or less. Does the message fit on a tweet or a can it be read through email on a mobile phone easily?
For direct mail, will the headline on the front be enough for the voter to flip the piece over and read the rest?
Sell hope and integrity
Harry Beckwith, marketing pioneer and author Selling The Invisible, put it this way: “Sell hope and integrity.”
The right messaging will convey a breath of fresh air: Someone who is original, but forward thinking, and knowledgeable, but relatable.
Let a copywriter imagine your vision with a fresh set of eyes and ideas. He or she can help your message be brief, memorable, positive and consistent. Most importantly, they can help sell any candidate’s two most important promises: hope and integrity.
Josh Womack is the co-founder of Laugh Staff.