This Q&A “House Call” with Jim Bieber on voter contact mail is available only to Winner’s Circle members. Members must log in to access this interview. If you are not a Winner’s Circle member, click on the Winner’s Circle tab at on the menu bar for a special trial offer.
CHUCK MUTH: Hello, and welcome to our latest House Calls teleconference. Today with me is Jim Bieber of Bieber Communications, a longtime friend. And an award winning direct mail voter contact provider. Jim, thanks for being with us.
JIM BIEBER: Ah, Chuck, pleasure to be here.
CHUCK MUTH: Jim, so the people have a better idea of your background and expertise on the subject, tell us how long have you been doing this. How did you get into the business of voter contact mail and a little bit about Bieber Communications?
JIM BIEBER: Well, a kind of a funny running gag is saying that I ran away from high school to join the college Republicans. And throughout the course of my life I think I’ve only, outside of a couple jobs in college, been in the political arena; started out as an activist, working the campaign – campaign manager volunteer; was picked up in California, Orange County, California, worked for a couple legislative House Members. Then I was looking for something to transition into the full political industry. I was picked up by a company that did commercial mailers that wanted to create a political division within the company. I worked there for about seven years and then in 1999, founded my own firm, Bieber Communications. And we specialize in voter contact mail and persuasion mail for candidates as well as issues and referendums.
CHUCK MUTH: Okay. Let’s focus on primarily first-time candidates to get us started here; candidates who have not run before and probably are a little bit under funded. What are the various options of communicating with voters that they have through direct mail and what have some of the biggest – are there any misconceptions people have about voter contact mail or any big mistakes that people have right off the bat?
JIM BIEBER: Well, there’s a potential of being a penny-wise and massively stupid when it comes to producing something about yourself. You can produce, you know thousands of extra fliers if you cut it down to one color or two color. But this day of age of digital printing and four-color being the norm, the biggest mistake that anybody could make would be to increase the volume at the expense of having a quality good photo of yourself with some color that gives a little background about yourself, family, in color and so forth.
CHUCK MUTH: And how about targeting? I guess there’s kind of a voter file and you’ve got Bill Smith living in the same house with Jane Smith or assume that they’re married. Do you recommend or to people mail to each individual or do they mail to households? How is it best handled as far as that’s concerned, with multiple voters in the household?
JIM BIEBER: Well, first of all you kind of have to – people have given seminars and I’ve attended campaign schools and people will draw out very elaborate mail campaigns. Well, starting out with an introduction piece and then a comparison piece, a hit piece; the endorsement piece by the sheriff; a reply. These are all great except they’re very rare. Most candidates – everything strategy wise will be driven by budget; who they talk to will be driven budget and the strategy all really centers around how much money you have to spend as opposed to an unlimited checkbook. So the first thing you have to do is which up with a realistic assessment of how much money you’re going to be able to raise and how much that’s going to translate into voter communication.
Voter contact mail is the number one expenditure by 90% of all campaigns. Some people get lost by the congressional and state and federal campaigns but a majority of people are running for lower offices that need to have one, two, three solid pieces of mail to communicate to the voters. Limited to just one piece of mail generally it’s going to be at least an all positive piece about yourself. If you’re trying to take down an incumbent, you need to give people a reason why to take that person out. Knowing that’s the dynamics of your race, you have to figure out, particularly if it’s a partisan race, if you’re going to have a core support of people that are going to vote for you and will say that it’s a good 20% all pure Republican households. If you happen to be Republican, they’re you going to vote for you. Pure Democrat households that constantly vote are probably not going to vote for you. And then you want to figure out what is the mushy middle that you want to persuade that is going to swing this election over and putting you in the win column.
That said, there are a variety of different list providers and vendors that are going to help you with that task. It’s going to cost them a little bit of money ordering up a list. Two routes to go to, there are some companies that you can buy the entire voter district, which is not a bad way to go if you’re going to be doing a grassroots campaign because that will allow you to print out walk sheets, phone lists and a variety of other things to canvas. But it should be able to give you certain tabs and criteria for doing the targeting of a district that contains 20,000 people who are registered to vote. You should very easily boil that down to maybe 5,000. Given the criteria of you want to make sure that there would be a strong Republican households with – again, on the assumption that you’re a Republican candidate, you would wanting to target households that might have a mix in the household – or independence that you would want to target and maybe you’d want to get out your base so you might want to throw in a mailer just for Republicans indicating that you’re the solid guy.
But, most list companies should allow you the option of house-holding the list. Which mean that it would be going to Mr. And Mrs. Bieber, or Jim and Kelly Bieber, or if they’re multiple people, you do not want to be spending money on sending more than one piece per house.
CHUCK MUTH: Before we even get to mail, and mailing campaign literature out, talk to me a little bit about the candidate’s brochure or palm card, there are different ways that it’s referred. But this is something that a candidate will carry with them when he goes to meetings or it may be things that they hand out in front of the grocery store or something; it’s not mail, it’s just their standard – this is what – who I am; this is what my campaign’s about. What are the elements that should be in the candidate’s brochure, flyer, palm card? –as far as photographs, graphics, color, how many pages, that sort of – sizes, and that sort of thing? What do you recommend?
JIM BIEBER: Well if you think about it what you’re doing is you’re handing out a resume. Except it’s a political resume which allows you and people are expecting you to have it be very attractive, quick, short, to the point. But you’re really selling yourself just like a resume. You want to give the same basic information. But, you’re piling on a little bit of philosophy and policy on top of it.
The most important thing, over substance, and it’s kind of funny because people say it’s really what’s on the inside – but when it gets down to a mailer, rivaling contact can also be the photographs. Over the course of my years I’ve had people that have just sent in, just given me the worst photos ever. I had a gentleman that asked me if I could Photoshop his 5:00 beard out. And others, you know, step up to the plate and they’ll go ahead and pop $200 or acquire somebody who has a really good camera and knows what they’re doing and takes some stunning photos that will just make the piece. You don’t want to look shifty; you don’t want to look like you’re not on your game. One of the first and most elements to gather, out side of, you know, your core beliefs and contact information are solid photos of you looking trustworthy; a photo of you engaging in people. A photo of you with family if you have one – something that people are going to relate to because it’s a visual thing that you’re giving people. You need to round up a bio on yourself that contains highlights of your life that people are going to find important to your service and that they can relate to. Then you’re going to want to establish where you stand on positions that people care about. You want to make sure that you’re not popping off on the Israeli Conflict if you’re running for State House. You should, if you’re stepping up and running for office, have a good sense of what people in your district are thinking about and where your position lines up with theirs and you should be springboarding off and highlighting the most important thing that they feel that are also in conjunction with your values and beliefs.
CHUCK MUTH: I’m so with you on the photograph. I’ve told candidates for years that if they don’t spend money on a professional for any thing else, the one thing that they have to have is a professional photographer because that may be –the candidate brochure and the candidate’s webpage may be the only time they see the candidate themselves and that picture’s worth a thousand words and, you’re right – if you look shifty, you got that dark shadow, it’s going to turn a lot of people off. So, if you spend money on nothing else in your campaign or a professional, get a professional photographer.
JIM BIEBER: Let me tell you, it is expected by the voters. I mean, in the age of digital photography and everybody has really stepped up to be able to take and see so much better photos than we had, you know even 10, 15 years ago. Lacking that is almost waving a red flag of there’s something screwy about you being able to manage a small handout – which brings the question of whether you’re going to be able to manage a State House budget or manage a city.
CHUCK MUTH: I’m assuming that the dimensions, the size of the flyer that we’re talking about are the long thin ones that can fit into the breast pocket of a suit. Is that what you’re—
JIM BIEBER: Yeah, there are two basic formats for doing a handout. One is a traditional tri-fold, which is an 8.5 by 11 that is folded in thirds, much like an envelope or a letter that you would receive in an envelope. The other is a palm card that is a little bit longer, little bit more sturdy, but doesn’t give you quite the real estate to put in information about yourself; which, in some cases can be a positive. It’s just kind of a preference. Some states lean towards a traditional tri-fold. Other places lean towards the palm card. But it seems to be the trend is moving more towards a palm card.
CHUCK MUTH: Just two-sided?
JIM BIEBER: A two-sided palm card. Like a mini postcard, a very long; it’s usually either 11 or 13 or 14 inches by about 3 and a quarter to 4. But again, in the modern age that we have people used to feel compelled to detail out policy issues and now, of course, the other most logical thing that you’d always want to put on your palm card or handout is your website. So, in the past people have really felt this need to get technical and explain an issue in depth. Now, it’s pretty common and customary that if a voter really wants to investigate you, you should be able to drive them or they should be, on their own, go to your website to get a little bit more background that you don’t necessarily need to back into that initial handout.
CHUCK MUTH: Okay. Let’s switch to mail. And I want to get to red tag mail in a second but [inaudible] in your experience, is there is a preference between mailing and using first-class postage and bulk mailing? Obviously bulk mailing has the benefit of being less expensive. But first-class mail has the benefit I guess of you’re able to have mail that’s returned [inaudible] class I guess so that you know if you’ve got incorrect dresses and you can fix your database. Do you find anybody – is there is a preference among clients for going first-class or bulk mail when mailing their campaign literature out?
JIM BIEBER: No, I would say it’s almost, without exception, all going out bulk rate. And, the post office has created via politicians, a fantastic, I would say like loophole, or exception within postal permit rates and as you get a letter in the mail you’ll see a first-class stamp and it will indicate to you that it’s fairly important and then you’ll get a variety of commercial mail and you’ll notes on there that it will say something to the effect of bulk rate paid or presort or something that’s not first-class. Now the fantastic thing about campaign mail is that the post office allows you to not use a first-class rate, which on large, oversized pieces can be up to 76 cents. –If you’re to mail a large size envelope piece. And a smaller would go down to 45 cents. But, if you were to use, order up a list and use a mail vendor, they should boil down and take that.45 cents and it should come down to around 25 cents.
Now when campaign season comes around, a quality mail house or somebody that’s done political mail in the past will know to affix red tags onto the bundles of mail and these red tags are supplied by the post office. And on each little bundle you attach that. It’s qualified given to the post office and the people working in the post office see the mail; it’s entered internally into a political log – which is great because the mail then is tracked in case they screw up and every election cycle, 1 out of 100 will get crossed up so you can track it down. But, it is handled in the same format generally as first-class mail. So if you deliver to the post office in 2 in the afternoon, all of your mail, paid for, red tags on it; most likely it will be in homes the next day or the following day, which is the same service that you would generally get if you were to throw first-class stamps on everything.
CHUCK MUTH: Okay. And there was a change in red tag mail recently? I think you had sent me an email.
JIM BIEBER: It was a complete nightmare. And I think it speaks to the incompetence and bizarre outlook of the post office as they are in a freefall. And I think it was more a political gain than anything else. The post office had the option and they exercised it during the last cycle to not allow packs or organizations or independent expenditures to access red tag political mail. It was only going to be limited to qualified candidates and qualified party mail. But, they were willy-nilly in the enforcement of it which was maddening because mail would arrive red tagged from the AFLCIO, and they would just kind of like, let that go out. Red tag mail would appear from a job pack or a conservative one and they would yank off the red tags and that would be four or five days in home.
So it was not a uniform enforcement, which was maddening. And it was foolish revenue-wise because towards the end of a campaign if you have a pack or an organization that wants to weigh in, to communicate with voters and the post office is saying we can’t guarantee one-day delivery, it’s going to be four or five – I told them these people are going to pull back from the post office and put there money into phones. And I said you’re losing revenue. And of course, it being a government agency it didn’t quite sink in. But apparently it must have because they reversed themselves. Now organizations can still is access red tag political mail the same as candidates. So moving forward, towards November, we should see a healthy and robust mail effort by independent folks that are able to continue to access the red tag option.
CHUCK MUTH: Okay, what kind of information does a candidate need to put together before they get with their mail vendor as far as developing the message – messages – that they’re going to be putting out through the mail?
JIM BIEBER: Ah, it’s almost the same as in journalism as the four or five – I can never recall – “Ws”; the, who, what, when, where and why. You need to have a piece of mail – if you leap forward and this go about that piece of mail that you have. I always describe it as kind of the flash test. If you hold it up, you give it to somebody who you barely know or if you can wrangle a relative or a neighbor, you want to show them a piece of mail that you’re going to go to press with, flash it in front of their face for just a few seconds, take it away. You’re going to want to make sure that, that person is able to digest the Ws. Your name’s going to be want to be glare on the piece. It’s going to have to – all the information of what, where, when why. In doing that you want to have your background information about yourself, if you’ve held office before, if you’re a successful businessman, entrepreneur, activist or whatever; that’s one building block that you’re going to have going into it. Otherwise you’re just coming out of the fog.
You’re going to want to have a set of values that you want to state, that kind of ties into positions. You don’t want one overshadowing the other. You want to have a set of values; you’re a tax filer, you believe in limited government or you believe in, you know – health care for all, or you know – different philosophies should work in there that dovetails off of four or five specific policy things that people are going to associate you with that positive change, or that continuation that they want to have.
And then, depending on the dynamic of the race you also want to poke at the incumbent because you’re really asking people to divorce themselves and throw a girlfriend in the ditch by voting that person out as opposed to voting you in. If it’s an open seat, that’s kind of a different dynamic. But you should not be – or shy away from the concept of being negative against what already is, because you’re asking people to change their mind or throw out something that’s been their steady.
CHUCK MUTH: In that regard we always hear, every election cycle, people complaining about negative attack ads. And clearly since as you mentioned most political campaigns are going to be using direct mail – I’m sure you heard that – probably every election cycle until you’re tired of hearing about it. Tell me about that. I mean, what – should a candidate be concerned with voters who say they hate attack ads, they don’t want to see negative mail coming out of your campaign?
JIM BIEBER: Well, you’re going to have negative mail that’s informative and then you can have stupid, fallacious, personal, incorrect, irrelevant nastiness that does backfire. And we can’t discount that there’s a lot of negative out there that is just crap; of people that are throwing a Hail Mary pass or who are just kind of mean and vicious is stupid campaigners who will throw anything and everything – you know, divorce records to whisper campaigns to horrendous things. That people will find distasteful. Particularly if there’s an element in there or any part of it in there that isn’t documented or true, then it’s a real setback for that campaign. And you’ll find voters will turn on you pretty fast.
I recall a specific campaign that was just really hard to get my head around. It was a little dumpy town in the **** and the incumbent was a fireman, four years in to it. And the city council meeting had the parents of the local Miss Teen Fontana appealing to the city councilman to please stop coming to their house and dating their 17-year old daughter. He had been arrested for domestic violence abuse. –A horrendous record. And, the question of the campaign was do we bring this up? And, it was, yep. I mean, there are elements of character that matter; they flow over into public life and particularly if you’ve got parents at the city council meeting. But it was so outrageous, that it would be a disservice not to mention it. That said, bizarrely he won with like 35% of the vote because he had so many people that filed against him that he was able to save his seat. But that for a lot of people would be considered out of bounds and personal attack. But I don’t think it was and I don’t think the general public felt that way because 78% of the people voted against him.
CHUCK MUTH: As far as just like the candidate handout, what are the different types of mail that goes out? Is there one particular format that is preferable over the others as far as getting the voters attention or getting noticed in the mail, especially when mailboxes are going to be filled with political mail usually at the same time?
JIM BIEBER: Yeah, there’s a variety of options that the post office is giving you to save money on postage. The first one is going to automation which makes your mail piece be about the size of a letter. But unfortunately to get that 2-3 cent savings on it they require that you glue tab or put a tab on it. I’m not sure if you’ve seen those in the past in commercial mail and every once in a while you’ll see a politician use it and it is just deaf, bad, stupid, because more likely you’re ripping those tabs or that glue is sticking to a mail piece that’s making it harder for the voter to get to the goods which is on the inside which is about yourself. So, never let anybody speak to you into doing a mailer that requires it to be tabbed or shut. That’s just another barrier. I always joke that if I could spend an extra 2 cents and put springs in there to have it pop open in front of the voter and have fewer going out I would go that option rather than have a barrier.
But there are three basic, or four basic potential mailers. One is the bio or puff, or intro. The other is an issue-driven mailer which, a logical and obvious one would be like crime. Where you’re the crime-buster and you would have statistics about the crime being on the increase, gang activity in your neighborhood; showing that you’re going to do X-Y-Z with law enforcement; that would be an obvious one, or taxes – that you’re going to be the tax fighter. And you would have information about that and you would have some sort of back up that you’re the guy to solve it. And then the other one would be an attack or hit-mailer against your opponent. And then the other option would be an enforcement piece where you’re coming in with other people vouching for you; if it’s a newspaper editorial, great. Or if it’s a local congressman or somebody else that people admire, that carries a long way.
I had – I was at an event and some young actress was popping off about how stupid voters are. Oh, the voters are so stupid. And I kind of chuckled to myself because voters in just a various flux of ignorance and myself included. I’m hyper political active and I don’t think I can name all five of my city council members. I don’t know who I voted for water board. So, you can’t dismiss the fact that people are just really lower ticket folks; it’s not on their radar. It’s not a priority in their life. When you’re a candidate, it’s the number one and you might get caught in a little bubble thinking that it’s really important. For the most part people just want somebody to vouch for them and understanding that you’re a straight-up guy or gal and that you match them on issues and that you’re going to be pushing the button in the right direction.
CHUCK MUTH: How does “opposition research” fit into this? ‘Cause you mentioned that a real danger is if you send out a mail piece or any kind of attack that isn’t documented. That will back fire on a campaign. Do you work directly with opposition researchers or do you only work with candidates in developing the design and messaging for a mail piece?
JIM BIEBER: Generally the opposition research will come from the campaign; various routes. They’ll either hire a professional opposition researcher or they will hire or do the research themselves or it’s come through some sort of political entity; it’s through a caucus organization or somebody that’s kept tabs on the opponent. A horror story – well, not a horror story – but a horrific one that happened last cycle was a candidate bashed, running for assembly, bashed this candidate, saying that it’s amazing she was getting any sort of law enforcement support and endorsement because she’d racked up $3,000 in parking fines and traffic violations and that she had received like three speeding tickets over the course of a year. Well, they put that out and it was not her. They had pulled up some public record with the wrong person. So that was just horrendous and they looked very foolish. So, key to the opposition research is to check, check, double check, and make sure that all of it is right. And the killer part to it is you could have five fantastic points that are just on the mark and if you throw in the sixth one that’s a little fudgy or you want to stretch it, you jeopardize throwing in the whole baby out with the bathwater. People dismissing all the great points you’ve made by just stretching or fudging or not checking on that final one that allows you’re opponent to dismiss everything.
CHUCK MUTH: Talk to us a little bit about using humor in mail pieces and campaign mailers. Any dangers or recommendation, suggestions you have as far as that is concerned?
JIM BIEBER: Humor is very, very effective. But there’s also that ledge that you can just go off of being either too cute or offensive. Humor works the best in negative mail and the key reaction that you want to get is a moan, that kind of a “ahhh” with a mild chuckle as opposed to hilarity with a joke. If it goes over that it’s a funny joke then you’re kind of losing your audience with the humor. But if you have a head-shaking, oh my God, I can’t believe it, you want to person get that kind of a little slight punch in the gut by looking at, “a-h-h-I can’t believe… I want to share this information with a friend.” –As opposed to a standup comic or a punch line joke. But its, I would say ridicule effective, smart ridicule is the most effective surgical knife that you can take out in a campaign to really carve down you’re opponent and shave off numbers that they may have.
CHUCK MUTH: Okay. And you touched on this in the beginning but let’s talk a little bit more about targeting your message and we hear the term “microtargeting” now used with regards to campaigns. Tell us the process and what that’s all about and how – and again, we’ll focus on under funded campaigns that can’t go out and necessarily hire somebody to do a complete grassroots database management program.
JIM BIEBER: Microtargeting is very difficult for lower candidates in that there’s a lot that you have to invest in that to get that up and running. Which is to compile a database and then to take some sort of polling that you’ve done to overlap there with some other research that’s going to allow you to do the microtargeting. If you’re allowed to put a poll out there that finds that households with a swimming pool and two cars are more likely to be upset about a utility tax, that would be an example of microtargeting, where you know, you opponent voted for three of them; this particular audience may not be with you on anything else except for the utility tax so you would want to either send out a personalized letter or they are options of doing some high-end color ink-on-demand or digital printing-on-demand that targets a 300 piece universe and then you have sectioned out through this elaborate process another group of folks that have a different view or an ethnic group that you would want to target. And that’s considered microtargeting.
It’s very effective in tipping the scales of a legislative race or congressional race where the margins are going to be a couple hundred votes, a thousand votes either way, and at the end of the day you’re not sure where those hundred or 50 votes came from; where every vote counts is going to be fought over. –Very effective, but you have to have the financial resources and the staffing resources to do that which most campaigns don’t have.
CHUCK MUTH: And then a lot of campaigns talk a little bit about a candidate who will – I know I do this when I talk to candidates and I interview them – they will tell me when I say, okay, who’s doing your mail – they’ll say they have a friend in the business or a local quick-print shop or my cousin does that sort of thing and he’s going to be doing it for the campaign. Talk a little bit about that versus using somebody who specializes in political mail as well the difference between designing your mail piece and mailing your mail piece because I think people are – they inflate the two, they believe that everybody does both but they really don’t, do they?
JIM BIEBER: No, and it’s because of the change in advertising and you’ve felt it and I’m sure everybody there have felt and seen it as well. You’re mail box is getting lighter and lighter with commercial printing. That said, people who design graphics are moving away from print. Which is key, because you can create something beautiful on your screen but if it doesn’t have had proper translation to going to the printer, that’s going to be a problem. But more so, there are a variety of different postal regulations that you have to adhere to. And every year the post office comes out with more strict and more bizarre rules of where you have to put your label information, where the folds have to be to conform to get these fantastic rates on postage. There have been horror stories of people designing mail, going to press, and then they get to the post office and ding – they’re not going to let you mail for 27 cents each, it’s going to be 78 because you haven’t complied. It’s a real important thing to have somebody that has experience in both the print aspect translated to mail aspect.
You might have a buddy who owns a quickie-print that’s going to do a favor for you. But the value in it is really what you’re getting, which is free, and that means that you’re on their schedule and if it gets screwed up it’s kind of with a shrug of I did my best, and no accountability. But, again if you can find it and it’s a lock-solid thing and you’re going to save a couple thousand dollars, take a chance on it but I would say give yourself weeks to a month lead time on that to account for any screw up that may come along the way.
CHUCK MUTH: And then somebody – they’re in a position where a printer has offered to give them the printing as an in-kind contribution as allowed by law in their particular state. But they want to protect themselves from the dangers that you’ve mentioned at the post office, says that you haven’t complied with our requirements in order to get lower postage rate. What are the things that, maybe the top two or three things that they should make sure that their printer or mail house does to make sure that they’re in compliance with postal regulations and they get the full value from the postal side of it as well as the printing side?
JIM BIEBER: Well, again, if you have a lot of time and the ability to package yourself up with a couple of weeks lead time you should be able to get out a print out of the piece and do the double-checking and go down and meet with your local post office and you should get an email of the piece that they would whip to a compliance person to look at. I’ve been asked to produce some pretty bizarre, funky fold and some odd things that I’m not even sure of. What would qualify and where we need to put the addressing and how the folds need to be – and so we’ll shoot that off to the post office and I’m usually able to get an answer back within the day or 24 hours. The general public isn’t gonna quite get that service. So you have to have somebody that has consistent experience doing political mail and even at that, the regulations that were solid last year most likely aren’t going to be the same this year. And this year alone I’ve seen major change in red tagging and then a reversal of that. So you want to make sure that they’ve had experience in doing that and then it couldn’t hurt if you have the time or the ability to double-check the design with the post office so you’re not dinged when it arrives in the dock.
CHUCK MUTH: You mentioned there are basically four different types of mail pieces that the campaign will put out. One is the positive piece about the candidate himself or herself, an issue piece – or endorsement piece – laying out the contrast – oh no, this is my issues and here’s who’s endorsing me – which is another positive-type piece. Then the comparison piece: Here’s where I am on the issues. Here’s where my opponent is on the issues. And then, of course, the negative attack piece. So, those are the basic four; is that correct?
JIM BIEBER: Yep.
CHUCK MUTH: And, talk a little bit about the timing. What do you lead with and how often should the mail go out and when should you start mailing – what are your recommendations in those regards?
JIM BIEBER: Well, you know, it’s kind of funny. People – I mentioned political science. And I would say his is the most unscientific thing that could be called science. There’s some concepts out there but harking back to what I originally stated, a strategy is all hinging upon your financial resources. And I’ve had the ability and a pleasure of working with really top-funded, hundreds of thousands of dollars at the disposal of a consultant who will develop and design mail pieces and they’ll be able to strategize and put them out. For the average person, the most important piece if you have a limited budget would be the positive piece if you’re running in an open field, hinging upon the need for change if you’re running against an incumbent. Most states have a two-tiered voting system with either absentee ballot voting or early voting. And, what you would want to do is through were targeting, if your know that there’s going to be 3,000 people voting early or by absentee and then you’re going to have another 3,000 people voting on election day. So what you would want to do is print 6,000 pieces of literature. You would want to drop the first wave targeting the early absentees and then you’d want the pole voters targeted on the second leg of that run. That way you’re not going to press again. But, it varies state to state when you want to target your absentee or early ballot voters.
Over the course of the years I’ve seen trends and heard from consultants that people have gotten voter regret because they’ve cast a ballot too soon. So the trend is for people to be holding onto their absentee ballots, voting later than earlier because they voted for somebody only to find out something horrendous about them, regretted that vote and then wished they could take it back. So the targeting for the initial one is – it’s hard for me to come up with an exact timeline on it. If you have one chance to do a mail piece or if you wanted to target election day voters five days prior to voting would be ideal. You don’t want to get lost in the last crunch of everybody, you know, slinging arrows and getting crazy towards the last week of high dollar races. And you want to make sure that you stand out on your own so I would say a comfortable thing for a modest to medium sized campaign would be a five-day arrival prior to election.
CHUCK MUTH: And you mentioned early voting and absentee voting. Do you mail to everyone early, assuming that they might vote early or [inaudible] or do you look at the vote history and say, okay if they voted early or by absentee ballot, those are just the ones that I’m going to mail early?
JIM BIEBER: Well, you know, its – different states vary. In California, we have –which I – a formula for list vendors that come up with a propensity profile of somebody; somebody’s who’s voted in the last two of four elections. Somebody’s who’s voted in the last three of five. And then you would have absentee – people who voted in absentee three out of four, but then the real key, the gold voter to target are people that have establish ed themselves to be permanent absentee ballot voters. And those folks almost have a hundred percent propensity rate because the ballot comes to them at their house. They’ve signed up if this program and it’s very doubtful that these people don’t follow through with voting. There’s a little bit because they’ll lose the ballot or something that will happen like that. Or, may might walk there ballot in to the polling. But the people that are the permanent are kind of the gold folks that you know you want to talk to because they are going to be the ones push and casting the ballot.
CHUCK MUTH: With radio and television you see the same commercial is broadcast over and over and over again for a period of maybe a week, sometimes longer – but it’s the same commercial that’s run over and over again. Is that something that can also be done or considered to be done with mail? If you’re on a tight budget to you – can you produce, say the positive piece or the comparison piece and mail that piece more than once? Is that something a campaign should consider doing?
JIM BIEBER: No, I would lean against that. I would say that you would want to never shy away from the same theme, the same messaging. But to hit a completely duplicate piece raises the potential that your campaign has hit the wrong button on the copy machine and you’re spitting out the same thing twice, because people have grown to kind of expect something different or a different message. If you’re sending out the exact same piece it could potentially be interrupted as surplus or a second thought that’s gone into it. I would say that you could repackage that message, the information and resend it. But I would shy away from just doing a master run and dumping the exact same piece, identical within a couple weeks of each other.
CHUCK MUTH: Okay, talk a little about caucus pieces or party pieces along similar lines. You have a theme that the opposition candidates for, all the opposition candidates are going to raise your taxes and all of our candidates are not going to raise our taxes. So that the general theme of the mailer is the same, only the names and the campaign has changed so that the candidates from one legislative district’s – the candidate for one legislative district’s name is on those mail pieces that go to that mail district. It’s the exact same piece but the candidate’s name and district are changed into that district. Is there is a danger in that or is that a good idea for candidates if they’re able to put something like that together?
JIM BIEBER: Well I would say that there’s an economic benefit because if you were to have five or eight people running on the same format you can do what is called a gang run and get some postage – or somewhat some postage – but some printing savings out of everything together. There would also be the factor that some entity, party folks or others would be willing to fund a slate effort because they would be bringing voters in or legislators in, in a block as opposed to focusing just on one. In other countries, people would vote for the party of what the party stands for and then they kind of select who the members are as a secondary function of that. In America it’s generally we vote for the personality, their views and then the party’s attached to them. And it seems to be moving more is more that direction with more and more people voting independent – or registering as independent, or declined to state.
There’s a strategic value of coming in with a block, particularly if you’re the person within that block that has the least amount of money because you’re going to be able to be carried by another entity. But if you’re a caucus director or somebody that is managing a variety of candidates that you want to target there’s a benefit because you’re in control of the message; you wouldn’t have some sort of a renegade candidate that wants to talk about sky trails or Middle East politics if they’re run for the State House. So, you have the ability to kind of corral everybody into a solid party message that they shouldn’t shy away from, but that may not be the drum that they want to pound. But if you’re a candidate you should take advantage of somebody stepping up and wanting to help you in that realm.
CHUCK MUTH: At the end, Jim, I’m going to certainly recommend that people contact you for direct mail because I’ve done business with you for 15 years and can’t – I mean never is there anything gone wrong in any of the projects that you and I have worked on. And I want you to let people know how they can reach you. But, aside from that, two things: A candidate who is looking for someone who specializes in doing political direct mail – where do you find these people? Where should they first go to look to find someone? And then, secondly if you would: Lay out some of the questions or things that they should look for or questions to ask in the interview process to determine whether or not this mail vendor is the right person for their campaign.
JIM BIEBER: Within state there’s a pretty limited number of mail houses and then even a smaller number of mail houses that will have experience in doing political mail. The Internet’s a fabulous resource. You would probably just type Google in your city or location; put in political mail or direct mail political that would give you some options of some folks around the corner if you wanted to go that route. Often times mail people are like doctors of old time. If you’re taking out the appendix of the guy who owns the steel plant it’s going to cost $20,000 to take out that appendix. If you’re doing it for the worker, where you’re only going to ding him, you know – $200. So, mail has always been kind of a murky, weird thing, where nobody will be really straight up and give you cost, a per unit breakdown. And it’s kind of a, I bag too much on competition but it’s – what are you willing to spend; almost coming to a car dealer in a lot of cases of how much money to spend and this is how much we’re going to give you. I would come at it from a more of a straight up and my company does it and it’s pretty unique – of a per-unit cost for production and then they might quote you something and you say, well what does it include? Does it include the design? Does it include the printing? Does it include the mail processing? Because, just like an auto dealer, there are all sorts of additional fees and sub-fees and that you wouldn’t be aware of when they initially quote you a unit cost to get you in. So the pricing would be key of making sure you understand exactly what is covered.
And then the second aspect of that is find out what the turn around times are. Because as I had mentioned in the past, gang runs, some mail houses will work on their schedule to accommodate that price which would be a week to print and process, meaning that they’ve got 10,000 pieces from you. They’ll wait till somebody else comes around who also has 10,000 pieces; maybe wait for two others; put them all in the press at the same time and they’re getting some savings in running everything together. But now you’re on their schedule of a week to two weeks to get something out. So, it’s the turn around time is crucial, along with pricing on it; and then asking them if they have experience and getting some examples of what they’ve done in the past with political mail.
CHUCK MUTH: And without giving a specific price for a specific mail piece, which obviously there’s a lot of variables involved in here. But, just so the candidates listening to this can get a general idea for budgeting purposes – what can they expect to pay to get, again, [inaudible] a traditional post card mailer, two-side, full color – including postage, per piece – what is it again – just very general. I don’t want to be specific here; just for budgeting, so that they know that they have a universal 10,000 voters they want to mail to, they’ll know approximately they should expect to have to raise to mail to 10,000 voting households?
JIM BIEBER: Well, you start out with postage, which would be around 25 cents. And then if you were to include the cost for graphic design, the printing, mail processing qualifications and every else, you would be looking at another 40 cents for the production of it. So, all total you’d be about 85 cents out the door.
CHUCK MUTH: Okay, so to mail 10,000 pieces it’s going to cost you about $8,500.
JIM BIEBER: Nope-nope – I take it back. I just did my bad math there. That would be about 62 cents per unit.
CHUCK MUTH: 62 – okay, so; for 10,000 households it would cost you, generally – plan on about $6,200 per mailer and then you can maneuver the numbers and change and you might be able to shave a little bit off of that price. You might want to add on a little bit more if you want an irregular size card, that sort of thing. Is that about right?
JIM BIEBER: Well that would be for an 8 and a half by 11, like you’d take out your printer, large, oversized post card. That would be something that would be a good standard piece of mail that you’d want to send out.
CHUCK MUTH: You mentioned a couple already. Could you – to wrap up, Jim, would you maybe share an example or two of a mail piece that was just killer that almost any candidate can use that would be very effective in the campaign? And maybe one or two examples of “oh, my gosh; I can’t believe they did that.” This really turned the campaign. It was riding high and just killed it. –And just some mistakes that maybe they need to make sure they don’t make in order to keep their campaign from tanking.
JIM BIEBER: Well, I would say – I’ll go with the negative first. I had touched on it before, would be hitting you’re opponent with something inaccurate or that you didn’t back up or that’s plain wrong. And I have, in past, scrambled to put together a response piece, duplicated the exact mailer that somebody had put out that was fraudulent with a red circle and highlights and documentation that three days ago you received this piece in the mail and here are all the falsehoods – and so the boomerang effect is much more deadly than the effect of barely getting somebody with a brush of tar. You also have the press on your side because what trumps them being liberal is the ability to punish candidates who aren’t truthful during the campaign. They seem to really relish that role of spanking and beating down somebody who has put out something that’s not true.
The most effective, positive pieces of mail are to communicate that you have backing and support of the community. I’ve done a successful mail over the course of the years with a very ominous, spooky cover of it with a question mark, and it’s, “who’s really beyond John Jones?” And then you fold it out and open it up and it’s John Jones and depending on how well they staged the photo, it’s John Jones has a sea of supporters beyond him with their signs. And then the punch to that piece is, “your neighbors.” And then goes onto a list of people touting and saying that you’re the guy that’s being backed. So, it’s kind of a fun, humorous setup for people moaning against a hokey negative piece to their – and you know, then it’s flipped to something being very positive. If you can associate yourself in resolving a problem as a citizen crusader and translating that into some sort of print or message, that’s also very, very effective, and impressive for voters.
CHUCK MUTH: Now that you mentioned that, that’s a question I should have asked you. To wrap up, tell me a little bit about the importance of the headline that you use in the mailer and the graphics that you use to support that headline. How important is that in the direct mail pieces as far as getting the voter to notice a piece and not throw it away without looking at it?
JIM BIEBER: It’s crucial. You need a good tease without being ridiculous. And it’s kind of a tabloidish, if you think of old New York newspapers or even the English tabloids of you want a good teaser. You want enough information that if they don’t open it up over the garbage can, you’re still going to permeate and get a good message out as their standing above and many people read their trash above their garbage can. So you want to good teaser without going over the top and being ridiculous. If you can get them to pop it open, then you have really accomplished something, particularly if the teaser comes with a good punch line or something of substance. But, nobody wants to read a whitepaper. Nobody wants to read some stark, factual thing. That’s what the Secretary of State sends out. Don’t shy away from being entertaining and engaging and not a flamboyant, but in an aggressive manner, that’s going to give somebody pause to read your message.
CHUCK MUTH: All right, Jim, if someone has some additional questions or wants to contact you about maybe having you take a look some of their campaign mail; how do they find Bieber Communications and Jim Bieber?
JIM BIEBER: Well, the easiest way to find me would be to go online and you can type in my name, Jim Bieber, or Bieber Communications. On my website you’ll also see some samples of pieces that we have up there that we’ve talked about. I’m located in Orange County, California, but I’ve done work throughout the nation, including Alaska, Hawaii, Connecticut, House Republican caucus. We qualify everything here, then we drop-ship to your district that you’re running in. Which is a great benefit because we’ve paid, collected, met with the post office, qualified everything, and then it’s almost arriving like a stealth bomber, dropping off a package at the post office where the opposition doesn’t get a chance to look at it. There’s no local people snooping around. It’s flushed right out by the post office. My phone number is 714-210-3630. And, if anybody out there wants assistance in putting together mail for their campaign, give me a call and I’ll mail you our rate card that will spell exactly all the services we provide, which is everything you could think of; creative design, printing mail house, everything out the door, for a unit cost which would allow you to budget your campaign. And that’s a service that we offer that’s pretty unique in the industry and I’m not sure of any other folks that offer it, particularly with the quality of mail that we do.
CHUCK MUTH: Okay. And then, spell out the Bieber Communications so people have the correct spelling and can find you on the web.
JIM BIEBER: Well, I got a joke that it’s just like Justin Bieber, which has been the biggest boon to my 12-year old son, but growing up, that name was the worst name to live with. But it’s spelled Bieber: B-I-E-B-E-R; and it’s communications with an “s” and it’s “dot com” or if you just look me up – Jim Bieber, that will also direct you to my company’s website.
CHUCK MUTH: All right, Jim, look, I know we’re right smack in the heat of the campaign season for your business so I really appreciate you taking time out to talk with us today. All the best in the campaign and hopefully we’ll be down to see you at the beach pretty soon again.
JIM BIEBER: Okay, Chuck. Well, I really enjoyed it. And it’s a pleasure and if I had time, and I’m not sure, I could just go on what fabulous strategic campaigner you’ve been over the course of the years, of taking the underdogs and really moving them into the win category where other people wouldn’t have been able to do that. And I think that’s tied into your passion, which really is key to this campaign – I don’t want to say campaign – “gain.” But, this profession that some people lack. So it’s not always just by the numbers but your passion and sparks is really what has always been impressive with your operations and what you’ve done in the past. So, I’m going to leave that on me paying you the bigger compliment and then bugging out of you.
CHUCK MUTH: All right – I appreciate the kind words Jim. All the best. Thank you for joining us.
JIM BIEBER: All right, Chuck. Ciao.
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