Creating your campaign message

Every campaign begins with a campaign message. 
 
Without a campaign message, voters won’t know why to vote for you. 
 
A campaign message is more than a slogan. A slogan sums up a campaign message, but a lot of consideration should go into creating the message before a campaign gets to “Yes We Can,” “Make America Great Again” or “It’s Morning Again in America.” 
 
Where to begin? 
 
To develop a campaign message:

  • Write out why you want to run.
  • Determine the strengths and weaknesses of yourself and your opponent.
  • Combine your strengths into a single, overarching theme (this is your campaign’s message). Do the same thing for your opponent.
  • Write down how you’ll implement the message in your campaign plan.

Why Are You Running?

Candidates rarely take the time to think about why they’re running for office, but figuring this out and putting it on paper is important. It keeps the campaign focused. When the campaign gets hectic, and a candidate is being pulled in a dozen directions, remembering why he is running can keeps the candidate focused on what is important to him.
 
The “Toyota Five Why’s” is a problem solving technique designed to get to the root of a problem. It’s helps get beyond the first, obvious answer and get a deeper understanding of what’s causing the problem.
 
The model can also help you understand why you’re running for office. You may want fewer taxes and you want more freedom for your constituents, but those reasons don’t help you tell the story of why you’re running. 

To create a compelling message, we need to tell a story.
 
Here’s an example of the Toyota Five Why’s in a business setting:
 
The vehicle will not start. (the problem).
Why won’t the car start? (the question).

  1. Why? -- The battery is dead. (first why)

  2. Why? -- The alternator belt is not functioning. (second why)

  3. Why? -- The alternator belt has broken. (third why)

  4. Why? -- The alternator belt was well beyond its useful service life and not replaced (fourth why)

  5. Why? -- The vehicle was not maintained according to the recommended service schedule. (fifth why, a root cause)

Let’s try an example with a hypothetical candidate running for city council. 
 
Voters need to understand why you’re running for city council or they won’t vote for you (the problem).
Why are you running? (the question)

  1. Why are you running? -- I want to be on city council.
  2. Why do you want to be on the city council? -- I think I’d be a good city councilman.

  3. Why would you be a good city councilman? -- I can fix the problems in the city that haven’t been addressed.

  4. Why are you able to fix the problems? -- Because I love this city, I want to see it succeed, and I’ll work hard.

  5. Why do you love the city? -- Because I grew up here. My kids were born here. It’s my home.

“I grew up here. This city is my home. My kids were born here and I love this city” is a much better answer to “Why are you running?” than “I want to be on city council.” 
 
But many candidates run just because they want to be on city council. 
 
I suggest working through this a few times. it’ll help you write out a clear reason for running, and it’ll help you with identifying strengths and weaknesses in the next step.

Your Strengths & Weaknesses, Your Opponent’s Strengths & Weaknesses

The “Leesburg Grid” is a useful tool for developing a message that emphasizes a candidate’s strengths and contrasts well with his opponent. It is a simple way to organize the dozens of possible messages a campaign could choose from.
 
A contrasting message doesn’t have to lead to a negative campaign -- but it does have to show voters why our candidate is a better choice than the other options.
 
I’ll walk through the 2016 Presidential campaign. Put yourself in the first quadrant at the top left.

Leesburg Grid: What you want voters to think about you goes in the first quadrant.

Leesburg Grid: What you want voters to think about you goes in the first quadrant.

Quadrant 1: On Election Day, what does Donald Trump want voters to think about Donald Trump? 
Quadrant 2: On Election Day, what does Donald Trump want voters to think about Hillary Clinton? 
Quadrant 3: On Election Day, what does Hillary Clinton want voters to think about Donald Trump?
Quadrant 4: On Election Day, what does Hillary Clinton want voters to think about Hillary Clinton?
 
Take some time to fill this out. I recommend doing it over the course of a week. That will give you time to think of new ideas to add in. The information you put in the grid should be thorough. 
 
I also recommend doing it as soon as you decide to run. Every piece of campaign literature you create should emphasize this theme.
 
Here’s what Quadrant 1 looks like when it’s filled out.

Quadrant 1: What you want voters to think about you on Election Day (in our example, what Trump wants people to think about Trump).

Quadrant 1: What you want voters to think about you on Election Day (in our example, what Trump wants people to think about Trump).

It’s okay if you repeat yourself a few times. The important part of this exercise is getting as much information written down as possible.
 
Quadrant 2: On Election Day, what does Donald Trump want voters to think about Hillary Clinton?

Quadrant 2: What you want voters to think about your opponent on Election Day.

Quadrant 2: What you want voters to think about your opponent on Election Day.

Quadrant 3: On Election Day, what does Hillary Clinton want voters to think about Donald Trump?

Quadrant 3: What your opponent wants voters to think about you on Election Day.

Quadrant 3: What your opponent wants voters to think about you on Election Day.

This is often the hardest one for candidates to fill out. Candidates can’t think of anything negative to say about themselves. Have a spouse or a friend help -- they can better see what an opposing candidates might say.

Quadrant 4: On Election Day, what does Hillary Clinton want voters to think about Hillary Clinton?

Quadrant 4: What your opponent wants voters to think about herself on Election Day.

Quadrant 4: What your opponent wants voters to think about herself on Election Day.

Now that the grid is filled out, we’ll find the most compelling contrasts between the two candidates. 

Campaign Theme (A Single, Overarching Message)

Good Contrasts For Trump

The upper left quadrant versus the upper right quadrant provide great contrasts for you (Trump, in this example). Find the issues where you have a positive record and your opponent has a negative one.
 

Compare Quadrant 1 to Quadrant 2 to find good comparisons for your campaign (Trump's campaign, in this example). 

Compare Quadrant 1 to Quadrant 2 to find good comparisons for your campaign (Trump's campaign, in this example). 

Now you can begin to see a great contrast for Trump’s campaign. 

Trump is an outsider who will disrupt politics-as-usual in DC. He cares about his country and will put America first. His opponent is part of the DC establishment and has been there for decades. She won’t protect Americans. 

Good Contrasts For Hillary

The bottom left quadrant versus the bottom right quadrant are where your opponent's strengths lie. Candidates sometimes have a hard time figuring out what their opponent might say about them. If you have trouble filling out the bottom right quadrant, have the candidate's spouse do it!
 

Compare Quadrant 3 to Quadrant 4 to find good contrasts for your opponent (Hillary, in this example). 

Compare Quadrant 3 to Quadrant 4 to find good contrasts for your opponent (Hillary, in this example). 

Determine the best contrasts in the bottom part of the grid -- those are issues you should prepare a good response for. If your opponent is smart, those contrasts will be the focus of his campaign.

Hillary has 30 years of experience in government. She’s the most qualified candidate, and doesn’t resort to divisive tactics. She’ll unify the country, while her inexperienced, unqualified opponent uses divisive rhetoric because he can’t run on the issues.

It’s important to work out your opponent’s best message -- because you’ll want to have a response. 

Your message

Now you’ve got a simple campaign theme in a couple of sentences.
 
Take this theme, and make it into a campaign speech. Just expand on it, add in a few stories that make theme hit home for voters, and add whatever you need to inoculate yourself from your opponent's strengths. 
 
You can also use the bullet points we did not highlight to fill out a platform and add a little to your speech. But focus on the main theme.

Where And How To Use Your Message

How do you use your message? 
 
Put it in every piece of literature that voters will see. Everything voters see should fit into this narrative. 
 
There will be issues that matter in your district that don’t fit with the theme -- but voters will only know one thing about you on election day. Make sure it’s the central theme that defines your candidacy. 
 
Your door to door piece, digital ads, mailers, voter statement, speeches and talking points for debates and forums should all reinforce this message. 


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