Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Learnings And Confirmations

A few more observations;

Newspapers failed the voters miserably this election. Not just the Martinsville Bulletin, which no one really expects to publish anything remotely informative about candidates, but also the Roanoke Times which should have performed much better. Both focused much more on the horse race aspect of campaigning than on substance and platform.

I mentioned earlier that the Evans campaign had a compelling argument against Senator Reynolds' claim that he alone fought the APCO rate increase. That information was in the hands of every media outlet in the district, but it was completely ignored. During a phone call a very telling exchange occurred between Martinsville Bulletin Editor Ginny Wray and myself. After detailing the facts of an item, and having to painstakingly walk her through how to find those facts for herself, I asked if she ever put Senator Reynolds through the same process during an interview. Her response floored me, "Of course not," she said, "He's a Senator." The Martinsville Bulletin is not a hotbed of investigative journalism.

There were few, if any, words printed in either paper that informed their readers about the candidates and their positions on subjects that matter. At the end of each financial reporting cycle both could be counted on to print an article touting which candidate out raised the other. That applied to almost all races, even local constitutional offices. The Martinsville Bulletin did do a fair job reporting on some differences between the Henry County Sheriff candidates, but spent way too much time and ink on a letter from Mike McPeek that assured all Sheriff's Office employees that there would be no mass firings should he be elected.

Henry County's radio outlets did not do much better, but local TV did at least attempt to highlight the candidates. Especially WYAT TV40 here in Martinsville. Owner Bill Wyatt offered each candidate a soap box in the form of his "Talk of the Town" show aired each evening around 7:00. He was flexible enough to offer two formats, 30 minutes without phone calls, or one hour with phone calls. Jeff took advantage of that as often as possible. As far as I can recall, every candidate took Mr. Wyatt up on that offer at least once except for a couple of BoS candidates, one an incumbent who has her own daily show on a different station, the other a challenger that did little or no campaigning at all.

Politics can be expensive, largely because so much money is simply wasted. Most of that waste is thrown away in the form of high-priced political consultants who, for the most part, do not live in Virginia, and have no idea of the personality of the area they are campaigning in. In one month the Senate Leadership Trust saddled us with an idiot from Georgia who did no more than alienate volunteers and supporters with inane stories about "how we do it in Georgia." For that the Senate Trust spent over $3500. In one month. For practically no observable production. That $3500 would have provided 2 weeks of radio spots, one per hour, on local radio.

Speaking of radio spots, at a late date in the campaign I decided to produce radio ads "in-house" instead of through consultants. I did have the good fortune to have a friend of the campaign who works in radio to provide a voice, but two of our spots were done using the voice and writing talents of ODBA members. The savings were enormous, and the results just as professional, with the added bonus of a very quick turn-around time. For the same $15000 spent by the Senate Trust for two weeks of radio we could have produced six weeks. Unlike those consultants we would never have wasted dollars placing a radio spot on a Danville AM station that does not even reach into eastern Henry County, or a Roanoke Station that barely covers a portion of the 20th District with enormous ad rates based upon a listnership from VA Tech and Roanoke.

In one case a mail piece from the opposition arrived on Tuesday afternoon, the next day at noon our radio response was playing in every market. I still believe that at least a portion of our financial disparity could have been overcome by responding quickly to mailings with radio if we had begun doing that much earlier in the campaign.

We did not do enough mailing, though I'm still not convinced it's as valuable a tool as the experts say it is. Universally, people say they despise them. But consultants who are paid those big bucks swear they are effective. I don't know. I do know they are a huge drain financially, with most of the dollars going to friends of those same consultants. Like radio, I believe mailings can be produced much more efficiently in-house if a campaign has someone on board with the necessary writing and graphic design skills. In the future candidates and workers should remember that all of these radio, writing, and graphic design skills can be found right here within the ODBA.

During the past year I've spoken with many candidates, most running for the first time and trusting their party to provide them with consultants. Very few that accepted their party's offering was satisfied with the person sent to them. One candidate hired his own, a very impressive lady who worked hard and efficiently, but she was an exception. Most seemed to use the position to funnel media work to friends from outside the area, often leading to waste like I mentioned earlier.

Learning all of this does not make me an expert, it just means I've learned a few things and confirmed a few things I always thought I knew.

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