15 Email Best Practices for Winning Political Candidates

Email is an incredible marketing tool and one that every political campaign should be using. However, using email for your campaign is quite a bit different from the way you use email in your personal life. To help you use email effectively on your campaign, here’s a list of 15 best practices you should incorporate.

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Now before getting started, there’s something important we need to discuss.

Your campaign is going to need its own email address and email sending service.  You don’t want to use your own personal email for your campaign. Incoming campaign related email has the potential to overwhelm your personal account.

I’ve seen some candidates get a Gmail address for their campaign.  This may work temporarily, but Google will quickly shut down your account when you start sending hundreds if not thousands of mass campaign emails.

Set up an email that ties directly to your campaign website’s domain.  Then subscribe to a bulk email service that allows you to send blast emails throughout your campaigns.  Unfortunately, Constant Contact and Mail Chimp aren’t going to cut it. Neither service will allow you to send to imported email lists, which as a candidate you’re going to do with voter email lists you purchase.

For my clients and my business, I use a service called Strong Mail to send emails to people who have not subscribed to the lists we’re emailing.

Once you have your dedicated email address and your email sending service set up, you’re ready to email the voters.

Here are 15 best practices that will help you send effective, winning emails to the voters of your district.

1. The “From” Address Should Always Be You

The email you are sending should be coming from you and it should be reflected in your email address.

You don’t want to send emails from info@, support@, or admin@.  Voters need to see that that email is coming from you and your campaign.

This is the first step of building a relationship and rapport with voters you don’t know that you’re emailing out of the blue. They won’t want to engage with some unknown campaign entity.

Voters want to engage with the person who is the candidate. They should be getting emails directly from you – even if you’ve sent out thousands of message at once.

And even if the voter doesn’t open your email, you still want them to easily identify who the message is from. Consider it another method of building name identification during your campaign.

2. Personalize the Recipient

Dear Sir, Ma’am, Friend or Neighbor are not personal ways to start off an email.  In the lists you build or buy, the recipients full name should be in the database.  Use their first name when communicating with them via email.

Every email that you send that addresses a voter, should address them by their first name. Be sure to include merge or substitution tags for the first names of the voters when sending bulk email, just as you do with traditional mail merged letters.

This is the step of building a relationship with voters you don’t know through email.

In addition to their names,  you can personalize your emails by location.  This is very powerful when you have different cities in the district where you are running for office.

3. Have a Reply Address

How many marketing emails have you received that had the reply address listed as donotreply@ such and such domain? That’s a horrible way for any company to market and no candidate should consider it.

When you send out your emails your reply address should be the same as the address you are sending from. This will keep things personal with the voters and provide an easy way for them to contact you.

I’ve seen on a lot of campaigns where voters reach out to contact a candidate not because they have a burning issue to discuss, but because they wanted to see the candidate’s level of accessibility.  Voters like to know that they can get in touch with a person, especially when they’re electing to represent them in public office.

Always make yourself available and accessible to the voters.  Allowing them to easily email you will go a long way in this area.

4. Make It Easy to Unsubscribe

The common belief in politics is that the federal CAN-SPAM Act does not apply to political email because political speech is extremely protected by the First Amendment. I’m not a lawyer, so I won’t provide any legal advice on the issue.

Whether or not this is true, you should always make it easy for recipients to unsubscribe from receiving your emails.  There’s no reason to upset a voter who might vote for you but doesn’t want your emails by not giving them a way to opt-out of receiving your messages.

I recommend putting an unsubscribe link at the very top of your email and at the bottom. That way people who want out of future emails can leave and you still might have a chance to earn their vote because you respected their preferences.

And don’t worry about unsubscribes.  People unsubscribe from email lists all the time.  The average email list loses about 25% of its subscribers each year.

5. Keep Subject Lines Short

The subject of your email needs to be short and pithy. Believe it or not, email marketing research shows that three word subject lines work the best.

I believe there are two main reasons for this.  First, a short subject line is very easy for a person to understand what the email is about.  Second, with email often being read on mobile devices, the subject line isn’t shortened, giving the recipient clear reason to click on it.

As a candidate, even if the voter does not open your email, you still want them to get the gist of your message from the email. Since the message is from you and the subject is short, the voter will be able to easily identify you with the message.

You can be winning votes with such clarity even if your emails are not all being read.

6. Be Consistent With Your Messaging

One of the very first articles I wrote when we launched The Campaign School was why winning candidates stay on message.

I absolutely believe that candidates who are consistently on message have the best chance to win.

Likewise, those that have an extremely clear message and have developed a winning campaign story, easily increase their odds for election victory.

You must remain consistent with your messaging in your email. It must match what you are saying door to door, in your mail, on your website, on your Facebook page, in the local paper, and in debates.

It may get monotonous at times, but repetition is the key to electoral success.  Be sure to stay on message and be consistent with the story you are telling at all time – including in your email campaign.

7. Warm Up Your IP Address

The IP address tied to your campaign website and your email are likely brand new. There’s no history of it on the web. Your domain name doesn’t have a reputation with the big email providers. You haven’t established a relationship with the voters on the email list you plan on sending to.

That’s why before you send your campaign emails, you need to warm up your IP address.

You do this by sending small batches of emails. You monitor the open rates and how often you’re being flagged as spam. You make adjustments to your strategy to increase opens and reduce the number of times your IP is identified by a recipient as Spam.

If your deliverability rates are good, you slowly increase the number of emails you are sending to until you can send to your entire list, or to segments of it individually if the list is too large.

Send Grid has a more detailed article on warming up your IP that you can check out.

8. Keep Your Emails Brief

We’re all very busy. You’re busy running for office and trying to have your regular life as well.  The voters are busy too.  Yes, even those who are up on the issues and quite interested or involved in politics.

You shouldn’t drone on and on when speaking. Your mail shouldn’t be pages of 8 point copy. Nor should your emails be the electronic equivalent of War and Peace.

Keep your emails short and to the point.  If you’re clear and concise about your message this is easy. Don’t include more than five paragraphs of text in an email. No paragraph should be more than four sentences.  Two to three sentence emails are best.

If you are having trouble with this, write out your email then cut out half the sentences, leaving in only what is essential. Then do it again.

Cutting the copy you want to send in half twice will make you focus in on the content of your email like a laser. Only that which is most important will remain. You can then include a link to those who want more detailed information on the particular issue you are emailing about.

And most importantly, you’ve got a better chance of the voters actually reading the emails you send them when they are short and to the point.

9. Be Careful With Images

Having too many images in your email can harm your deliverability.  You want your email getting through to the voters, so keep a lid on how many images you include in any one message.

Email marketers suggest a 70:30 ratio of text to images in any given email.

I wouldn’t include more than one image in an email. Many of the emails I send for candidates are plain text.

If you have pictures you want to share with the voters, provide a link to online photo albums you can post on your website, Facebook page or Instagram account.

10. Include Only One Link

Candidates who confuse voters lose elections.  This is true in your messaging, it’s also true in the delivery of your message – especially email.

If you have a link you want a voter to click on to visit a website, make it easy on the voters to figure out which link to click. Don’t give them two or three to choose from.  Provide one link and make a clear call to action as to why they should click it.

At the same time, you need to be careful of link shorteners like bit.ly.   Such link shorteners are great for sharing internet links on your social media accounts, but they’re horrible for email.

Spammers and phishers often use link shorteners to hide the malicious websites they are sending people to. Email service providers are aware of this and can blacklist an email account for blasting out messages with shortened links.

11. Don’t Embed Video

Video takes up way too much space. It will make each email to large either for you to send or for a voters inbox to accept.  If the voters can’t get your emails, then you’re working directly against your own campaign.

If you have a video you want to share with the voters, you should include a thumbnail of a video screenshot. The thumbnail can then link to the video. Voters who wish to watch the video can click the thumbnail and it will take them to YouTube, your website, or another site allowing them to watch the video.

A lot of email services convert videos to thumbnails automatically.  If you’re sending a video, please make sure this is the case because embedded videos truly will hamper the deliverability of your campaign’s emails.

12. Be Mobile Responsive

At least half of your email recipients will be reading your email on a mobile device. Emails sent on the weekends are more likely to be read on a mobile device than on a desktop computer.

Your campaign’s emails must be mobile responsive.  You need to test and see that they look good on a mobile screen before you send them. Most email services have this feature built into their programs. Don’t ignore it.

If a voter opens your email on their iPhone and it’s hard to read, they’re not going to read it.

At the same time, you’ve made a bad impression on them subconsciously. You’re the candidate who sends bad emails. How are you going to fix the problems the community is facing if you don’t even know how to send emails?

Yes, the two have nothing to do with each other, but our brains make snap decisions like that. It’s best to avoid them being made against you by ensuring your emails look good on mobile devices before they are sent.

13. Avoid Spam Trigger Words

Have you ever wondered how your email service picks and chooses what emails you receive to flag as spam?

Turns out that spammy emails have many things in common, including certain words and phrases.

When such words and phrases show up in an email message, that message often gets sent to detention in the Junk or Spam folder.

There are numerous spam triggers out there currently.  I could write an entire article just on those, but this article is getting long enough.

Here’s a list of 100 plus spam trigger words you should avoid when sending emails from your campaign from SimplyCast.

14. Clean Lists You Buy

Another way you can get flagged as a spammer is to send to a list with too many bad emails or a list that contains spam traps or honey pots. If that happens, your campaign’s email future is quite bleak.

When you’re building an email list from scratch this isn’t often a problem. You know the people whose emails you are adding to your list. Issues arise when you purchase a list of voter emails from an elections official or a private data vendor.

On the lists I’ve purchased for my campaigns, anywhere from 15% to 25% of the emails on the list were undeliverable.  A number like that will send you directly to spam jail, do not pass go, do not collect $200. You’re in deep trouble.

However, I’ve kept my candidates from being labeled spammers by doing one simple thing:  I paid to have the email list we bought cleaned before we did one send.  This allowed me to see which emails were safe to send and which ones would be harmful to my client’s online reputation.

My company uses Experian to clean lists.  It’s easy, efficient, and affordable. The minimum clean is typically $100 which is a small price to pay to keep your campaign off of a Spam Blacklist.

15. Don’t Be Afraid to Say You’re Sorry

Let’s face it, everyone has made a mistake with email at some point. We’ve sent messages without attachments, we’ve replied all when we shouldn’t, and we’ve sent the wrong message to the wrong person.

I’ve sent faulty emails for candidates and I’ve sent emails not ready for publication to subscribers of The Campaign School.

Given these facts, it’s virtually inevitable that you’re going to make a mistake when sending emails to the voters.

When it happens, send another email apologizing for the email that was sent. The voters will appreciate it and admire your humility in admitting the mistake.

I know that in today’s political environment it’s considered a sign of weakness to apologize even when you’re wrong. But that’s what needs to be fixed.  We need people running for office who are leaders, not purely politicians.

If you’re such a leader you will be able to be honest with the voters about your mistakes and weaknesses. You’ll be able to turn them into your strengths.  That’s what leaders do and leadership is what your community and so many others across the United States of America need today from candidates and elected officials.