8 Rules for Winning with Political Letters

You can always tell when an election is around the corner — your mail box if filled with political letters, glossy flyers, and various types of mailers.

This might tempt you to think that sending mail is pointless and you don’t need to do it.

On the contrary.  Direct mail, along with door to door contact and live telephone calls, is one of the most effective elements of winning an election.

If mail didn’t matter to a political campaign, you wouldn’t be receiving so much of it.

A good mail program really makes a difference.  I know first hand because every campaign I’ve helped win had a solid mail component.

At the same time, most of the campaigns that I’ve been associated with that lost either didn’t have enough money to send mail, or not enough of it.

So as you create your budget and set your fundraising goals, one of the things you’ll need to figure out is how much mail you need to send out, and how much it’s going to cost you.

As you create your mail plan with either your consultant or your brain trust of close advisors, you’ll need to consider the different types of mail you want to send to the voters.

In my experience there are three main types of mailers campaigns can send out:  letters, postcards, and brochures.

Today I want to talk about sending out letters to the targeted voters in your district.

A letter is just that, a letter.  It goes into an envelope and you send it to the voters.

Letters may seem old fashioned, but that’s one of the reasons they work so well these days — especially if they’re properly targeted.

People don’t get as many letters as they once did.  Younger voters hardly get letters at all, unless they are credit card solicitations.

A letter gets people’s attention. They open them and they read them.

As simple as it may sound, there’s some rules you need to follow when you send out letters.

1. Use windowed envelopes

To save money you want to send your letters in a windowed envelope.  It doubles your costs at the mail house if they need to print your letter and print the address information on the envelope.

There’s also a cost for matching the letter with the envelope which you don’t want to incur.

When ordering your letterhead and envelopes, be sure to specify to your printer that you want windowed envelopes.  If you don’t say it, you could get stuck with regular envelopes that will drive your costs up as mention above.  It’s happened to me before and wasn’t fun.

Now if you have extra money (which most campaigns don’t) you can consider using a regular envelope without a window, but that’s up to you and I honestly don’t recommend it.

2.  Personalize your letters

When the mail house prints the body of your letter on to the envelope, you want the salutation to be the name of the voter or voters it’s going to.

Starting a letter off with “Dear Voter” or “Dear Resident” will turn the reader off immediately, which means you’ve wasted your time and money sending the letters.

Instead personalize the letter during the mail merge.  I respond much better to a letter that opens with “Dear Brian” or “Dear Mr. Floyd” than “Dear Voter.”

I prefer using voters first names, but if you feel this is too informal, then using last names is fine.

If you have a list that somehow doesn’t break down the merge fields into first and last names, you’ll want to figure out if you can.

A letter kicking off with “Dear Brian Floyd” is pretty cold and impersonal.  It feels like a machine sent it — which it did.

Should you not be able to get the merge field fixed, you can consider addressing your letters “Dear Neighbor,” but that should only be an option of last resort.

3.  Have a good messenger

Who the letter is coming from really does matter, on both the outside and the inside of the envelope.

Yes the mail is coming from your campaign, but your letters should appear to be from a specific messenger that’s supporting your campaign.

That messenger should carry a certain weight of respect and credibility in the community.  Let them explain your virtues and why people should be voting for you.

Having the letter come from a popular elected official in your area (yes there are still a few), a well known community or business leader, or the head of an employee association representing teachers, police officers, fire fighters or nurses work exceptionally well.

The right messengers lends third party credibility to your candidacy.  That credibility helps you pick up endorsements, supporters, and most importantly votes!

You want your messenger to sign the letter too.  It’s easy to have them sign a blank piece of paper, scan it, and send it to your mail house to be added to your letter when it is printed.

Something you might also consider is to have yourself be the messenger on a letter.

If you don’t have any major endorsements yet and are still getting your feet wet politically, a personal letter introducing yourself to the voters can help a lot.

On the campaigns I run, I tend to send out letters from first time candidates about two months before Election Day to the highly likely voters.

This lets the letter land before any other candidates have usually mailed, and it provides you with the undivided attention of these crucial voters.

It allows you to introduce yourself, talk about the issues you’re campaigning on, and plant your message before any other candidate does.

You may also want to consider including an endorsement card with your letter.  You never know who might be persuaded to back you simply because you reached out to them in such a personal manner.

4.  Keep your paragraphs short

Since the letter is confined to an 8 1/2 inch by 11 inch space, you’ll be tempted to cram as much onto the page.

Don’t do it!

Letters should be easy to read.  Skimmable in fact.  People are in a hurry and don’t have a lot of time to read political letters, so make it easy on them.

Your paragraphs should be as short as possible.  Don’t follow the rules you learned in English Class.  Write to be read.

If you want a person to read, or at least give a solid skim of your letter, contain your paragraphs to no more than three sentences.

Sometimes you may only have two sentences in a paragraph.  You can even have a paragraph that’s only a single sentence, especially if it’s a key messaging point of your campaign.

These tips help you get your point across and subconsciously encourages voters to read your letter.

5. Double space between paragraphs

Sticking with the point that your letters need to be easy to read and your copy skimmable, leave a space between your paragraphs.

The more white space on the page, the better.  Voters will be more likely to read your letter if it looks short and sweet — which is should be if you follow these rules.

Double spacing between paragraphs also has the added benefit of keeping your letter tightly contained on most importantly to your campaign, on message.

Still a bit skeptical about this tip?  Look at this article, how much you’ve read, and how it’s formatted.

Skimmable content works as I’m pretty sure I just demonstrated.

6.  Use at least 12 point font

Another key point in the presentation of your letter is to use a minimum of 12 point font.

If you try to use smaller font in an attempt to stuff as much information on to the page without technically violating the rules above, you’re only working against your best interests.

The smaller the font, the harder it will be for voters to actually read your letter.

Never make it hard for voters to read your materials.  Make sure your font is no smaller than 12 point.  You might even increase your letter’s font to 13 or 14 point font if you can.

Remember, senior citizens are the largest consistent block of voters in America, and unfortunately for us all eyesight tends to go as we age.

Don’t make reading your letter harder than it needs to be on these reliable voters – or any others – by using too small of a font.

7.  Use pre-canceled bulk stamps

When you’re sending any political mail, you should be sending it bulk rate and red tagged.  If you’re not, you’re both wasting and losing money.

Since your letters are being stuffed into windowed envelopes and being mailed out at bulk rate, the easiest thing to do is have your mail house automatically put metered postage on the upper right corner of the envelope.

Again, don’t do it.

To channel Demi Moore’s character in A Few Good Men, I strenuously object to putting metered postage on political letters.  You need to have stamps on your letters.

Having metered postage on them undermines the personalization aspect of them.

You’re already sending a letter with a widowed envelope to save costs.  Even with the letter coming from a reputable messenger, the metered postage will blow your cover and scream to the voter holding the envelope “Junk Mail!”

They may toss your letter at that point or open it and read it with a more skepticism than you want them to have as they do.

To avoid this problem, you can instruct your mail house to use bulk rate pre-canceled stamps, like those featured below.


As you can see, these resemble regular stamps put on your own personal mail and thank you cards, but they are stamps and any mail house worth its salt can make them appear as if they are put on by hand.

8.  Have a P.S.

Believe it or not, the Post Script or P.S. is one of the first things that people look at when reading a letter.

I’m not sure why.  I know that when I buy a book I flip to the back before I start reading.  I don’t do it because I want to know how the killer is, but to see how many pages it is to judge my reading progress.

Regardless of what psychologically motivates folks to read the P.S. first, they do, so it’s important to have one if you have room.  And you should have room by keeping your letter short and to the point.

My recommendation for the post script is to end with one thing — the best phone number to reach you at.  It’s specifically given to show people you’re accessible, which is one of the complaints made too often about elected officials, their constituents can never get ahold of them.

Show that you’re not a typical politician, but someone who wants to serve the people of your community. Do so by including your phone number.  If you don’t want them to have your home or cell number, get a new phone specifically for your campaign.

Invite the voters to give you a call if they have any questions about you or your positions, but also if they would like a sign for their yards.

A lot of people won’t call, but they’ll be happy knowing they can if they ever want to.

And you just might be surprised how many people will call you up with questions, or better yet with permission for you to put one of your signs on display in their yard.