Dec. 29 2006 12:20 PM

The race to reach the coveted great American vote has officially begun. The politicians participating in the presidential election of 2004 are out of their starting blocks and moving quickly down the lane identified by their respective party affiliations. Tacticians, strategists, pollsters, statisticians, advisors and campaign managers have held physical or virtual meetings to formulate their plans to enable their candidate to be the first to reach and capture the hearts and/or minds of United States citizens over the age of 18.


Let there be no doubt about it; this is an attack that is being mounted and not an approach that is being casually considered by candidates wandering aimlessly. For the serious movers and shakers and those who salivate upon hearing the term "electoral college," election day of November 2004 will determine who is to lead the free world for the next four years. However, for most of us, election day will simply bring the sigh of relief that accompanies the end of the bombardment. And, in seeking that sigh of relief, Americans have taken many steps to thwart the onslaught. Regardless of whether it's done on purpose, instinct or sheer dumb luck, the result is the same. The American voter has confounded the political strategists and partially insulated themselves against those seeking their vote. While most methods of "Get the Vote Out" communicating used in campaign 2000 have been diminished or stifled to some degree, there remains one that stands tall and proud, head and shoulders above the rest direct mail.


A Computer in Every Home Does Not Lead to a Chicken in Every Pot

Advancements in technology in the past few decades led political strategists to believe that the least expensive and most efficient way to reach a potential voter was through the conduit into their homes provided by a variety of communications vendors. Television, telephone, e-mail, fax, computer and the Web are a veritable menagerie of methods to be used to convey a message to the voter. Although direct mail was a tool that was utilized by many candidates, it was not high on their list of money allocations in the 2000 campaign. Most, if not all, of the electronic methods of communicating were far more attractive and offered greater promise than using the U.S. Postal Service and a voter's mailbox. That impression has changed for the general election of 2004.


The Bloom is off the Rose of Electronic Communications

The technologically gifted and the technologically challenged alike have drawn their respective lines in the sand and dare the vote seekers to cross it. The past three years have seen significant trends, public opinion  and government intervention and regulation on both the Federal and State level that have adversely affected the use of electronic communications.


The American voters have spoken and their voices have been heard loud and clear when it comes to the use of their telephones into their homes. Although politicians are exempt from the "Do-Not-Call" list, woe is the candidate whose election committee solicits a vote by telephone to someone who is registered on the list. Exempt or not, placing that call is almost sure to lose the vote rather than win it.


Today's television industry finds the three major networks augmented by hundreds of cable channels that make reaching the viewer/voter a daunting and ever-changing task. And, with the advent of recording devices like TiVo and ReplayTV with their "commercial skipping" capabilities, even if the strategists time and choose everything just right, reaching a voter via the television has become a game of "Where's Waldo." On a personal note, as my husband is one of the "technologically gifted," ReplayTV has functioned in my home for close to two years. And, every single time the device skips all the commercials, it brings a smile to my face and I say, "Yes! This is the only way to watch TV!"


Using computers and the Internet to reach the voters has also plummeted in the polls in the past couple of years. Internet service providers include spam and pop-up blockers that can be toggled on or off as part of the service they provide. Who among us has chosen to turn off pop-ups only to go back later and turn them back on? Most providers are no longer even selling Internet banners on a long-term contract basis.


E-mails, text messaging and fax broadcasting are not looking to be the tool of choice to reach the voters of 2004 either. Most businesses and employers have instructed their IT departments to suppress electronic messages through the extensive use of filters and firewalls. And, trying to get a message to a voter via those handheld devices doesn't appear to be the best idea for spending the coffers of a campaign war chest. For many participants in this fast-paced segment of the voting public, the line blurs when trying to tell the difference between the buzz associated with caffeine overload or having their cells on low vibrate. What is a candidate to do?


One item stands just outside the front door or at the bottom of every driveway in America. The mailbox is an image and a perception that is interwoven into the fabric of America. It is part of the landscape of our neighborhoods, communities and, most importantly, our homes. Our homes may have access to hundreds of television channels and the seemingly infinite abilities of the Web, but each and every "be it ever-so humble" abode has but one mailbox. The candidate who wants to reach the voter in the most effective and efficient manner will utilize that mailbox to reach his/her constituents in this campaign.


Direct mail has moved or been pushed to the front of the class and become the medium of choice for the most savvy of candidates. Current observations are that the most sophisticated in the race are indeed embracing direct mail. Skillfully crafted mailpieces with reply vehicles incorporated into the design are already being delivered to mailboxes across the country. This revival of an old trend is also a stunning opportunity for mailers and printers in this industry to showcase their capabilities. Early pieces being received by voters are replete with the very latest in digital color graphics and inkjet technology being utilized well beyond the application of a barcoded address. Digital signatures, personalized messages, four-color graphics customized by region of the country or county are being placed before the eyes of prospective voters.


Our nation's presidential primaries have given candidates and their campaigns the signal to move freely about the cabin of our lives. We, as prospective voters, have sent signals to those running for public office that we do not want the barrage of commercials, phone calls and e-mails headed our way for the next 10 months. Yet, we do want the ability to make an informed choice when casting our ballot. A direct mailpiece in our mailbox gives us the choice to be informed by reading the piece or tossing it into the garbage. One vote, one mailbox. We can only hope that the candidates have gotten the message. 


Mary Ann Bennett is the president and CEO of The Bennett Group, Inc., a select team of mailing industry experts who provide savings opportunities through a full complement of mail, print and fulfillment consulting services and specialize in the development and delivery of educational products and services. The charter of her firm is to take mailing industry-related educational materials to new and exciting levels of availability. For more information, please visit