Winning – it’s all about messaging
On May 7th I had the privilege of helping a couple campaigns execute a sweep of the Colleyville City Council – winning all three seats up for election. We had three challengers up against three incumbents, including the mayor of 11 years. Not only did we sweep all three seats – but our slate held together earning 62% of the vote across the board. Victories like this are cause for rejoicing.
I’ve seen my fair share of both victories and defeats on election day. Since the Colleyville sweep, I’ve been asked a lot of questions about how we did it. While I won’t get into the mechanics of it, winning campaigns share some common attributes.
Colleyville is a highly educated, affluent community, yet our biggest issue was water rates and the culture at city hall. Some might downplay the simplicity of these issues, however one should always gravitate to the simple messages. Everyone in Colleyville has felt the real pain of their extraordinarily high water bills. No matter what the incumbents said, people’s pocketbooks knew something was off. The bills could not be refuted. The community was also actively discussing how citizens were mistreated at City Council meetings, lied to, and otherwise talked down to. This wasn’t a complicated message, yet one which was impossible to negate. Keep the messaging simple.
As important as the straightforwardness of the issues was, the fact that we started the discussion publicly almost one year out. It is imperative that a narrative be set prior to the chaos of the 45-day campaign sprint. Successful campaigns set the narrative early. Get ahead of the messaging and stay there.
During all this, the incumbents fell into their typical games of confusion, obfuscation, self-entitlement, and arrogance. I always prefer running against incumbents who are arrogant and complacent. From this perspective, we had perfect opponents in Colleyville.
While running on simple messaging, the challengers also presented a clear plan of what they would do when elected. They laid out actionable items and explained why and how those items are within the purview of the city council to do. In short – they made simple, easy to understand pledges.
Citizens all over Colleyville knocked on doors, talked to their neighbors, made phone calls, engaged on social media, and worked the polls. As a result, nearly a quarter of the voters were new voters to municipal elections.
Most importantly – with a victory like this – these citizens are now empowered to affect change in their government. These new voters saw the power of their vote – they’ll be back. Colleyville experienced 31% voter turnout. That’s about 300% higher than most municipal elections. I have a feeling Colleyville will not see the days of 10% turnout anytime soon.
Simple, concise messaging, starting early, clear pledges and citizen engagement are all elements necessary for electoral victory. They also empower and engage citizens, resulting in better, more accountable local government.