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Helping public officials prepare for elections is a critical but complex task. There are numerous regulatory and logistical obstacles to navigate, and offices that go into an election cycle without a well-thought-out plan are at a big disadvantage. Don’t let that be you!

“Members and staff should be highly engaged with updating email lists, hosting events like telephone town halls, courting newsletter opt-ins, and understanding the priorities of their constituents,” says Scott Crosby, managing director of FiscalNote’s public-sector team and former chief of staff for a Missouri State Senator.

In other words, having the right tools to constantly nurture your office’s relationships with your constituents — and refine your understanding of them — is the secret to mobilizing voters when it matters most.  

Navigating Blackout Periods 

One of the biggest challenges legislative offices face when preparing for elections is working around blackout periods, which ensure incumbents aren’t favored over challengers. Starting 60 days before an election, candidates in public office are prohibited from sending unsolicited mass communication. In other words, they can’t send the same message (via snail mail, email, robocalls, or ads) to 500 or more constituents.

The good news is that, within those constraints, you’ll find the information you need to create a successful pre-election outreach strategy. Even better, with a sophisticated Constituent Relationship Management (CRM) solution and newsletter tool like Fireside’s, you’ll have the tools you need to execute it. 

To start, make sure your constituent database is up to date with accurate information, including email addresses, phone numbers, physical addresses, and other personal information, advises Crosby.

Since blackouts apply only to communications that are “unsolicited,” you’ll want to minimize the number of people to whom that label applies. The key to doing that is giving constituents lots of opportunities to “opt in” to your communications, thus expanding the pool you can reach out to during blackouts. 

“Each week leading up to blackout, we recommend sending emails, newsletters, and text messages that include a single-question survey for constituents to complete,” says Crosby. 

Here are some additional tips to keep you prepared for elections every day. 

  1. Build a 499 Strategy. Take full advantage of the fact that communication to any number of constituents under 500 — aka 499 — is permitted during blackout periods. Fireside’s robust, all-in-one CRM has built-in 499 functionality, allowing you to leverage this magic number to make bulk mailings to as many constituents as you can.
  2. Don’t Neglect your Website. It’s crucial to ensure your elected official’s website is user-friendly, accessible, and up-to-date with effective resources that constituents can easily locate, says Crosby. “During blackout, the member’s official website will be the only way for many constituents to stay informed,” he adds.  
  3. Craft Effective Newsletters. Communicating consistently through newsletters strengthens constituents’ trust and highlights your office’s accomplishments throughout the year, so the choice at election time is a no-brainer. Keep newsletters short, visually interesting, and interactive to ensure people stay engaged. 

“Fireside’s newsletters can include images, videos, and surveys that people can engage with,” Crosby says. In addition, the custom audience-builder tool makes it easy to build lists that can be used to segment highly targeted groups for outreach. “Curating your recipient lists will help increase the value that constituents receive from your content,” Crosby notes. 

  1. Conduct Surveys and Sentiment Analysis. Surveys are perhaps the most powerful tools at your disposal. There’s no better way to build engagement than by asking constituents who they are and what they care about. 

You can use surveys to gauge people’s feelings about specific issues, collect their demographic information, or even assess constituents’ satisfaction level after they interact with your office. What’s more, when configured correctly, surveys automatically opt constituents into further communications. 

Just be sure to keep them short and straightforward. More than half of people will not respond to surveys that take longer than 1 minute to complete. Lengthy or poorly worded questions will also reduce the usefulness of the data you collect. You want to be able to glean clear-cut information that you can feed back into your CRM to hone future outreach.   

“An office’s Fireside account houses an array of valuable information such as case topics, feedback on policies, and constituent affiliations,” Crosby says.    

  1. Use Social Media Effectively. Having a presence on social media is table stakes for public figures in today’s world. That means you should have accounts across all major social networks, including Facebook, which remains the most used platform for advocacy. 

As elections draw near, having a smart social strategy in place will help your official stand out from the competition. Aim to strike a good balance between content that informs constituents on relevant issues and personal narratives that inspire people and feel authentic to your legislator’s brand. Posting consistently offers a unique opportunity to interact with constituents day to day, rebut misinformation in real time, and promote campaign events. 

Speaking of which: live events are a great way to engage constituents during a blackout. Virtual events make it easier for people to attend from wherever they are and hear your message. With Fireside Live, you can reach constituents through live-streamed events they can access through their mobile phone and social media pages. And, again, you can send the data you capture during the event directly back to your CRM for further targeting. 

It’s another good example of how pairing the right plan with the right technology can unlock engagement all year long. In fact, using Fireside tools, one office was able to add 700 new constituents to its email list before blackout. From website support to smart surveys to effective newsletters that serve both you and your constituents, Fireside makes even the daunting task of election preparedness eminently doable. 

See how easy can be to prepare your elections communications strategy with Fireside.