The other day on my way to work I passed a campaign volunteer for David Weprin, candidate for NYC Comptroller. During the time I was within her earshot, I probably heard her say “Weprin for NYC Comptroller!!” about 10 times. From what I observed, around 1 in 20 people stopped to get the flier she was handing out, which left 19 people just hearing what she said as they walked by.
There’s no doubt that from the volunteer’s perspective, “Weprin for NYC Comptroller” is the right message. She knows all the candidates and firmly believes that Mr. Weprin is the best of those candidates.
I suspect, though, that the other 19 people, like me, have a different starting point. Not only don’t we know anything about Mr. Weprin and how he compares to the other candidates, we probably didn’t even remember that a Comptroller race is underway. To get us, you need to start the story from the beginning.
The questions in my mind when I heard her say, “Weprin for NYC Comptroller” were:
- “There’s an election for Comptroller?”
- “When is it?”
- “Who’s Weprin and why would I vote for him?”
She’s neck-deep in the race, so it’s understandable that she’s started at Question 3. But she’s losing 95% of the people who don’t even know that race is going on, and for whom “Weprin for Comptroller” is a useless message.
The battle she needs to win on the street corner isn’t just about the 1 out of 20 people who already care enough about the race to stop and take a flier (many of whom may also have made a decision about whom they will vote for); it’s also about the other 19 people and getting them tuned in to the face that an election is going on, and getting them to go to the polls.
If you’re engaged in advocacy around a certain issue, or you work for a social sector organization that’s trying to solve a specific problem, it’s easy to fall into this same trap: explaining why what you do is the best, without remembering that nearly everyone you’re talking to knows less about the issue than you do, and many of them aren’t even away of the problem you’re working so hard to address.
Even worse, most of the people who hear your message won’t bother to stop to tell you the real truth, which might be, “I didn’t really know there was a _______ (race for Comptroller; catastrophic issue around deforestation; huge malnutrition problem in India; global epidemic of maternal mortality).”
Unless you’re speaking to your rabid fans, the place to start isn’t “let me tell you why our intervention is the best,” it’s “let me tell you about a problem that matters, and one that you can do something about.”
It’s so easy to start where YOU are, because that’s what’s exciting and what motivates you every day. Instead try starting where the other 19 people are. Even person 20 will appreciate seeing the big picture and where you fit in.
“Weprin for NYC Comptroller” is OK.
Much better is: “Comptroller elections on November 3rd. Vote for Democrat David Weprin.”