Phone Calls: Annoying or Effective?

Phone Calls: Annoying or Effective?

Almost every time I suggest any type of grassroots phone calling, no matter if they are automated, paid live calls, volunteer calls or candidate phone calls, I am met with groans, puzzling looks or outright hostility towards the idea.

The “statements of fact” start immediately.

“Everybody hates them.”
“Nobody listens to them.”
“Volunteers hate making these calls.”
“I have better things to do.”

As you may guess, I disagree with the hyperbolic statements above and in a moment I’ll break down these objections one by one.

First, I’ll discuss how I use each of these call types in the course of a campaign.

Automated Calls

These calls should be used to promote events, specific messages or high-profile endorsements in a quick and easy way. Automated calls are inexpensive and are a great supplement to other types of campaign communications (TV, radio, mail, etc). The keys to a successful call are to be compelling and to hold the listener’s interest.

Paid Live Calls

If you have the resources but you don’t have the volunteer base, paid live calls allow you to interact with voters fairly quickly and to push a specific message or get a battery of specific questions answered by the recipients. These calls should be used to collect information, ID voters or turn out supporters.

Volunteer Calls

These calls serve a similar purpose as the paid live calls. But, they also have the added benefits of engaging your campaign supporters and connecting them with the recipient as a neighbor and fellow voter.

Candidate Calls

These calls are sure to be the most impactful because they’re coming from the candidate him or herself. It stands to reason that no one can make a better case for the campaign than the candidate directly. These calls should be made to very specific voters whenever possible. One example is calling only people who are highly persuadable. While these calls are the most effective, there is only one candidate and these calls will take longer than volunteer calls.

Now that we’ve defined these types of calls, let’s get to the common objections.

Everybody Hates Phone Calls

Many people hate the idea of campaign calls because they’re often done improperly. Many campaigns treat these calls as throw-aways or necessary evils of campaigns instead of great tools that can supplement the efforts of all other aspects of the campaign.

So, the real question is how can you ensure voters don’t hate your calls?

  1. Be compelling
    • Regardless of which type of call, you need to give the recipient the reason to stay on the line
  2. Be relevant
    • You need to offer something to the voter instead of simply taking something from them
  3. Get to the Point
    • If your call rambles, they will hate the interruption
  4. Be friendly and upbeat
    • Your attitude comes through the phone. If you have a bad attitude about the call, so will the recipient.

Nobody Listens to Them

This objection really means “I don’t listen to them” and that’s okay. Depending on the call, the goals are different. With automated calls, the main goal is to tie a supporter or group to your campaign. Should they be interested further, it’s about delivering a specific message point that resonates with the listener.

I was speaking with my mom today about whether she listens to these types of calls. She said no. Then, in the next sentence, she told me how Pat Boone had called her recently asking her to support a Congressional candidate. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she does in fact listen to these calls.

The live calls are meant to be interactive and thus the recipient shouldn’t be “listening” anyways. If your live calls are too one sided, you have a problem.

Volunteers Hate Making Calls

Typically, this goes to a self-bias that is usually accompanied with a horrific story from a phone bank in eras gone by.

Given the technology and knowledge we have now, those days should be over.

This may shock you, but volunteer phone banking can be fun and actually build morale and camaraderie among supporters.  How? By following these simple rules:

  1. Have a clear, concise script
    • A clear script that moves through your questions simply and easily for the voter will make phone banking more enjoyable for the volunteer.
  2. Create a welcoming atmosphere
    • Volunteers should know their work is appreciated.
    • Listen to your volunteers.
    • Be accommodating (within reason).
  3. Make your call list as clean as possible
    • The more work done on your call universe before you start, the better the calls will go for your volunteers.
  4. Make phone calling as easy as possible
    • With all the technology out there today, phone banking is easier than ever. If voter outreach is important to your campaign, use the different types of technology so volunteers can see they’re making a difference.

I Have Better Things to Do With My Campaign Resources

Phone calls aren’t the be all, end all of campaigns, but they are a useful outreach tool. As I’ve mentioned a couple of times, phone calls are a supplement to other activities.

The real question as you’re planning your campaign is: how important is it to communicate with voters in different ways through different mediums?

I look at campaigns like my 401k. I don’t want all of my eggs in one basket. It’s possible that some areas will overperform and some may underperform. But in the end, I want a balanced portfolio that will lead to victory at the end of the race.

If you haven’t guessed the answer to my original question yet, reread the article. Just kidding. The truth is phone calls can be annoying and ineffective — if they’re done wrong. But, if they’re done properly, phone calls can enhance your campaign and, as some of my clients will attest, phone calls can be the difference between winning and losing.

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