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Thursday, July 02, 2009

Billboards

Caveat – I have never been a big fan of billboards.

But looking objectively, let’s ask ourselves, what do billboards?

Basically – they put your name (and usually your face up there) up there in big letters for people to see. Do billboards have persuasion message to convince undecided voters?

Not really. Yes, you might have something like “John Doe: Working to Bring Jobs to Florida” or “Jane Doe: Standing Up Florida.” But no on is persuaded by that – no one says, “Gee whiz, John Doe is in favor of bringing jobs to Florida and I hear that his opponent is for massive unemployment” or “Wow, golly gee! Jane Doe will stand up for Florida, but her evil, mean opponent wants to stand up for Georgia, even though he’s running for office in Florida!”

You could put a 10 point plan up on billboard, but no one will be able to read it – at least not without risking a serious traffic accident.

So really, all a billboard does is put your name out there. How does that help? Easy – if you have low name recognition, billboards are one way to increase it.

But let’s get down to brass tacks, shall we?

What are we really talking about? St. Pete Councilman and mayoral candidate Jamie Bennett has purchased three billboards.

Was this a good decision?

In my honest opinion, no.

This race will probably have relatively low turnout. I say that because a recent poll show 61% of voters are undecided. Undecided voters are much less likely to vote. Also, such a low number of voters who have picked candidates suggests a very low level of enthusiasm and engagement (and supporters of the various candidates - please feel free not to flood my email with outraged cries about how your horse in the race actually has very enthused supporters, because you understand what I mean and besides, my feelings are easily hurt).

In a low turnout race, name recognition is less of a factor because only the more engaged voters – those voters most likely to know who the candidates are – tend to come out.

Bennett, as a sitting, two term councilman who has gotten a lot press during this election, should already be reasonably well known to many likely voters. Bennett’s problem is that much of the press (primarily focused on his campaign staff) has been bad.

He doesn’t need to increase his name recognition, he needs to improve his favorability among voters who already know who he is – and billboards will do almost nothing to help.

Billboards tend to be pricey and it is questionable whether this is a good use of money. For Bennett’s sake, I hope that this has not affected his ability to run an aggressive direct mail campaign (7-10 pieces).

Do billboards make sense for anyone in this race?

Arguably, Scott Wagman and Deveron Gibbons, who each have strong institutional support, but have never held elected office and are also sufficiently well funded to (perhaps) purchase billboards and still run persuasion media, like mail and even cable television.

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