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McCain Email Watch: Breaking the Bank for a Banner

BY Michael Whitney | Wednesday, May 28 2008

Also posted on

John McCain's often aimless email messages are something of a recurring theme here at techPresident, so much so that we're dubbing the topic "McCain Email Watch."  Patrick Ruffini got us started when he noticed a "fundamental disconnect" between the real, relaxed John McCain, and his "stitled" online personality.  I followed up on a distinct lack of links in a recent McCain campaign email.

But McCain's email problems are worse than we first thought.  Case-in-point: today's fundraising message that offered a 3'x6' personalized banner for the low price of $250.

Where to start?

This is a fundraising message, but there's only one way you can participate.  For the vast majority of potential donors on any campaign's email list, $250 is a steep ask.  The message doesn't offer any other option; if you can't contribute $250, move on to the next email in your inbox.

The campaign passed on a potential opportunity to actually engage its email list.  They had the right idea: open up part of the campaign and let people make it their own.  Unfortunately, $250 for a banner isn't quite the best way to start.

There are small, easy ways to get supporters involved without asking them to break the bank on a banner.  George W. Bush and Howard Dean's campaigns both offered online tools to tailor campaign signs for individual supporters.  Hillary Clinton's campaign is holding a vote on the design for the next campaign t-shirt.   Obama's campaign is now selling supporters' art in its online store.  And over at techRepublican, there's an idea for a Threadless-style campaign shop, where supporters vote on the most popular merchandise variations, which the campaign would then sell.

Digging into the details of the message. this message broke from the campaign's normal names who send emails.  Titled "Get Your Name on a McCain Banner Today," this message came from "Team McCain: Frank and Becki Donatelli," two people who say they've been McCain supporters since 1999.  There's even a nice picture of Frank and Becki - in business dress - holding their banner, which reads "Donatelli's for McCain" (ignore the extra apostrophe). 

One problem though:  Frank and Becki aren't just any McCain supporters.  No, McCain just appointed Frank Donatelli to "act as the main liaison between the [Republican National Committee] and the McCain campaign," a promotion from his previous position as a longtime lobbyist.  (Tip of the hat to Matt Ortega at the DNC blog.)

Could the McCain campaign not find any actual grassroots supporter to feature in the email?  Maybe someone who's not on McCain's staff?  Or not a lobbyist?  Someone real, perhaps?

On the bright side of this email, there's more than one link in the body of the message, which only ran at 272 words.  That means since the last McCain email, they've doubled the number of links, and halved the length of the message.  (Did they read Luigi's recommendations?)

We'll continue monitoring McCain's messages in the McCain Email Watch, and add your thoughts in the comments.  What I'll be looking for are continued improvements in the structure of the emails - which shouldn't be hard to implement - as well as a fundamental focus on connecting with the email list, an objective that requires a restart of the campaign's relationship with its supporters.