OMT One Man's Trash...from Norman Leahy

Saturday, October 22, 2005 :::

Direct Mail Death Penalty

Earlier this week, Mike Krempasky of Redstate retyped a direct mail piece from the Kilgore campaign featuring a letter from Kelly Timbrook, who is featured in one of the campaign's death penalty ads. The post generated a huge about of debate.

Now, the WaPo's Michael Shear sends readers to a pdf file of the Timbrook letter, and it, too, is generating comments...many of them of agog and aghast that Kilgore's campaign would put such a monstrosity in print. Kaine spokesmodel Delacey Skinner calmly notes that the piece is " extension of a smear attack. It is in paper form, exactly what they did with the ad. It is just as reprehensible."

Slow down there, Delacey. I know that you and the Kilgore-bots are paid good money to hyperventilate about even the smallest thing your opponent says or does. But whether you agree or disagree with the letter's content, it's excellent direct mail.

First person stories -- be they testimonials, eyewitness accounts, thank yous or even those smarmy inserts from celebrities -- are a staple of direct mail. And that's because they work. The formating in this particular letter is neither new nor revolutionary. I've used similar formats many times, and very successfully, for a variety of clients. What's interesting to me is that the choice of the signer. Kilgore could have used Stanley, from the other death penalty ad. But I suspect that one may have been the lightning rod more than anything else. The real workhorse was the Timbrook ad. And that her story is featured in the written appeal tends to confirm my suspicion. A woman telling the story of a murdered husband, a son who's lost a father, is powerful -- that's obvious considering the hysterics the appeal and the ad have raised from the other side.

But will it work? That's the open question. Kilgore has spent a lot of money on direct mail -- one of the most effective, generally unnoticed, means of reaching voters. Couple this written appeal with the new television ads on domestic violence, and we get the broader picture of Kilgore making a direct play for women's votes -- "security mom" votes, if you will. As I and others have noted before, issues like the death penalty are sideshows compared to the greater issues facing Virginia. But taxes, transportation and education cannot convey the same emotional punch as life-and-death matters. And in a close race, it's probably emotion -- not white papers -- that will make the difference.

::: posted by Norman Leahy at 10/22/2005 13 comments


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"The graveyards are full of indespensable men" -- Charles de Gaulle

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