On June 2, 2020, three democratic incumbent New Mexico state senators were defeated by progressive candidates, all of whom were supported by the Conservation Voters of New Mexico (CVNM). While New Mexico is a solidly blue state, these defeats represent a shift in the type of candidates New Mexico’s residents want representing them – steering away from institutional Democrats and cautious political maneuvering, towards younger and bolder voices focused on the issues that matter most to their constituents. Jon Lipshutz, a General Consultant hired by CVNM, served as the General Strategist and Chief Consultant on the trio of campaigns. J&Z Strategies was brought onto the campaigns to assist with the overall strategy and message development, as well as creative production and ad placement. AAPC recently caught up with Dave and Jon to try to discern how they, along with many collaborators working on these campaigns, managed to achieve 20-point margin wins in all three of these campaigns.
What challenges made these campaigns different from your previous campaign work?
Jon: The most basic campaigning 101 tactic is to get in front of voters early and define not only your candidate, but also your opponent. However, because of COVID-19 limitations and subsequent limitations with fundraising, we really weren’t able to get in front of voters until at most two or three weeks out from the primary date. We were forced to think outside the box and take chances to effectively communicate our message during a time of a global pandemic, a renewed urgency for racial equality and an economic recession. We ended up using hard, succinct, and targeted messages that incorporated elements of the economy, health, and the overall trustworthiness of the incumbent candidates to persuade our voters.
What messaging tactics did you use to create effective advertising campaigns?
Dave: From a creative standpoint, we wanted to present the most compelling messaging in order to achieve success, but we knew right away that filming in person was a not realistic option under the circumstances. Because we were working for an environmental campaign, we knew that the issues of clean air and public health would align with the campaign’s values, as well as connect with the issues of public health due to COVID-19. Our messaging was brutally honest and direct. We showed images of kids wearing oxygen masks while discussing how pollution causes asthma – which put a face to a larger issue and created eye-popping ads that forced voters to internalize and digest the information needed to inform their vote.
What media channels did you leverage to get your message to voters?
Dave: With in-person voter outreach off the table, we focused heavily on digital channels. But, in an ever-changing media landscape, it’s harder and harder to break through. Voters are increasingly becoming more segmented, meaning you have to utilize multiple platforms to reach them all. Because we had such a brief window to sear our message onto the minds of these voters, we had to be creative in terms of our approach. We utilized cable TV and pre-roll digital advertising and social media, but we also did OTT to go beyond the traditional. We wanted to make sure our messages reached younger voters, who are increasingly cutting the cord on traditional television.
What advice would you give other consultants when working on campaigns in the COVID-era?
Jon: There is definitely not a one-size-fits all approach to any campaign, regardless of working during a pandemic or not. It’s critical to approach each race independently, and to throw conventional campaign tactics out the window for the moment. With so many uncertainties related to fundraising and in-person events, it’s key to have flexibility in both program and budget. Ideally as political consultants, we plan ahead, but within a pandemic we have to be super adjustable, and our tactics do too. Tactics that involve coordinating a lot of people or volunteers involve a lot of planning, and can be difficult to change at a moment’s notice. There were times we had to make decisions when we had a 24 hour turnaround time – and all of this greatly depended on at what point we received donations. Essentially, try to plan on as many contingencies as possible.