Some hints from the new hometown boy

Another weekend, another trip to Brookings. I got in at a decent time last night, and actually had some time to spend with the wife and kids before I fell asleep on the couch. I'm probably going to hang out here at home this weekend, since the college kids are coming back, and you won't be able to get to Wal-Mart or HyVee for a week or two.

Interesting stuff happening here in Brookings on the Lowe's measure by the local city commission. If you're not familiar with it, the Brookings City Commission voted to spend a boatload of money (millions) in incentives to bring Lowe's to town. There's a lot of people in favor of it (econ development types), and lots (competing businesses) against it.

I'm not sure myself why Lowe's is worth all the money they're going to spend on it - it's not like they're bringing another 3M or Larson Manufacturing to town. (I'd prefer Menards myself). I don't profess to know enough about the issue to say "you should vote this way."

But I can give the city ordinance activists a few hints.

If you recall, when I first started this blog, I was getting involved in a city of Pierre ballot measure, and I told the people on my side (against reorganization) I needed certain things to win. I didn't get the money I needed, but I tried with the nominal funds we had. The other side had nearly unlimited money compared to us. The final total? We lost by 27 votes. Dang it.

As far as the campaign was concerned, my side did everything right. Everything. And the other side stupidly spent money like a bunch of drunken sailors who had been out in the sun too long. For instance, while they ran minimal advertising in the local 'hard news' newspaper, they ran a 2 page, 2 color spread in the local 'arts' newspaper. That single ad cost more than our entire advertising budget. On top of that, they were so badly, badly off message, no one could tell what their message was. They fell into easy traps that are bad for campaigns.

Unfortunately, it was my side's hill to climb, because my side was against 'the establishment.' If I had another $500 to $1000 like I wanted, I would have done postcards which would have gotten us the 27 votes. So, what advice does this loser have for the people on either side in the Brookings Lowe's measure?

1. Get organized. You need to have a formal committee - not just a committee of 2 or 3. And you have to have regular weekly meetings with Goals, tasks, assignments, etc. Give people jobs that they are well suited for - and someone needs to keep their feet held to the fire.

2. Have a good spokesman - You need to have someone who is known in the community and well respected. And they have to be able to think on thier feet, because a debate on a ballot issue is no different from a candidate debate. Screw it up, or say the wrong thing, and you could be sunk.

3. A ordinance or ballot measure is a political campaign. Treat it like one. Yes, you need radio, newspaper, and TV advertising, and yard signs, and all the rest. Getting your message out is no different in either case.

4. Don't spend money stupidly. The neat thing with local ballot initiatives is that you can do things on the cheap. I mean really cheap, and people will forgive the crudeness, because you want to believe your neighbor did them at home.

In the ballot measure in Pierre, I did the flyers at home on my computer. And then I xeroxed them, and cut them with a paper cutter. They cost no more than a ream of paper, and each page was 2 flyers. So in an evening's time, I had about 1000 flyers for about $5-6 bucks. I had to break down and get them commercially printed at one point when I needed several thousand, but up to then, the cost was literally nothing.

I also did several of my infamous 4x8 plywood signs. That was about $20 for the template, and the lumber was borrowed.

All this, while the other side is spending $1500 or so on one ad in the arts paper.

5. Pick a winning message and stay on target. THIS IS SUPER IMPORTANT! When I did the Pierre measure, we came up with some hard hitting points. And they needed to be hard hitting, because we didn't have any time to build to a message. We set our message from day one, and never ever altered it. We might have used illustrative examples, but they all came back to one central message.

The other side? They tried a message. Then they'd change it. Then they spent the rest of their time trying to effectively refute our points. Then they'd get frustrated and say "But we answered that - why do you keep saying it?"

And all that time, we stayed on message. We didn't budge. And despite being outspent over 3-1, by maintaining our message we fought the other side to a standstill. At the very least, 27 votes was not a decisive victory.

It literally takes weeks to get a message to penetrate. The second you start changing it, you're screwed. Unless there's an overriding reason to change your target, don't. We were a rock, and the people on the other side sent so many mixed messages, that many people chose the one that was clear.

6. Win or lose, be gracious. We lost, and that was ok. It was a hard fought battle. We thanked the other side, and reiterated that we fought the fight because we cared about our town. The other side made comments that night that seemed, well, crabby.

The evening of the election, the other side said things like “The kind of campaign that was run did a disservice to our city government. ” So, basically they were saying they thought the people who voted against them were dumb. I was told the comments on the radio were far worse. Smartly, they changed their tune the next day.

Win or lose, you still have to be friends with people at the end of the day. You might need their vote again sometime.

So, there endeth my suggestions at the moment. I expect the campaign is going to be quite a battle. With all that being said - Brookings Pro-Development forces. Brookings Anti-Spending forces. Let's get it on!


Anonymous said…
I know a couple people on the competing business side of the Lowe's argument...And while I see what they're ticked off about (at least from the folks with whom I've spoken, it seems to be the perception of sneakiness and under-handed way Brookings is trying to get Lowe's to come here), coming from Ohio (where businesses get tax incentives and deals like Brookings wants to give Lowe's all the time) I don't see what the big deal is.
Todd D. Epp said…
PP, brilliant as usual.

I'm trying to get used to calling you PP, sounds like you are offering your services...
PP said…
PP said…
And otherwise Gabe, if you're uncomfortable referring to me as PP, you can call me Ray, or you can call me Jay...
Anonymous said…
On the Pierre ballot issue: One of the reasons you failed in your attempt to be the bolder in the stream of progress was that your group violated #2 in your advice list. Dave is against anything and everything. While he is well known, he is not respected.
PP said…
Let's just say I did note his prior activism on issues might flavor opinions that people might have on it.

Unfortunately, and I certainly concede this point, if you front more than one or two of these types of issues, you can gain a reputation that isn't necessarily positive.

To his credit, Dave put a ton of time and effort into it. This was going on at the same time he was trying to have a serious shoulder injury attended to, and dealing with a family member on their death bed.
Anonymous said…

Some good advice for Brookings. Here is some more:

Take a delegation to Lincoln, NE and find out how they have grown and prospered with a larger city only 50 miles away.

Bring something to Brookings that would pull people into Brookings. Lowes is a good store, but there is excellent lumberyards in all directions from Brookings. Try something like a factory outlet mall that is similar to Lincoln and Owatonna, MN. Here is a marketing idea: Come for the game...Stay for the deals!
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