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Direct Mail

David Axelrod and Karl Rove

Lesson time 09:02 min

Karl breaks down why direct mail continues to be a valuable tool to reach voters during your campaign.

David Axelrod and Karl Rove
Teach Campaign Strategy and Messaging
Renowned presidential campaign strategists David Axelrod and Karl Rove reveal what goes into effective political strategy and messaging.


Ironically enough, direct mail, which is one of the oldest technologies-- I have a collection of campaign covers featuring the images of John C. Frémont in 1856 and Abraham Lincoln in 1860. That's how far back mail goes in politics. It's an old technique, but ironically enough is one of the more durable ways to communicate in modern campaigns today for a couple reasons. First of all, for a lot of races-- state house, state senate, local races, even many congressional races-- it's really expensive to run TV. If you live in New York, for example, are you really going to be able to run TV on ABC, CBS, or NBC? Might be able to run it on local cable systems, but you're not going be able to run it on network TV. You live in Houston, Texas-- damned expensive. And when you buy Houston TV, you're buying probably 10 congressional districts besides your own. But mail can be targeted. And it can be targeted not only to your district, but it can be targeted to individual households inside your district-- people that you know you want to persuade, that you have a reason why you know you-- that you can persuade them. And you-- and you know lots of information about them that allows you to frame up the correct message. People like-- you know, they get a lot of advertising mail. Now, we all do thumb through it. So the question is, can you design your piece so when somebody sees it in the stack of mail it grabs their attention enough, through a headline or a provocative photograph of bright colors, so that they feel compelled to at least open it up and begin to absorb it? And you'll find this, that you're targeting right, you'll have a lot of people who will look at it because they want to know what's going on. And particularly if you give them information in a way that's credible-- you have specific facts, you have, say, footnotes so that you've got a link to where they can go online to find it, if you have a reference to an official document-- I've reprinted copies of documents inside a big mail piece. If there's, say, an import memoranda that my opponent is involved in and I put it in a big piece, I can reprint it down there so they can actually read it themselves. So you got to have it grab their attention. You've got to have it be attractive to the eye. This is a great opportunity to show your candidate at his or her best. But it has got to be credible, both in what you say and how you document what you want to say. Now, it's also got to be a number of pieces. Just like what-- seeing a TV ad once won't convince you, you've got to have a number of pieces go to the same household driving home the same narrative. Maybe you'd have different elements of it. But it's not unusual to have six or seven or eight or nine or 10 pieces of mail over September and October go to the same household that you're trying to persuade. Then at the end, we get to mobilization. And again, here your object is to help people vote. So, for example, if your s...

What it takes to win elections

David Axelrod and Karl Rove reach across the aisle to offer an inside look at winning campaign strategies. The respective architects of Barack Obama’s and George W. Bush’s historic election victories teach how to develop a campaign platform and reach an audience with consistent messaging. Find the inspiration and tools to get involved at any level, or simply become a more informed, engaged citizen.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Didn't know what I'd think about the paring & politics, but thought this was very interesting in that the STRATEGY is the same! Great collaboration.

Helped me to understand how the sausage casing is made to help make the sausage palatable enough for the consumer to buy it and take it home and serve it to their family. No compromises or insistence on ideologies, but great insight on the process.

I loved hearing all the behind the scenes stories about campaigns and all the detail these two shared on strategy

I have a love/hate relationship with politics, and I think both Bush and Obama will be remembered as corrupt criminals and disastrous presidents, but I thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from learning from these two consummate professionals in the field of campaign management--which transcends the candidates. Thank you, David and Karl.



It shocks me that the information on a letter has to be credible, not necessarily true. Being bombarded with invented facts one after the other, leaves no time to focus on proving them wrong. We are living proof of the effectiveness of the Big Lie: ,,,that in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying. — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X[1]


What are some of the strategies that worked for direct mail and fundraising?

Lisa W.

Is there any example for writing campaign / fund-raising that Karl can share more? Interesting to learn. Thank you.

Sylvie B.

Hello I started to follow this course because some of these informations are interesting for a singer too.. Thank you