Rock the Vote 

How to Become the Best of Memphis.

Every year, when the Best of Memphis issue hits the city's bars and restaurants and the winners start to plan what they'll wear to the big awards party, inevitably, the tears begin to fall.

All around the city, those not voted Best of Memphis laundromat or pet groomer or whatnot open their papers and see ... someone else's name. Perhaps their competitor's. Worse, perhaps, someone they've never heard of.

Oh, it smarts. It really smarts.

But it's no good dwelling on this year's results. Instead, it's time to plan for next year's contest. So how do you sew up a Best of Memphis distinction?

We talked to Layne Provine, political consultant to candidates, including Joyce Avery, a county commissioner, and Brent Taylor, a City Council member.

Follow these easy steps and by this time next year, you'll be dressing up for that awards party.

First, make a name for yourself.

"If they've never heard of you, they're not going to vote for you," says Provine. When Avery ran against incumbent Clair VanderSchaaf, there was some evidence that people wanted change.

"In Joyce's race," says Provine, "the challenge was to make sure people knew she was the alternative to VanderSchaaf. They had to know there was a challenger. People will vote for the devil they know over the devil they don't."

So you want to be the devil they know. Unfortunately, there are tons of devils, um, Memphians who have plenty of name recognition already. How can you compete?

Design a logo and come up with a catchy slogan and put it on everything from yard signs to T-shirts. Political candidates usually try to run TV spots at least three to four weeks before the election. Get your friends to spread the word to their friends.

Experienced politicos also know the value of face time, door-to-doors, and kissing babies. You just need to figure out why you are the Best of.

"Candidates craft a message to what people want to hear," says Provine. "If they don't, [the people] aren't going to listen."

You could also hire someone to help. One regular mistake Provine sees candidates make is trying to do it all themselves.

"If your car breaks, most people don't try to fix it themselves," he says. "If you're going to spend $50,000 or $100,000 on a race, hire someone to help you. Just because you're a good candidate doesn't mean you're a good strategist."

Provine advises a little investigating, the same way companies do market research. That way, you'll know your audience.

As a candidate for Best of, you need to hit your target audience. Some are easy calls. Your Aunt Maude in Michigan? No. Your friends who can't even return a phone call? No. They'll never finish a ballot, much less send it in.

Provine uses voter files to plan a candidate's strategy. If someone's not registered to vote, they're not going to receive information on a candidate. If Provine suspects voter turnout will be low -- like last August's local election -- he'll look at voter histories and target those people who are most likely to go to the polls.

The Flyer doesn't keep information like that (so don't call us for it, okay?), but you should ask around and see who fills out their ballot every year. Those are the people you want to bombard with kindness and cookies.

The week before the ballots are due, you'll want to follow up with your supporters. You wanna equate liars and politicians? Well, Provine says the voters are just as bad:

"Everybody tells the candidate that they're going to vote for him. No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but they're really hurting the candidate."

You can't believe everybody who says, "Sure, man, I'll vote for you." Provine says that even people who really are intending to vote for someone sometimes won't because they won't bother voting at all.

When a candidate is going door-to-door, they keep track of the people who have promised them the vote. Then they try to make sure those voters get to the polls.

"It's very important that they know where and when to vote and how they can vote," says Provine. "At the end of the campaign, we call the people who indicated they would vote for our candidate, and we'll call and pester them until they get out and vote."

And don't forget to vote for yourself. •

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