Bus Bench Ads: Replies
Ralph Shnelvar, John Berntson, and Paul Tiger respond to Ari Armstrong's article, The LP's Bus Bench Bust. All three replies were submitted on February 7, 2004.
Learning about advertising and bus benches
It's my daughter's 18th birthday today and Ari had called me about 15 minutes before I had to leave for dinner reservations.
Ari and I discussed this article (I had not read it but I have now read it) before he sent it out. Nonetheless, I could gather from his talk with me the tenor of this article.
I told him I disagreed with him and it. I didn't think the advertising campaign or the bus bench ads were a bust.
I feel partially responsible for the results of this fundraising campaign. It was I who suggested to the Board and to Michelle Poague (who has the thankless job of fundraising director) that the fundraising request be included in the Liberty with the bus bench ads printed on the outside of an envelope that included the Liberty newsletter.
"Everyone likes the Liberty but no one likes fundraising letters," I argued. Eventually, Michele agreed.
One of the benefits of this approach is that the cost of the Liberty postage would not be repeated by the cost of a fundraising mailing; the incremental cost of two pieces in a single mailer is much smaller than two individual mailings. Thus the "cost of the fundraising mailing" (about $1000) could instead be applied to an attractive and compelling envelope.
I made the suggestion and other people did the heavy lifting. It turns out it was an enormous effort in terms of time, money, and manpower. Stuffing the envelopes took an extraordinary amount of time (I believe it was about 24 hours with 4 people). I felt so bad about not contributing to the massive physical effort that I contributed $150 to the Party.
To me, the Party of Principle is also the Party of Freedom to Experiment. That means that an implication of freedom is the freedom to fail. Both individuals and groups of individuals must have the freedom to try things even if they do fail because it is through failure that progress is made. Guaranteed success of outcome is a guarantee of stagnation and ultimate grand failure.
The experiment did not pay off. The envelope cost a small fortune. The manpower required to do the stuffing exceeded anything I could imagine. The money received seems to not equal the effort involved.
Nonetheless, this was an experiment worth running. It was worth running because an important and dedicated man in this Party, Rand Fanshier, wanted money for bench ads because THAT is an experiment worth running.
Ari thinks that bench ads are pointless and a waste of money. I don't. I have little idea if benchs ads will be effective although I suspect that Ari is right. But until such time as the experiment is run we have no hard data. Rand wants the bench ads. Rand raised the money and the manpower and convinced the board. Bravo Rand.
That's how things are done in this Party. A dedicated person (Rand Fanshier, Frank Atwood, Joe Johnson, etc.) wants to do something and then they go do it. I take my hat off to these people. The Party would be nothing without them.
This experiment didn't directly cost the Party much. Yes, I believe that Party members could spend money more effectively elsewhere -- but that's just my opinion. I didn't torpedo Rand's efforts because I admire Rand and very much wanted him to succeed.
If you haven't caught on yet, I think Ari is wrong to criticize the bench ad campaign so harshly.
But then I also want the gods to bless Ari for his undying and selfless commitment to freedom.
Ari Armstrong Replies
I agree that experimentation can be valuable. However, the experiment should have a useful aim and it should be carefully designed. The goal of this experiment was to raise money for bus bench ads, a questionable objective at best. As I noted, a Libertarian has already tried bus bench ads, and they had no noticeable effect.
The envelopes cost more to produce than the newsletter. The newsletter cost $806, while the envelopes cost $912. This is no big surprise, because full-color printing is expensive. (By the way, the board still hasn't sent me a figure for revenues.) Sending a fundraising letter to the entire list makes no sense. Are members who won't even join the national party going to fork over money for a bus bench ad? Obviously not. We don't need to run any more "experiments" to test this. A fundraiser sent to the 500 (or so) dues-paying members would have made more sense. Of course, Ralph couldn't have predicted the extra printing costs would be so (needlessly) high.
I also agree that the LP succeeds by individuals taking action. However, I'm not going to praise actions that are obviously on the wrong track, especially when they cost the party critically needed funds. If reasoned criticism hurts people's feelings, then so be it: this is a POLITICAL PARTY, not a social club. Results matter, intentions do not. If you want warm fuzzies, join a cooking club or something.
John K. Berntson
I have to agree with you that bus bench ads are probably not the best use of party resources. While they might be of use to a local candidate who is trying to increase name recognition, I doubt that even a full-size billboard ad for the LP could be coherent enough or strong enough to pull many voters away from their normal voting patterns. This is why I have always supported radio advertising, where we get a full minute to make some sort of point -- and even THAT is an iffy proposition.
However, the wording of your article would seem to indicate that the bus bench mailing only went to dues-paying members. Speaking for the half-dozen of us who were at the mailing party until 4AM, I can vouch that it was sent to the whole list. Heck, we even sent it to libraries and legislators. The board's decision to limit distribution to dues-payers was for future issues.
I agree with the board's decision on this, by the way. The Liberty has long been the single biggest drain on the party's purse, with little return on the investment. Mailing to 500 instead of 5000 is obviously much cheaper and, while I am sure you can find exceptions, the overwhelming majority of party activists became dues-paying members before they became activists. Once people have a financial stake in the party, they are much more likely to work to protect their investment.
The Colorado Liberty, like the Space Shuttle, is severely hobbled because we try to use it for more than one purpose. It has three missions -- encouraging activism among members, encouraging nonmembers to become members, and outreach to the general public -- and it cannot do all of these well. Of these, the Liberty should stick to encouraging activists, praising them when they do stuff, letting them know where their efforts fit in the overall picture.
Getting nonmembers, including those 5000 registrants, to become dues-paying members is quite a different job and requires, at the very least, a different publication, geared for the task. Other methods, such as Rand's phone bank, might deliver better results more cheaply. Giving away Liberty to the general public has always been a waste of resources, because of the language difficulties; you have to use different wording to persuade the uninitiated towards libertarianism than we use in talking to each other. The tabloid Viewpoint is much better suited to the task of persuasion and is far less expensive.
So hooray for the board! Even once the money problems are under control, I can see much better uses for party resources than to send a monthly or quarterly publication to 5000 people who cannot be bothered to send a twenty-five dollar check. That mailing list can best be used for fundraising and for other mailings geared specifically to get them to become contributing members. There is no such thing as a free lunch and these people should not expect one. By registering Libertarian, the only thing they are entitled to is a post card telling them when and where the convention is; everything else is gravy.
And why we send the Liberty to legislators is still a mystery to me. What positive outcome are we expecting from it? Send them the Viewpoint instead.
Ari Armstrong Replies
John is quite right that the fundraiser-plus-newsletter went out to the entire list, which is the major problem.
I don't know about radio ads (they're better than bus bench ads). I'm convinced the LP should adopt a dual strategy: run no-cost, educational campaigns wherever the chances of winning are low (almost everywhere). Run high-cost campaigns to win in those rare situations where the Libertarian has some realistic chance. In other words, focus the party's resources on just a few races, or perhaps just one race, per year.
I think the newsletter used to perform a variety of tasks rather well, given its limited distribution. However, I'm also open to the strategy of radically scaling back the newsletter and devoting the funds to campaigns. My main point was not that the money should have been spent on the newsletter rather than on bus bench ads; it was that the money should not have been spent on bus bench ads.
You hit it on the head. I wasn't for this lunacy from the outset. The bench ads sounded okay, but they had to be paid for by fund raising or some way besides LPCO funding from within. An ad in the newsletter would have been fine by me, but not a special mailing for votes with dollars. The whole thing became a vehicle without wheels. It sucked up major amounts of time and effort and generally sucked.
When I first hear about the idea I thought that mobile signs would be better than stationary ones. So I offered to pay for two of them to put on my 77 1/2 ton Ford Pickup. Yep, cover the sides of the truck with big colorful signs. $120 of my own money. That much I could afford.
But no, wait, we had to make it into a contest. More screwing around and publishing in the newsletter looking for artists. I went to CULP and told them about it. They liked the idea, especially with a free vacation as a prize. Somehow the communication between the CU Libs and the LPCO fell into a crack and they couldn't, didn't, or weren't allowed to participate. I don't know, but that never happened.
Then Rand and Michele showed the BoD a bunch of designs. I was ecstatic that we were finally getting somewhere. I wanted to make a motion that we vote on them and pick one, maybe more than one design. My checkbook was ready. But No! Now the contest was extended into a fund raiser. One in which more money would be spent on sending out a special mailing and members could vote with cash. I voted against this idea, but was defeated.
We still don't know if this debacle was a winner or another loss leader. We still don't have anything to show for it. [Name deleted] slapped down $600 and said the first one had to go up in Boulder. Okay, I tried to get Rand to call the owners of Eads News & Smoke who own a bench on their own property at 28th & Canyon. It has been used for ad space before. The owners were going to go for it for free. I got static about sign permits. Bullshit. This is a political ad, and the Boulder rules don't apply to political ads. I don't know who called them or what was said, but now they want to charge the LP for the space. More screwing around, and I still can't seem to get two sheets of plastic that I would have paid for out of my own pocket on the sides of my truck.
For the past five months I have worked for the Clerk and Recorder's office. That's where my truck would have been parked for most of the daylight hours. Imagine the exposure? Elections going on; motor vehicle registration bring hundreds of people each day through that lot. At the end of this month I am leaving the Clerk's office and moving on to go back to work for CU, where my truck will be parked in a side-street on the hill. Where maybe twenty people a day will see it.
A good idea that was pushed through a strainer 50 times until it became useless trash. If these ads are available before most of us leave this board I will be utterly surprised. It won't matter to me anyway, because I can't afford to do this anymore.
Ari Armstrong Replies
I don't believe the CU Libertarians were in any way hindered from participating in the contest. I don't see why Paul couldn't have went ahead with his own design for his truck. That sort of thing doesn't need board approval (if it doesn't involve the party's money).