There were a few raised eyebrows among political consultants and direct marketers just days before Christmas in New York resulting from an unexpected mail drop of tens of thousands of four-color 9-inch by 14-inch mailers into lower Manhattan ZIP codes.
At first glance, the strategy behind the understated, folksy-style Christine Quinn for City Council brochure seemed appropriate — even routine. But the campaign piece was printed on costly card stock for a special city council election that hadn't yet been announced.
Some said it was a sober marketing move that eventually will pay off in a city known for political cynicism. Others discounted it as a misguided step that will have little effect on an election that may not occur until spring.
“It was a very expensive piece, and I almost missed it,” said Raymond Cline, campaign manager for Christopher Lynn. “I hope it's not wasted money.”
Lynn is one of Quinn's four contenders for the highly-coveted city council seat vacated by state senator-elect Tom Duane, but the four have yet to spend anything on direct mail for the upcoming race. True, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has yet to set the date for the special election, but given the upcoming critical period in January — when candidates must garner thousands of voter signatures to qualify for the ballot — it is curious that no contenders appear near the running track.
Maura Keaney, Quinn's campaign manager, seems sure of their DM plan.
“There are three ways to get the message out: direct mail, which may be one of the most effective; then you have to have good phoning and a strong street presence,” she said, adding that the first mail piece is larger, more colorful and not too wordy or complicated. She would not disclose mail drop numbers.
Michael Oliva, spokesman for council hopeful Aubrey Lees, was not as forthcoming about strategies for his candidate and less than confident about Quinn's early mailer.
“It just doesn't seem like it would be effective,” he said. “Maybe there's some internal polling going on. Maybe her name is not as well known as they thought. My sense is people don't even know this election is going on.”
Michael Muller, campaign manager at Carlos Manzano's headquarters, doesn't think it necessary for candidates to get attention from voters early on.
“You count backwards for election day,” he said. “In the early stages, you should be in planning. You save the direct mail for when voters are making up their minds.”
New York local elections laws limit campaign spending to $137,000.