Political yard signs are a necessary tool for any size campaign to boost name ID and keep the campaign constantly visible to voters. The biggest challenge for yard signs is poor design.
The typical yard sign is 18 x 24-inches and are viewed in automobiles at between 25 and 65 miles per hour at between 25 and 100 feet away. So, your first consideration is to make sure the name is readable under those conditions. What looks good up close may be absolutely unreadable in real-world yard sign campaign conditions.
Anything that diverts or restricts the readability and visibility of the candidate’s name must be avoided. That also means not trying to cram every bit of campaign information (date of election, district number, pictures, etc.) on the sign: only name and office usually work best.
Preferably you should use a professional graphics designer to create your signs – one with experience in designing campaign signs. Look at your proposed sign designs from a distance to ensure it can be comprehended in real world conditions. (Check out the signs created by Robert Simmons, our art director, elsewhere on our website and you’ll see what makes great yard sign design).
Color Scheme: The most common colors for political signs are red, white & blue because they evoke images of patriotism and the colors are highly visible. Unfortunately, using these colors can make every sign look alike so they simply blend into the background scenery instead of being noticed. Don’t be afraid to use other colors as long as they are good, strong colors that are highly visible. Use the same color scheme in all campaign communications.
Once your signs are effectively designed, you can start putting your sign strategy together, including where your signs should be placed and when.
Obey the Law: Voters are frustrated by candidates who want to make laws, but break them during their campaigns. Many cities and counties have ordinances that govern yard signs and when they may be posted, so check to make sure your campaign complies with the regulations in each jurisdiction within your district.
Typically, unless there is a strategic or financial reason, yard signs should go up soon as legally possible. Avoid putting signs in highway rights-of-ways and other prohibited areas, so figure out what the law allows and stay within the law. Finally, make sure you always have the landowner’s permission to put a sign on the property.
Sign Placement: Obviously, the more visible locations are best, so your first priority should be major thoroughfares and high traffic areas in your district. Place fewer signs in areas that you know you won’t win and more signs in areas where there are more favorable swing voters.
Too many candidates ignore neighborhoods. That’s a huge mistake. For every sign legally placed in someone’s yard, you can expect approximately 6-10 votes to result. Uncommitted voters look in their neighbor’s yard and say, “If the Smiths are supporting him/her, they must be a good candidate.” It’s a powerful endorsement that reverberates throughout a neighborhood.
Party Affiliation: Earlier, we mentioned that name and office are the only two items that should go on your sign. One exception is in highly partisan areas, putting your party affiliation may be important. Using party affiliation is terrific if the district is highly Republican, but not so good if Republicans are in the minority. Candidate Pictures: The answer is “No.”
Campaign slogans: Again, no. Put it on the mail, the ads and other campaign materials, but not the sign.
Getting Sign Locations: I wish there was a simple way to get sign locations. The only way I have found is “to ask.” When going door-to-door, I gauged the receptivity of the voter and after I did my initial presentation and they had committed to vote for me, I upped the ante. If they indicated support, the next thing was to ask for a sign. About half the time, I was successful. You can work the phones and call landowners at major intersections or use your phone volunteers to ask for signs when they are making advocacy calls.
How do I make my signs last: Today, political yard signs are printed on highly durable material and should maintain their visibility throughout any campaign. Avoid saving money on cheap cardboard signs because rain and sun destroy them and you’ll waste a lot of time and money replacing cheap signs. No matter how many yard signs you put up, some will disappear.
Sign stealing is as old as politics. The most common cause of sign removal is the land owner removing them to cut grass and failing to put them back up.
Look for locations in the yard that are visible from the road, but where landscaping maintenance is not so regular. In suburban yards, most homeowners have a planting area that has flowers and shrubs. Putting your sign in that area may keep it visible and the owners won’t have to move it every time they cut the grass.
Regardless, you must have a plan to replace signs on a regular basis, especially in your key targeted areas.
Sign Team: Recruit a couple of volunteers – or pay someone – to put up your signs. Once the signs are up, the sign team should regularly ride the district to ensure they remain up and replace any that are missing.
Signs are an essential component of every campaign. Effectively managing that facet of the campaign is one of the most critical aspects of your candidacy.
Rusty Paul is long-time campaign consultant for state and local campaigns. He did his masters work in Campaigns & Elections at Georgia State University. iSquared Communications is a political consulting firm specializing in state and local races. If your campaign is interesting in talking to him about campaign consulting services, email him at www.RustyPaul@isquaredcommunications.com.