Bio Hazard

Imagine you’re at a reception or at a conference–or even a dreaded “networking” event. Someone you’ve never met strikes up a conversation with you and immediately proceeds to tell you their life story. It goes something like this:

“Growing up I learned some important values and life lessons. Then I went on to college and law school, and then started a career. Today, I’m reasonably successful and I have a nice family. I’m active in the community. I also help coach youth soccer and I’m a regular at my church. Oh, and by the way, I’m running for State Senate because I want to give something back to the community, which has given me so much.”

During this he reaches into his wallet. He’s got pictures too, so you can see he has done all of this great stuff.

At what point would you walk away from this self-absorbed guy to find someone who wanted to talk about something more interesting to you than their own mundane life story?

Campaigns do this all the time.

Campaigns spend large amounts of money trying to communicate about the candidate’s bio as if it had a special persuasive potential. It is almost always a waste of money.

How many campaigns have you seen that “open” with some sort of bio ad or bio mailer that tell the life story of a candidate in order to introduce themselves to voters? There’s generally nothing in it for (or about) the voter. How can this possibly have persuasive value to win votes weeks or months later.

The reality is that most candidates for office just don’t have life stories that are all that compelling. And if the story isn’t compelling, no one is going to stop

what they were doing to watch

a bio ad or read a bio mailer. Time and money wasted.

There are only two reasons that a voter cares about the bio of a candidate:

    • The candidate’s life story is so compelling (think John McCain in the Hanoi Hilton) or so different that it creates enough interest in the subject matter for the voter to put aside what they were otherwise doing.


    • A portion of the bio shows experience or otherwise validates a promise or policy point the campaign is making. Think “Newt Santorum has the experience to create new jobs because he successfully built a company that grew from 2 employees 10 years ago to 500 employees today.” Even then this would be used within an ad or mailer about job creation, not one focused on the candidate’s bio.


Unless your bio spot/mailer can meet one of those two standards, the best you can hope for is some additional raw name ID. But there are cheaper, more efficient ways to build raw name ID. Besides, raw name ID should never be a primary goal–positive image should be.

So now let’s go back to our hypothetical party or bar. Another stranger wanders up looking to chat. This time, instead of talking about himself, he talks about stuff he’s pretty sure you care about. Better yet, he has some ideas that might benefit you. Like saving money on taxes. Or ways to bring new and better jobs to your community. Or specific things your kids’ school could be doing. You’re probably all ears for this guy.

Make sure your campaign is one that has voters wanting to hear more, not one that makes them want to walk away.

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