No one remembers Shecky Greene

There once was a top thoroughbred racehorse named Shecky Greene*. You probably haven’t heard of him. The story of Shecky Greene’s last–and most famous–race is a cautionary tale if you’re running a political campaign.

Shecky Greene was entered to run in the 1973 Kentucky Derby. He went off at about 6:1 odds in the field of 13.

Secretariat_at_stud

We couldn’t find a picture of Shecky Greene. No one keeps pictures of the losers. This is the horse that beat him that evening in May, 1973.

The horses were loaded in the gate, the bell rang and they were off. Out of the gate, Shecky Greene set a wicked pace and was in the lead after seven furlongs.

Far behind Shecky Greene, was another horse. You might have heard of him. His name was Secretariat.

You probably know how this story ends.

Secretariat set (and still holds) the record for fastest Kentucky Derby ever. Astonishingly, Secretariat ran each quarter of the race faster than the one before. He was accelerating from start to finish rather than tiring out at the end like most thoroughbreds do.

Shecky Greene? He finished in 6th place and never raced again.

They made Hollywood movies about Secretariat. No one remembers Shecky Greene even though Shecky Greene was the one out of the gate and leading the race early on.

Don’t run your race like Shecky Greene ran his

Over the years we’ve seen too many campaign run like Shecky Greene ran the Kentucky Derby. Most of them aren’t remembered either.

Shecky Greene campaigns put a premium on communicating early because they want to be on TV or in the mailbox first. They mistakenly believe that there’s persuasive value in beating their opponent to making “first contact” with the voter.

The problem is that campaigns that tend to fret about this stuff almost never have the resources to maintain continued continuation through Election Day. That early start ends up being one of the things that kills them off later on.

They end up mailing too early without the funds to continue to mail without an extended break between drops. Or they go on TV but are forced to go “dark” for extended periods later on because cash runs short.

It’s pointless. On Election Day, no voter remembers which candidate they heard from first–especially if those communications came when no one was paying attention to the race. But they remember what they see and hear in the final days before the election. That’s what’s top of mind.

Understand how voters process your communications

Voters (if they’re honest) will tell you they’re really not that interested in or focused on most of your ads and mailers.

They’re picking up dribs and drabs of your message that catch their ear and/or eye as they are half-paying attention. They retain that information for a very limited amount of time if it isn’t reinforced with continued frequent contact.

That means an early start for the sake of being out there first isn’t only a waste of time. It can actually undermine your ability to win if you cannot sustain your communications pace to the end. Voters quickly forget everything you told them.

In horse racing, horses that run like that are called faders. They’re often terrible bets because they lose a lot. Faders in political campaigns tend to lose a lot too.

When should you start your mass messaging efforts? Start as soon as you feel confident you have the resources to continue to message consistently through Election Day without a significant break in the action. Don’t start your sprint if you cannot maintain it to the finish line.

Better to let the other side have the jackrabbit start and tire out, while you close strong. You have to be the best jockey you can be for the resources you have.

Otherwise people will only remember as much about your campaign as they remember about a horse named Shecky Greene that won the first seven furlongs of a race held at Churchill Downs on May 5, 1973.

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*Yes, there is a comedian named Shecky Greene too that almost no one remembers. That’s a different story.

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One Response to “No one remembers Shecky Greene”

  1. [...] Pound and Brett Feinstein are partners at Pound, Feinstien & Associates, where this article originally appeared. Reprinted with [...]

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