April 25, 2018

By Jacob Vurpillat

Every day seems to bring another week’s worth of news from Washington - or Mar-a-Lago.

Twitter has a new political trending topic every hour, on the hour, and the talking heads seem to be more breathless by the day. As our national politics find new ways to fit even more into each 24-hour news cycle, many local party leaders have told us they struggle to craft local political messaging that captures their community’s attention.

Unfortunately, we can’t write your local party’s message for you, but we can give you some rules of the road for speaking on behalf of your local party.

Consider this a starting point, a survival kit, or just a solid reminder of some things about political messaging you already know.

These rules apply for speaking to the press, speaking at public events, and even speaking to voters. Keep these in mind anytime you’re representing other local Democrats!

Rule One: Nobody Cares What You Think About Trump

If someone wants to hear about national politics, they have no shortage of news networks, podcasts, and Twitter accounts to turn to. But chances are they won’t learn much about their own neighborhood from CNN or talk radio.

It’s too easy to feel defeated when it feels like national politics is happening to us, and all we can do is wait a couple years for the next big election (or scream about it online). So focus on empowering people by talking about what Democrats are doing in your community today.

You can highlight:

  • Your local candidates and elected officials.
  • Tangible accomplishments of the Democrats on the School Board, City Council, and in other local positions.
  • Talk about what Democratic candidates want to do locally to improve people’s lives.
  • Even if you don’t have a bench of Democratic candidates and electeds to talk about, you can still talk about ideas — how do Democratic Party values and the party platform translate to your community?

Rule Two: Talk About Things and People Your Community Know

Have you ever found yourself asking why a politician is focused on Issue A when Issue B is what the community is talking about?

We’ve all been there. It can be hard to follow the national message when it doesn’t resonate with us personally.

That means it’s important to look for specific ways the issues of the day are relevant to our community. And to be unafraid to focus on local issues that don’t tie into a bigger national story in your political messaging.

Whatever those issues are, avoid talking about them in the abstract. Tie them to something familiar instead.

For example, instead of talking generally about “the environment,” talk about a local nature preserve, lake, or river that people in the community love. Instead of using broad terms like “education,” talk about actual schools and teachers in your community. Even better, tell a story that illustrates your point. (For tips on storytelling, check out our recent article “Understanding the Personal Narrative.”)

And if at all possible, amplify your local candidates’ messages. That might be more school funding, an improved recycling program, or even just fixing potholes. But, that brings us to rule three.

Rule Three: Sometimes It’s Best to Pass The Mic

As a leader in your local party, it’s important to be prepared to speak on behalf of the party. But sometimes it’s even better to give your platform to someone else.

You want to win over voters for Democratic candidates and issues. So at each opportunity for someone to speak at an event or do a media interview, just consider who the strongest messenger is to win over that particular audience.

Sometimes that will be you. Other times, it will be a candidate, an elected in your community, or another leader in your party. Often the most effective political messaging come from those affected by a policy, so you might even boost a member of the community with a powerful story. As a recognized leader, you can lend credibility to other voices that deserve to be heard.

Rule Four: Talk to the Press on Your Own Terms

It’s important to be confident, comfortable, and in control of your message - so it’s ok to let calls from the press go to voicemail. Or take the call, ask for some details and their deadline, and call back with a response.

You might collect your thoughts, bounce your response off someone else, and get back to them in an hour. Or offer to schedule an interview in a few days so you have time to adequately prepare. You might even be able to email them a prepared statement or news release.

If you don’t know how to respond, don’t worry - everyone has been there. Reach out to other local party chairs, your state party, or an elected in your state who has some authority on the issue. There’s no need to reinvent the wheel or go-it-alone when other people have dealt with similar challenges before.

If the reporter is just looking for comment from someone, you can put them in touch with someone who can answer their question. Helping a reporter get their quote is a great way to build good relationships with the media.

Just make sure you follow up in a timely manner. If you consistently leave reporters hanging, they may stop reaching out altogether.

Rule Five: No Comment? No Problem

You know the old saying: “If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all?” That may not always be the case in political messaging. So here’s a slightly updated version of that old saying:

It’s better to say nothing than to say something wrong.

That doesn’t mean you should postpone important interviews indefinitely or avoid public speaking entirely - but it does mean you should take adequate time to think about what you’re going to say before you say it. And in some cases, you might not have anything more to say than “no comment.”

Political Messaging Isn’t Easy

If you feel overwhelmed thinking about how to properly craft a message that resonates, you aren’t alone.

Political messaging isn’t easy for anyone. That’s why we created our “Crafting Your Message” course. 

Learn more about how to create a strong and effective message in this free, online course (and bring some of your local candidates who needs support to create their campaign message). 



Jacob is the Manager of Political Communications for NDTC. Jacob was initially an intern for NDTC in 2016 before moving on to work for both a Chicago Alderman and an Illinois State Representative. After working in Parliament in the Republic of Ireland, Jacob joined NDTC in April of 2018. Jacob is a graduate of DePaul University with a degree in Political Science. Outside of politics, Jacob tries to forget the Chicago Cub's century of losing while enjoying their recent success.