Robocalls: When You Have to Act Fast!

Cheap and effective ways to mobilize people to action, fast

If you work for a fairly established grassroots non-profit political organization, you hopefully have the budget to mobilize your members using direct mail, mass emails, social media, radio ads, and more.

And during a protracted legislative project you are hopefully doing all of that.

But oftentimes, important votes pop up with little lead time.

While you may have time to roll some emails or social media updates — you certainly won’t have time for direct mail and likely not even for radio ads.

Robo-Calls: A Warning

Of course, everything I’m about to go over in this article assumes that you are allowed to use these types of calls in your state.

But that’s not always the case.

Don’t play games with the criminal code — if you aren’t allowed to run robo-calls, do not do it!

In other states, while the calls themselves are legal, there are very specific statutes on what the attribution has to say.

Some people would like to challenge these laws on the basis of the First Amendment. I know of activists who are facing jail time as of this writing over a case just like this in a state in the North East.

If you want to get involved in a lengthy court battle with the state — where they have unlimited resources — over your First Amendment rights, then feel free.

But do it on your own dime.

That’s not what your organization’s donors are giving you money for, unless you work for a First Amendment organization.

They care about gun rights, or the unborn, or lowering taxes, or whatever your organizational charter is.

They aren’t sending in money to have you use it up in a court battle — whether you are right or wrong.

Again, don’t play games with the criminal code!

Robo-Calls: Cheap, Fast and Effective

But if you can use them, robocalls are a quick and effective way to mobilize a lot of people fast. All you need is a vendor, an app on your phone to record the message, and a call list.

If you have an established relationship with your vendor, you can have calls going within an hour of deciding to run them — and maybe even sooner than that!

And they are cheap, and getting cheaper.

Depending on call volume, your longevity with the vendor, and depending on the style of the call you are running, often you can run a minute-long call for around a nickel or less.

And while only a stupid politician will tell you how many calls he’s received from your programs in his districts, I have never utilized robo-calls without getting flak from the target!

Usually they will yell at you and insist that ‘if you ever run those calls on me again, I’ll never vote for your bill!’

Of course, I hope you know that if you ever hear that from a politician you darn sure better immediately run another round of calls — preferably double the number of calls you ran the first time!

Robo-Calls: Two Types

There are two different primary types of robo-calls that you can utilize.

The first is the traditional call.

Using these calls, you’ll have 60 seconds of air time and the calls will run to every number on your call list.

This means you’ll have, at max, room for a total of 165 words.

It’s essential that you give the target number multiple times in this message, to allow recipients to record it properly. We try to get the number mentioned at least three times when using calls like this.

If you are running calls like this, it’s oftentimes most effective to run them with the goal being to get the message recorded on a person’s answering machine.

With these calls, you pay a flat rate per call if someone answers, if no one answers, or if you leave it on an answering machine.

I’ve used these, and they work.

But there is a second type of robo-call that is very effective, and that is the ‘direct-connect’ robo-call.

With these calls, as the message plays, the recipient has the ability to be connected to the targeted legislator by merely pressing “1” on their phone.

In other words, you can tell them, “To speak to Senator Smith, just press 1 now,” and once they press 1, their call will immediately ring the number that you pre-programed!

Pretty slick, huh?

More important than that, since it is so simple, these types of calls greatly increase the likelihood that your members will take action!

What’s more, these calls usually charge by the connected minute.

You don’t pay for unanswered calls. You can also choose to not pay for any calls where a machine answers, although that would be a mistake.

Robo-Calls: A Case Study

When former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty ran for the GOP nomination in 2011, he had to get through Iowa first.

And as we ran our candidate survey program the pressure began to mount as multiple presidential candidates surveyed 100% pro-gun, but Gov. Pawlenty refused.

And with the all-important Iowa Straw Poll only ten days away, we felt it important that our members and other gun owners in Iowa know that the governor refused to stand up for the Second Amendment.

Governor Pawlenty had bet the future of his candidacy on a strong showing in the straw poll. In fact, he made it clear that he was expecting to come in first place.

To do that, his campaign had rented close to 50 buses with which to bring in as many of his supporters as possible to the event.

This requires a massive amount of coordination between county coordinators, campaign staff, and bus drivers in order to pull off successfully.

So when the Pawlenty campaign needed their lines the most, we began to roll out our calls — and our list to call was in the hundreds of thousands!

As the calls began, we could track how many calls our vendor was sending per minute. We could also track how many were answering, and, how many were pressing 1 to talk to the campaign.

We could also learn that the campaign had about fifteen forwarding lines, because after about that many of our people were on the line, they hung up — meaning their calls weren’t being answered.

Once we determined that, we could throttle the rate of calls that we were deploying to ensure that we weren’t wasting calls.

More, this ensured that almost every time a staffer ended one call, another gun owner was there demanding answers!

As a result, the campaign was in chaos.

Bus drivers couldn’t figure out where they had to be. County coordinators couldn’t coordinate with the campaign, and grassroots voters couldn’t figure out where to show up for a bus ride.

It worked perfectly!

While the Pawlenty campaign certainly had their own problems, we certainly played a huge role in the final week before the Straw Poll.

The former Governor came in a disappointing fourth and dropped out of the campaign the very next day.

Meantime, the other candidates knew that we were willing to hold them accountable for their record and for their answers to our survey program!

Your needs and your targets may not be nearly as big as that, but the impact can be the same.

Robo-Calls: Changes to be Aware Of

With changing laws and changing technologies, more and more vendors are unable or unwilling to call cell numbers as part of a robo-call program.

As more and more people switch to cell phones and drop their land lines, this problem will continue to grow.

But many people, especially older people, still use landlines. And older people are the most likely to vote and give money to political causes — making them a prime target for your calls.

Robo-calls won’t solve all of your problems, and are only to be used as a part of a coordinated program to mobilize your members.

But they work well and, for new organizations without a large bank account, are a great tool that you should make sure you are using!

If you need more help in utilizing robo-calls, or any other aspect of launching or growing a grassroots political organization, please don’t hesitate to contact me for help!