Welcome to the Marketing in the Wild podcast. I’m Julia from Stratos Creative Marketing, where we are obsessed with finding real-life examples of the good, the bad, and sometimes wild, in marketing.
Julia: Well listeners, we are here this week with Abigail Hayes out of Nashville. Before I get ahead of myself, I’m going to let her introduce herself, but before I do that, I just want to tell you guys that this is going to be a really interesting episode because Abigail works in political campaigning, which has some similarities with marketing because both of us are trying to persuade people to take action.
And so bear with us, I’m really excited. Some of it might feel like, wait, why is this on a marketing podcast? But it will make sense. So, Abigail, tell us a little bit about you, where you are, what you do for work, and anything else you want to share with us?
Abigail: Yeah. My name’s Abigail Hayes. I live in Nashville, Tennessee right now, but I’m from Indiana, so I’m a Hoosier at heart. I have been working in politics in general since about 2015 when I was a sophomore in college, but I started working in electoral politics in 2018. The way that the nature of campaigns kind of work is you have a job for six months and you work like a hundred hours a week, no days off, all the time, fighting for what you believe in, and then you move around to another state. So I lived in five different states in two years and I worked for as many candidates. The most recently, I was the training director for the Pennsylvania coordinated with Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. Before that I got to work for Elizabeth Warren, which was absolutely awesome.
Julia: Abigail ran through all of the people who she’s worked with and some of them, I recognize, some of them I don’t, but obviously, if you live in the United States, you just recognize those names. Tell us a little bit about how you got into politics and working in politics. Like you took a break from college to do this.
Abigail: Yeah. I started working in politics in 2015. When I came out, after growing up in a really small kind of rural Indiana town, I went to college and I realized that there were other people that were like me and that I was in a really high place of privilege as someone that can help advocate for other people in my community.
So I worked on a campaign that helped try to recognize LGBTQ people as a protected class in Indiana, because right now in 2022, LGBTQ people are still not a protected class, so we can face discrimination on an everyday basis. And then in 2017 was when I kind of leaned into electoral politics a little bit more. My dad passed away unexpectedly in May of 2017 of what we believe to be a heart attack, following a quadruple bypass that he had had in January. And my dad passing left me, I was 20 at the time, and my younger brother who was 16, and then my mom, and I realized that there’s a lot of space that I could be advocating for, especially when it comes to healthcare.
So healthcare reform is a really big thing, close to my heart, and access to healthcare because of my dad’s situation and because of people that I’ve been around my whole life, so I realized that I could continue to do this work and I could actually get paid for it. And I could talk to voters and I could find volunteers and I could meet people that are like me that have had a hard experience and have turned it into something great. And so I kind of now do this work because of my dad, because he would have, this is what he would have done had he still been around. So I wanted to just try and follow in his footsteps the best that I could.
Julia: That’s awesome. What a cool story. I’m sorry for your loss, but also like how cool that you can take something that’s so awful and really kind of redeem it in a way.
And so since then, you’ve worked with a lot of different campaigns, moved around a lot, like you mentioned. And so tell us a little bit, like you have had different positions on those campaigns. What do you generally do?
Abigail: Yeah. So campaigns are this weird, kind of unique, I’ve always just called it like a pressure cooker situation. So you can move up really quickly from cycle to cycle. An election cycle is what we consider the beginning of a campaign all the way through election day. And that can range anywhere from two years to four months. So, I started on my first campaign as a field organizer and field organizers are the people that will organize volunteers.
This is specifically in Democratic campaigns. I don’t really know all that much about Republican or other political party campaigns, but this is what we do in Democratic politics. So I would recruit and find all of these volunteers in a specific area. And then I would help mobilize them to talk to voters through knocking doors, making phone calls, going to events, all with the goal of electing Democrats up and down the ballot.
So that is kind of the field that I’ve worked in within campaigns. There are a lot of other parts. We control kind of the message of what’s actually going out to voters and what people are hearing that’s not on a radio ad or on a TV, a television ad. So I was doing that and then as I continued to kind of move through campaigns, I worked two cycles as a field organizer. And then I got promoted to the position kind of above a field organizer, which is a regional organizing director, a pod director. Any of those things. So I managed organizers. So I did that in Virginia, where I worked for four state house races and then a state Senate race. And I managed 11 organizers and one, I had a deputy organizing director.
Abigail: So I helped train them and coach them and teach them on how to contact and manage volunteers. The way that we do in campaign politics, we’ve got weird ways of getting people to say yes and getting people to actually follow through with things. And then I realized that my second cycle, as a manager for organizers, I realized that I wanted to just keep teaching people because it’s so important and I loved the work. And so I went into training. So I was a training director, which just meant that I got to develop and implement all of the programs that we had for our volunteers and for our staff. So like continued learning and management trainings and things like that because that’s kind of a, it has been a gap in the past existing on campaigns on how to be a good manager. So I wanted to just keep teaching people how to do it. So I moved over to that side.
Julia: That’s awesome. This is just so fascinating to me because I am, I vote, everybody. I do vote. But there’s so much that happens behind the scenes that we don’t know about and what we do hear about sometimes isn’t the best, usually like bad press or something like that. Or we watch TV shows like Scandal…
Abigail: Yeah! Campaigns are really odd. This might be an interesting kind of point to focus on, but campaigns are really weird. Not a lot of people know about it, but there are people that are controlling every single part of an election from the candidates perspective, whether that be on like a really small state Senate race to all the way up to a presidential campaign.
We’ve done a lot of weird stuff and it’s not, it’s definitely not like Scandal or West Wing as much as I wish that it would, those offices look so nice.
Julia: And all their outfits, too!
Abigail: Yes! But the reality of it is it’s a bunch of, a lot of 20 somethings that are wearing leggings and sweatshirts and drinking Monster and working 12 hours a day, talking to as many people as they can because they think that it’s worth something, that they should try and do what they can. So, yeah, we usually rent out old month to month offices. So I’ve worked in a, what used to be a furniture store in Chicago, a former dance studio, a former restaurant and things like that, a former Planet Fitness. So yeah, it’s kind of interesting in that aspect, too, on like how we kind of come in and then leave really quickly as well, which is different than like traditional marketing.
Julia: It’s not quite as glamorous as in the TV shows.
Abigail: But it’s just as fun, it’s not as glamorous.
Julia: Okay. Sweet. And so one of the things I mentioned already is that I, and our team, were talking about how political campaigning is similar to marketing in the sense that you’re trying to, we’re both trying to persuade people with different ends. And I would be curious to hear from you, especially in your training role, what are some ways that you encourage your volunteers to talk to people? What persuasive tactics do you guys use? How far do you go? I’d be curious to hear about that.
Abigail: Yeah. The thing that I think is probably the most different, or the two things that I think are probably the most different between traditional business marketing versus campaigns and trying to sell a candidate, one, we have a limited amount of time to talk to these people. So it’s anywhere, usually with field programs, we usually have around a hundred to two hundred days to talk to people. So we are reaching out to them all the time. We contact through every method possible, whether that be door knocking, texting, calling, all of those things, sending mail, trying to get TV ads, we’re contacting these people all the way up until the end. Sometimes three times in a weekend, especially as we get closer. So that’s one thing that’s really different. And we can be a little bit more, I would say aggressive, about how we’re getting these people.
But the language that we use in campaigns, I think is incredibly unique on how we talk to voters, if we’re trying to gain their vote, or if we’re trying to get someone to volunteer. So persuading people, we knock in, or we talk to people in a persuasion universe, which is people that we think that we can convince to vote for our candidate and kind of the early, like three months out, two to three months out from a campaign or from an election.
And we talk a lot about our own personal experiences. That, I think, is the biggest thing that we’ve found is the most effective when it comes to talking to people. We ask them what their story is, what is their day to day life? What do they do for a living? What problems are they finding with their current elected official?
And then we can tell our own stories and say, well, I’m supporting Joe Biden because he believes in this aspect of health care or he wants to do this, or Elizabeth Warren wanted to do this. And so that’s why I wanted to vote for her and I want you to be on my side so you can understand my own human experience.
So I think that that’s definitely really unique because every conversation that everyone has is going to be different depending on what person shows up at the door and what person does the numbers.
Julia: Yeah, that’s awesome. That is really cool. And because I’m thinking about it from a marketing stand point, that’s like testimonials, personal experiences, which businesses can use too, but I could see how that would be really persuasive or connecting, like connecting with people on a human level, saying, “Hey, your experience might be different, it might be similar,
but here’s how this candidate can bring you success. Almost connecting the candidate’s goals with their personal experience.
Abigail: Yeah. And volunteer recruitment, I don’t know how relevant this might be for your podcast, but I think it’s really interesting because it’s definitely not something that’s used in any other field that I’ve worked in ever, is we use this method to get volunteers, it’s called the hard ask. So essentially when we call volunteers or when we talk to people and I have, now I have done this so often it’s a part of my daily life, I essentially don’t give people an out when you ask them a question. So instead of saying like, “Hey, do you want to come knock doors for me?” When they can say “No, I don’t want to knock doors.” I will be like, “Hey, oh my God, I’m so excited for you to come out and join us. What day are you going to come knock out with us? So you’re going to knock on Saturday, or are you going to knock on Sunday? And then if those days don’t work, we can knock on Tuesday or we can knock on Wednesday. What day are you going to come?” That’s also really unique in getting that kind of buy-in for volunteers.
Julia: That’s an excellent sales tactic.
Abigail: Oh yeah, we’re like little tiny salespeople at doors.
Julia: Sure. For sure. That’s awesome. My other question to you is, when you’re approaching people, sometimes there’s really sensitive topics. I even think about your first experience advocating for LGBTQ rights. Even that can be a really sensitive topic, unfortunately, to quite honest, like it shouldn’t be, but I’m curious what are some things that you’ve learned through your work about approaching these, when you’re either meeting new people who might not agree with you, who you don’t even know where they’re at? I’d be curious to hear about that.
Abigail: That’s a great question. I’m definitely a little bit, I wouldn’t say jaded, but I’ve had so much experience, I’ve had so many negative experiences. If I were to estimate, I would probably say anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 doors minimum in the last two years. And I’ve made probably 10 to 12,000 calls just over the course of a campaign. But when it comes to hard subjects, it’s kind of, it’s a matter of one, how much you’re willing to share about yourself or how much you’re willing to kind of put your own personal beliefs at stake, which is part of why campaigns run so short. It’s like every day, the duration of a campaign, I would look at someone in the eye and I would say, here are the things that are making me a person, and here’s why this other candidate doesn’t believe that I should have rights. And then I would have to look someone in the eye while they sat there and they told me that they didn’t believe that I should have rights. And I just had to say, “All right, there’s not going to be a point where we’re going to agree with each other and we’re not going to have a civil conversation.” So I would just leave or just walk away or end the call.
But when it comes to more sensitive subjects, especially I think, relating it back to like our own stories…everyone knows, everyone’s got a gay cousin, everyone’s got someone that’s had a hardship. And so when I’m talking to someone that might be like a really conservative Republican that I’m trying to get to vote for Elizabeth Warren, I would talk about something that is a traditional issue towards them or asking, “Are you a blue collar worker? What is your experience been with that?” And then relating my own personal story. Because I can say, I can talk about my own personal experiences as much as I want, and no one can look me in the eye and tell me that my personal experience is wrong, but they can tell me that a policy is wrong and they can tell me that my candidates beliefs are wrong. So using own-personal story aspect is another good way to do it.
Julia: No, that makes total sense. And I think that, in the end, I guess I’m of the belief that as people and as humans, we all have to have something that we can relate to and there might be big things that feel like obstacles of like, oh, I can not relate to this person. In the end, if we can pull those stories out of people, we can find common ground.
Abigail: Yeah. I think the point of no return, for me, and it took me a while to kind of get there is, I’ve said this to people more often than not is, I don’t know how to explain to you that you need to care about other people. That’s usually the end blind for the end of a conversation with me is, there’s no way for me to explain to you that you have to, that you should care about this.
Julia: That would be really hard. I can imagine that would be so exhausting by the end of a campaign, Abigail.
Abigail: It’s very mentally draining. There’s a lot of really, winning is really cool. It feels really good. Not winning really sucks, but you get a lot of really cool experience, but it is really mentally draining and that’s a big part of working in anything that you care about? I think when it comes to like the nonprofit sector or this kind of work is, it’s something that you take home with you every day. You wake up every day thinking about it and you go home every night thinking about it or having stress nightmares, or having all of these things you are being genuinely scared about what, what our country’s going to look like six months from now. So it’s definitely really mentally draining and it is not, it’s something that people can do in the long-term, but there’s a reason that their campaign is so short, because then we’re unemployed. And I was so comfortable with just not doing anything for a month. I just laid down for a month and then find the new job. So it’s really unique in that way.
Julia: Yeah. How, this is not in our questions at all, but I’m curious, how do you take care of yourself during the campaign?
Abigail: That’s a great question. I got very lucky, especially in the 2020 election. So my fiance, who does not work in politics, she works in the music industry, she’s a tour manager for a blues musician, but we moved in together as the 2020 election cycle was kind of starting after I moved out from Arizona. And she took care of me. I credit the reason that I was able to do the work that I did in 2020, and I think that she’s listening, but I credit that to her because she was able to make sure that I was eating and sleeping. But before that, when I was kind of on my own, it looked like asking volunteers, being like, “Hey, I have eaten McDonald’s takeout every night at 11:00 PM for the last four days. Can you bring some carrots to our office? Can you just bring some vegetables for our staff because we haven’t had any.” Or we had a lot of water breaks on our calendars. I would invite my staff to have water breaks or we had one called the weekly scream call where we would all hop on like a Google hangout and literally yell for a minute and then log off.
So those are kind of the ways, but it was a lot of really hard methods of, I have to write this down or set a reminder or do these things so I can remember to be a person in order to do the job, but I had a lot of takeout and a lot of frozen meals. That’s the bottom line.
Julia: That’s okay. Yeah, I was just curious because I think your campaigns are short. As business owners, we also are thinking and stressing and have stress dreams. I had one last night. But I think taking care of yourself is so important during all of that, and so I was just curious from your angle.
Abigail: It’s really turned me, this might also be a little bit of a tangent, but it’s turned me into someone that really enjoys, like to make money, beause I am in school full time, I work at Trader Joe’s a couple of hours a week and I love that job. I don’t take anything home with me. I get to stock apples all day and I’m so happy there because I can hang out with my friends I don’t take it home. And I love campaigns and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. If I thought about who I am now versus who I was two years ago. But there’s something nice about finding little things that make me happy.
Julia: I know in my life, sometimes we see all of these achieving authors who are like, “Don’t watch TV, think about how much time you’re wasting.” And I find myself where I’m like, “I’m sorry, but I just need to turn my brain off, so we’re going to watch New Girl or whatever it is.” I think that sometimes we can be so hard on ourselves to be overachievers or be achieving all the time. But just like you’ve said several times, you can’t run a campaign for a really, really long time or else you would exhaust people and so we have to take care of ourselves.
Abigail: It’s important to, it’s not self-care, it’s literally just being able to do the basic things that you need to do to be a person sometimes, which is so important, but gets forgotten, especially in the dynamic of the world today.
Julia: For sure. Well, shout out to partners who take care of us, Netflix and jobs that are mindless. So one of my final questions for you is, if a candidate doesn’t win, is there any way to utilize or salvage the marketing or the campaigning efforts that you’ve used for the candidates? I’m just curious.
Abigail: Oh, 100%. Absolutely. I have said, more than once, but you learn a lot more from losing an election than you do from winning. Winning feels so good. It’s so nice to see the fruition of all of your work. But from a data standpoint, we keep all of our information on voters and all of the experiences, the doors knocked, the shifts completed, we’ll keep it in a large database called the voter activation network or VAN. All of that data gets saved.
So I worked on the east side of Indianapolis on my first campaign as an organizer, so I’ll use that as an example, but it was an area that had never really been called. There wasn’t really a volunteer structure at all there. So I went into it blind, having no experience and having a turf,is what we call it, with no one that had really completed shifts before. And after the 2018 election, which Joe Donnelly did not win, a lot of my down-ballot candidates did, but Joe didn’t, after that, they had an entire structure of like 30 volunteers that were volunteering 25 to 30 hours a week for me towards the end of the campaign.
So then they all, specifically, I’m thinking of a woman named Teresa Bruno who, she knocked 2000 doors for me in two months, and she talked to so many voters. She ran for state Senate the next year and she had volunteers! And I connected this woman, her name is Eileen, she was 87 when I met her, she had never volunteered. She didn’t know that there are any Democrats that lived on her street and I found people that lived on her street, two blocks over, and she has this structure of friends now. And then when a new organizer that had never made calls before and had never done anything came in for the 2020 election, Theresa and Eileen ana Emily and all of these people were just ready to go. They just came in and they were like, “We know what we’re doing and here’s how we’re going to help you as an organizer because Abigail taught us how to do it, or the campaign taught us.” So absolutely. Everything is transferable and movable and great.
Julia: Wow. That’s pretty cool. Yeah, that is awesome. Well, this has been like a really unique conversation for our podcast. I told you before we got started, for me, I just feel, for one, it’s so interesting to learn the behind the scenes because I’ve received the text messages, but I don’t know who sends them.
Abigail: It’s a person pressing a button!
Julia: And so I guess I have one more question for you, but before I get to that one, what would you say to the people on the other side of the camp, who you’re trying to have conversations with or texting. Any thoughts for them on how to receive those?
Abigail: Yeah, a really big one for me is to be kind. At the bottom line, it doesn’t matter if I’m going to vote for one candidate and you’re going to end up voting for another. Nothing, to me, and this is an experience that I’ve had, nothing ever warrants someone opening the door and screaming swear words at you, nothing warrants someone sending horrible, gross text messages back, nothing. Even if you think it’s a robot, nothing more than screaming at someone on the phone or those things. Just be kind because there is always another person that is seeing or on the receiving end of those messages. It may feel like you’re yelling at a candidate who’s running for president that might be seeing it, but it’s either a really tired campaign staffer, or it’s a volunteer that has taken time out of their day to fight for something that they believe in.
So being kind, being open and listening to what someone has to say, because the big part of the human experience is sharing stories. So listen and share your stories and be honest. And if you feel as though you believe in something, there is someone that’s running for office, either near you, or in a way that you can go call them or you can call from out of state or text or do anything to help them out. So find something that you believe in and committing three hours a week on a Saturday to make phone calls or knock doors can be the difference between someone winning an election and continuing to fight for the things you believe in and losing by 20 votes. So that’s my big story.
Julia: That’s a great pep talk. Yeah. I just think about the people who you might have to use the line of, “I can’t tell you how to care about people.” I think, and this is my personal view about America is, we are so stuck in our own experiences that we don’t take and listen to other people’s experiences. We don’t have to agree with everybody. We’re all different people, we’re going to come at it from different angles, but we can still care for people who we disagree with.
Abigail: Yeah. And there’s always some sort of common ground somewhere.
Julia: Yeah, for sure. So, Abigail, I anticipate that most of our listeners will not necessarily need you because they’re not running for politics, but if someone were wanting to connect with you to hear more about your experience, how might they be able to connect with you?
Abigail: Yeah, you can look me up on LinkedIn, so it’s Abigail Hayes. We can message on there and from there, I can give you my email as well. I just want to screen just a little bit, because there are people that aren’t the best, but I would love to talk if someone is interested or if someone’s interested in volunteering or if you’re feeling inspired, I will literally connect you to any campaign in the country. There’s like a hundred people that do this for a living. The 2022 midterm elections are coming up and they all need help, so I can connect you to where you need to go.
Julia: Thank you, Abigail. I’m really excited for everybody to hear this. Thanks for giving us your time.
Abigail: For sure, happy to join. Thanks for having me.
Julia: Hey all, like I said, this is a little bit of a different podcast, but I hope you enjoyed it. I just can’t help nut think about the similarities between what Abigail has told us about political campaigning and business. For one, believing in something. Our products, like we’ve talked about this before, our products and services have to solve a problem for something. Political campaigns are quite literally trying to solve a problem aia an elected official, albeit, but it’s still the same premise, using stories to persuade.
If you’ve been around for two seconds, you’ve heard us talk about StoryBrand and how we use that storytelling framework to persuade people to take action. Even in her sales tactics, I recognize that most of our products aren’t necessarily things that we can say, “Well, do you want it on a Tuesday or Wednesday?” Like she can convince her volunteers, but there’s no reason that we couldn’t say, “Hey, this is great. When do you want to get started?” Leaving people less room for yes or no’s, and more room for action, creating more room for action.
So I hope you have some takeaways from this as well. It’s a very different episode of Marketing in the Wild, but it quite literally is a situation in the wild that is very similar to marketing and that we can glean some things from.
We will see you next week. I cannot wait to introduce you to a new concept or a new guest. In the meantime, feel free to reach out to us with any questions.