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The Politics Of Campaign Marketing

Monday, November 10, 2014
Over the past few months, Republican, Democratic and independent candidates have unfurled a flurry of signs, mailers, bumper stickers and buttons across the state.

Look a little closer, and you can see not all campaign material is created equal. Some have a small label — a made-in-New Hampshire mark, or a symbol showing they’re union-made.

The miniature markings may not be noticeable to most. But the meaning behind them can speak to a campaign’s priorities.

Some campaigns seek materials made strictly in New Hampshire. Many Democratic candidates, who traditionally count unions as political allies and backers, look for companies that use union labor, party operatives said.

“As far back as I can remember, Democrats have largely used union shops as a source for printing,” said Richard Sigel, a senior adviser at McLane GPS and former chief of staff for Gov. John Lynch.

Being a union shop can attract political business, especially among Democrats who are looking specifically for the union-made stamp, known as a bug, said Christopher Biron, an account manager at Keystone Press, a union shop in Manchester. This year, even some Republican candidates sought it, he said.

“A lot of people come to you and just need that from you,” Biron said. “To the actual person purchasing it, it shows ... they support unions, and voters can support that.”

Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, a Concord Democrat, said he didn’t purchase much print material this campaign cycle, but when he did, he sourced it to union shops.

“I think that is important to show support for folks in organized labor who have been supportive of my campaign,” he said. It also reinforces the message, he added.

“When you are talking about the importance of minimum wage, making sure people have access to affordable health care, making decisions about vendors that are consistent with that is important,” Van Ostern said.

Michelle Robbins operates a union printing shop, B&B Printing, in Somersworth, N.H. She has been in business for four years. “The campaigns rally around small shops and union shops,” she said.

But sometimes the emphasis on union work can lead campaigns to spend out of state.

In the list of priorities, union labor comes first, cost comes second and producing in-state can come in last because a lot of materials aren’t easily available in New Hampshire, one Democratic operative said.

In the governor’s race — which focused heavily on growing the economy in New Hampshire — both candidates in the general election spent in state and out of state on materials.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan’s campaign spent nearly $10,000 on “printing” in New Hampshire and Massachusetts, according to campaign financial reports filed with the Secretary of State before the election. Both companies listed in the report are union shops.

Hassan’s campaign spent about $6,800 at B&B Printing and $2,600 on “printing” at Journeyman Press in Newburyport, Mass. (The campaign doesn’t specify the expenditure beyond printing — for example, whether it was mailers or signs.)

When asked about how the Hassan campaign decided to spend its money, spokesman Aaron Jacobs didn’t offer any insight on the in-state and out-of-state spending: “Our campaign worked carefully to allocate resources to maximize getting our messaging out to voters about Governor Hassan’s efforts to work across party lines to solve problems and move New Hampshire forward.”

The campaign for Hassan’s Republican challenger, Walt Havenstein, spent about $107,000 on printing, yard signs, production and postage, according to financial reports filed before Tuesday’s election. Nearly $80,000 went to Florida-based Majority Strategies for printing.

The campaign spent the remaining $27,000 at New Hampshire-based companies Spectrum Marketing and SCM Associates on signs, printing and other campaign materials.

The Havenstein campaign tried to source the work to New Hampshire-connected companies as much as possible, said spokesman Henry Goodwin.

Although Majority Strategies isn’t in New Hampshire, Goodwin said, one of the company’s principals is a former New Hampshire state director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign.

“Walt wouldn’t have wanted to use an outside firm when there was a New Hampshire firm who could do the same work,” Goodwin said. “As much as possible, we tried to use New Hampshire firms.”

But, he added, the campaign “had to do it in the confines of trying to win an election.”

Oftentimes, cost is a big factor in a campaign’s decision of where to buy and source materials, Biron said.

Some customers, for example, he said, have come in looking for something made completely in the United States, like a T-shirt printed with their campaign logo. When he gives them the price, they balk.

“They say ‘Oh, OK, what other shirts do you have?’ It is important in the beginning,” Biron said. “But then I think price definitely takes over.”

But Biron thinks campaigns could do a better job of sourcing to New Hampshire.

“I think the market could have supported more in New Hampshire,” he said.

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