Christopher Hanks – takeaways
- An email list is a very effective fundraising tool
- Sending emails every day keeps your IPs warm
- A big part of our strategy is the second screen.
- If I have a 10,000 person email list, and 1,000 people are opening my emails, I have a 1,000 person email list
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Doug: Well, welcome back listeners. Today I've got a real special guest. I've got Christopher Hanks and Christopher is joining us from Washington. He is a senior digital strategist at National Media. He has more than eight years experience in the digital space and extensive experience in email digital advertising social media outreach for political and advocacy campaigns. As a senior strategist, Christopher works directly with the clients to ensure that they have a workable strategy and that all the appropriate benchmarks are met and set throughout the implementation.
His responsibilities include the day to day operations of the data management, analysis, social media, strategy, monitoring, email strategy and deliverability, website design and development as well as monitoring the analytics and including all the reports and recommendations for his clients. During and after the political cycle, he's also responsible for finding and acquiring new business opportunities for the firm. He does this by drawing on his personal relationships, as well as target outreach.
He's directly responsible for formulating and implementing the overall online political strategy for multiple state-wide political campaigns in the 2014 cycle, including Rick Scott for governor in Florida, Corey Gardner for Senate in Colorado, and he was also responsible for many other clients in the state congress level.
During his time with the company, clients under his direct control raised about 5.7 million dollars, so I suggest you listen real close as you can learn from Christopher as many tactics, email, email marketing and automation. Welcome to the show.
Christopher: Doug, thanks so much for having me. I'm a big fan.
Doug: Thanks so much, and is there anything I missed, or anything else you'd like to share before we get going here?
Christopher: No, I've been in politics … it's been a passion of mine since I was a kid. Like most Americans, I grew up watching The West Wing, loved it, went to law school, figured that wasn't the path for me, and moved out here to Washington, D.C. and since my first job in politics, I knew this is exactly what I wanted to do.
Doug: That's really cool. I mean, we need lots of good people in that space.
Doug: In terms of your background, your experience, we talked a little bit before I got you on the show here and you said you were a big fan of email and email automation and marketing automation. Do you want to share with us kind of what directions you're taking in that space?
Christopher: It is. I've been doing email deliverability for a long time. Email deliverability is not exactly a sexy subject, especially in politics where there are so many cool, new, different things that we can do. It's incredibly important, it's a great way to contact people not just for raising money, but for getting your name out there, talking to your audience, motivating your audience to go to the polls.
My belief in automation just sort of comes out of my own personal life. I've got multiple Amazon Echoes and Alexas sitting around my house. My lights are all on timers. I believe the more that I can do the work now, set it to run, and just let the program take over, the better quality of content you get, the more you're hitting your people without you having to draft another email, and especially in politics, the approval process … my clients are very nimble, and they're all very good. There was a famous story about Mitt Romney's campaign that 24 people needed to see every tweet that went out.
Obviously, they couldn't respond in a quick fashion to anything that happens. If I can get the campaign to approve it and maybe make some minor tweaks to each new one, and just set it to go out on a four, five different paths, I'm going to keep my people engaged, and also more importantly, the under-looked value in your IP and keeping your IP warm is sending out the volume every day.
There are some days when you don't have anything to say, and so this keeps everything fresh, keeps Gmail and Yahoo and Hotmail seeing your emails hitting your servers, and not getting rejected, and helps your overall deliverability because that is the most important part. If I have a 10,000 person email list, and 1,000 people are opening my emails, I have a 1,000 person email list.
Doug: That's right. Yeah, absolutely.
Christopher: Unopened email is a lost chance, and if someone hasn't opened the last five emails frankly is useless. Let's stop sending to them because all of the ESPs are also seeing these emails go unopened, and they think it's spam.
Doug: Yeah. Would you take that data out of your system and then maybe use re-marketing or re-targeting, or some other way to re-engage them to get them to re-opt in, or would you just destroy the data?
Christopher: No, I never like destroying the data, but yeah, marketing is a good way to do it. Speaking of automation, in my system I have … if you haven't opened my last six emails, maybe seven, if you haven't opened it, you're kicked into a four email circus league with the last one being just me saying, “Hey, I'm just going to remove you. If you don't want to hear from me, that's fine.” Obviously, I use much better language.
We have a copywriter here who saves me every day. That's the gist of the email. To just let them know, hey listen, I don't want to keep bugging you, so let's just end this here. If you want to re-opt in, click here. At least they are opening or clicking some of the things. You'd be surprised how many I get of people who open that email we'd probably get 30% who actually re-opt in and go back into the active file.
Doug: Fair enough. I mean, I've received emails like that before, and I've just been busy or been away, and if it's not mission critical to the business I don't open them. Then, I get the “Hey, if you don't open the next email, we're just going to remove you.” I was like, “No, no. I like your stuff, I just haven't had time for you today.”
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Doug: In terms of technology, you said you're a big fan of automation. Any tips you want to share in terms of the technology that you're comfortable with and like to use for your automation?
Christopher: I do. I have two really good tips here. The first one is more under the technical [inaudible 00:06:23]. There are a lot of good systems out there that focus just on this automation. I don't have a particular favorite one, but you've got Autopilot HQ … all systems that really can focus on this one area, they have very clean layouts, I can build it like a diagram flowing down. If this person opens, I want them to get this email, and if they don't open, I want you to resend it to this person in 72 hours, etc.
My only problem with those systems is that they are outside of our main email system. Let's say for Canada X, I've got canadianx.com is the domain for the website, and is what the internal staff is using for their email. I've then got canadax.org, which is what I use to send blast emails from.
Christopher: If something goes wrong, I don't want it to impact everyone else's delivery. If it's E-sense, AutoPilot is outside of that main email system, I then have to use canadax.net … another third party. Once people complete flows, and then I've then got to put them back into my main email systems, then you've got multiple domains floating around, and people can get lost, and you can run into issues because the ESP is saying all these emails come from canadax.net, and then it's from .org. They don't know what to do.
Christopher: It gets very complicated, very easy. If you can find a good email system that incorporates the automation in a good layout, and also can get your other email delivered, that is the best that you can possibly do.
Doug: In terms of your marketing success, then, I mean you said you've worked on a number of campaigns, and in addition to that, you work with private clients. What would you say is your biggest success that you want to share with us?
Christopher: My biggest successes will probably be Corey Gardner and Rick Scott. I do need to temper that with … it is easy to sell widgets when the widgets are well-made and what people are buying. It was easy for me to have success with Rick Scott and Corey Gardner because both of those were tremendous candidates. Very good people, talking about the right issues to the right voters. I would love to say that Corey Gardner's winning is because of me. He is not. I am where I am because of Corey Gardner. Corey Gardner was an easy candidate to sell.
Probably my two favorite candidates would be Rick Scott and Corey Gardner, both doing very well, both really good guys. They are also the candidates that were early adopters of email, saw how important it was, and were willing to invest in it, and invest in us, invest in clean [inaudible 00:08:54] generation, not buying lists, which is not happening much anymore. He was all the vogue in 2010 of everybody buying voter lists with matched emails. It just never works.
There is a very limited set of circumstances where I will recommend a client to buy a list. The best successes I have are clients who have understood the importance of email, invested in us, and invested in the program, and by the end of their election cycles, reap the results.
Doug: You also wrap all the rest of that around just the email in terms of the websites and deliverability and web analytics and all the social media pieces that support that.
Christopher: Absolutely. It's all part of one large machine.
I have had people tell me that email is dead in an email. I had to point it out to that person that you just said this in an email that we're all talking on.
Doug: It makes sense, I think often people talk about email and they say, “Email doesn't work,” or, “Email is dead,” or “Email is outdated,” I try to say that it's not just about email. Email is just one tactic that social media and all the rest of the stuff … it's a package. If you use them together, you'll get a way better result than trying to pick one and just focus just on Instagram, or just on whatever-
Christopher: Absolutely. I've had people tell me that email is dead in an email.
Doug: That's funny.
Christopher: I had to point it out to that person that you just said this in an email that we're all talking on.
Doug: So, I'm going to pretend that I didn't get it so I don't need to ask you [crosstalk 00:10:14]. What are you most excited about today as it relates to marketing and marketing automation, say over the next six to 12 months?
Christopher: I started in digital stuff in 2007, with a very good firm. Although in 2007, and especially on a Republican side, digital was kind of new. We really had to get beyond the old guard of traditional media, TV advertising, and direct mail people. Obviously, that has changed, and I think I am most excited right now about rather than having everything else, and then digital off to the side … the new model for winning campaigns are that digital hits everything. It hits your TV strategy, it hits your fundraising strategy, it hits you get out to vote strategy. Just have everything incorporated. Everybody says, “See you at the table,” but digital is one of the more critical parts of your campaign, and campaigns on the right hand or left, really 100% get it now. It is no longer an afterthought.
Doug: As a Canadian, we've watched the American campaigns run with a lot of interest. To be honest, we are just laggers here. The political guys that we work with, even though they're on the right side, they're just slow to adapt and they're still doing things old school. We were looking at the millennials and the younger generation coming up, they're just simply not looking at the free newspapers that show up at the doorstep, if it shows on the doorstep, and they're not watching TV.
Christopher: Absolutely. My wife and I, we watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade yesterday, and it was the first time that we had watched actual live TV in probably six months. Everything is on Netflix, and Amazon Prime. We were blown away by how little we miss all of the commercials, and to have those cut out of your campaign … I'm in Northern Virginia here, right outside of Washington, D.C. … we just had a very large campaign for governor that went through.
The TV ads, especially up here in this contested area were absolute nonstop; All people were talking about because every other commercial would be a political commercial for one side or the other. Other than watching them on TV, I didn't see any of them.
Christopher: If you were trying to hit me, the TV ad wouldn't have done it. I got stuff online, I got stuff in email … I was [inaudible 00:12:38] with email, but at least I was reading it.
Doug: Yeah, fear nothing. Often if we are watching something on TV, I've got my laptop, and I'm updating some social media, or I'm doing something else online. I might even have a headset on.
Christopher: the Second screen.
Christopher: Second screen, oh yeah. A big part of our strategy is the second screen.
Doug: That's really cool.
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Doug: What advice would you give people that are looking to expand what they're doing in email? You're talking about automation and the tracking. You're running a much more sophisticated system than most people I know because we're not normally running multiple domains.
Christopher: The best advice I could give you, give anybody ... and I think this actually fits for a lot of marketing in and of itself, is that there are no shortcuts. There are no shortcuts in acquiring a list, and building a list. You could try doing it with buying a list, and you will pay the price because your deliverability will be really bad.
Same with all of these different automation programs that I do. A large part of what I do is lead generation. If you go on Facebook, and you sign a petition on the Second Amendment, and you're put into my email system, you go immediately into the first workflow, which is about the Second Amendment because that is an issue that I know you care about.
Doug: Right, that makes sense.
Christopher: That gets complicated because you have four or five petitions going right now, and you just have all of this content you need to create. It is a huge pain for everybody to have to do, but try to stay away from the idea of using merge times. So, it's like, “Hello (insert first name), I know that you care about (insert issue name here),” for everybody because not only are those merge times going to start throwing up spam flags for you, it reads inauthentic.
You need to put in the time to really write that content and make the person care about it. Friday at 5 p.m., the last thing I want to do is write three more emails, but I know that in the long-term, I'm going to get a much better list of people who are opening my emails or reacting to my emails, and then donating than I will otherwise.
Doug: Absolutely. I like your comment, “No shortcuts,” I'm-
Christopher: No shortcuts. I wish there were.
Doug: You talk about automation, so I wouldn't consider myself a lazy person. I try to automate what I can and be efficient, but that doesn't mean that I'm trying to take a shortcut.
Doug: I just finished reading a book by an author named Jeff Olson called, “The Slight Edge,” and I really liked it because it supports a number of ways that I work in my business, and I look after my health and fitness. He basically says the slight edge is just doing the little things every day. Over a period of time, they'll accumulate, and you'll get the results.
That's exactly what I think you're talking about with your email … just doing the little things every day, doing a little bit more personalization, putting the time in, and over a longer period of time when you're trying to get your candidate elected, or you're trying to sell your product of your service to somebody, that will help you to win.
Christopher: Absolutely. It will help you, and also help you to get donations, which is the big thing that we talk about in email marketing. Email is a very effective communication tool, but if it's used right, it can be a very effective fundraising tool. That can be attested to by Bernie Sanders, that can be attested to by Donald Trump, by Hilary Clinton. All those campaigns used emails … the leveraged email to raise a lot of money. A lot of money.
Social aside, I mean Donald Trump broke a mold in raising money on Facebook, but he still used email as a key component of his fundraising operation.
Doug: Maybe that might be a suggestion, then, for his fundraising in the future. His Twitter feed gets lots of comments-
Christopher: It does.
Doug: They should have a “Donate Here” button for The Donald.
Christopher: Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Although, technically now that he's the President of the United States, it's the President's Twitter feed, and so it's harder to fundraise off of that. I'm sure they will start a Donald Trump re-election campaign Twitter feed for that exact thing.
The other tip that I would give anybody who wants to do any kind of email is to sign up for a lot of different email lists. Personally on my end, I right and left, I sign up for different email lists, I give a lot of $2.00 donations to a lot of organizations so that I can see what they're sending their donors.
On the left, I would say Elizabeth Warren is doing the best in terms of emails. If you read her emails, she sort of goes against the flow. You've got organizations that do very short chipped, “We need your help right now. Right now you've got to help out, the sky is falling.” Elizabeth Warren's are text heavy, they're very policy heavy, with a small donate button at the bottom. She does such a good job, and she's so authentic and you can tell that she's written it. She raises a lot of money off of her email list.
Doug: That's really cool. You did mention one things in terms of not purchasing data. I understand the not purchasing data, and one of the … I don't want to use the word “shortcut,” but I guess that's really what it is. One of the ways that I found to grow a list very quickly sometimes is to rent data from a third party-
Doug: They're really endorsing you and then move them to your list.
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Doug: Have you had any experience in that space?
Christopher: Yes, I do that a lot, and I don't consider that a shortcut because with a good rented email list that is worth the money that they charge, it's just someone else doing the work, it's not you. These lists were built up over a long period of time, they're communicated with other content, so when yours come through people know the name that it's coming from, and they're reading it.
There are a lot of lists. Renting lists have been around as long as I have. It sort of became a vogue in the Republican cycle after Mitt Romney's campaign, when you had the Romney list. It was called “The Romney List,” and it was this sort of list of mythic proportions that you could rent from the firm that did his digital. You could geo-target it by states, you could geo-target it by district, down to the zip code level if you wanted, although it was hard to get volume unless you were looking at New York.
Renting lists, if it's the right list, can be done very well. The thing I always get nervous about with lead generation … if I do a Facebook petition, I can tell in 24 hours whether it's working or not. By then, if its spent $200.00, I can just shut it off and move on to the next thing. With email rentals, you have to invest and see if it works. If it doesn't then you gotta move on to the next thing, but it can get very expensive very quickly.
That's why if you want to rent a list, I would say even before you reach out, try to find a way to join the list and see what they're sending. See how often they're sending. See where it's landing in your Gmail inbox. If it's landing in the Promotions folder, then that's not the end of the world. If it's landing in your Spam folder, it's certainly not anything you want to pay to get into.
Doug: Yeah, fair comment. I had Kevin Harrington on the show I guess a couple of episodes ago, and he talked about using Facebook now to pre-test their infomercials, and how effective and how quick they got the data and turn around before they invested going into full production.
Christopher: Absolutely. You can tell very quickly … now, the last caveat I'll give on that is Facebook can be an extremely good [inaudible 00:19:35] to option, but you are … you have to remember that it's still a closed community. If you only use Facebook, then only people you would get our Facebook fans. You still need to branch out into other avenues together, and not everybody is on Facebook.
Doug: Fair comment. I've also found that by going other avenues that you've got a lot more flexibility in terms of content. It's not as heavily scrutinized because if you send an email to somebody, or you're on a different platform, there's not the mechanism for someone to say, “I don't like this ad,” or you can say, “I don't like this ad on Facebook,” you get a few of those, and pretty soon you go to your campaign and your campaign [crosstalk 00:20:09] has been shut off.
Christopher: Yeah, I agree.
Doug: A different topic because you're in this space, where are you in terms of influence or marketing?
Christopher: Influence or marketing, if it can be done correctly is very, very, very useful. In the political space, I will say that when we are reaching out to influencers, it's not me doing it. It is the campaign manager, it is the campaign's communications director because that gets into an area of speaking for the campaign, which is not something I do.
When I draft an email, I would never send it without the campaign itself reviewing and saying, “Okay, we agree with this, and we're comfortable saying this,” because if I say something wrong, the press isn't going to call me, they're going to call the campaign.
Doug: That's right.
Christopher: We use a lot of influencer stuff, but when we do it, I don't reach out on my end. They reach out on their end, and then I coordinate and say, “Do you have an email list? Are you comfortable writing an email to our list,” etc? Influencer … marketing in that way. If you're talking of the sort of the other side of the coin, which is going onto Twitter and finding everybody who has 10,000 followers and tweets about politics all the time are [inaudible 00:21:20].
That is also something that can be very good, but again, that's more of a Com's position. I would want the communications director to reach out to that person and try to influence and talk to them and get them to re-tweet our stuff.
Doug: Fair enough. That's what I was thinking, it was more along the lines of contacting people who are going to share your view. They're going to give a shout out to their community because it seems today, in terms of what we've tried and measured and what we're seeing the results for is we're getting a lot more lift because it's almost taken as a third … a third-party endorsement, it's like getting editorial. It's like free press.
Christopher: It is like getting free press. Free lift.
Doug: Free lift. So, what other advice would you give people that are willing to step up their game? You've got a whole ton of experience, and you're in a very tough space. I think you're in a tough space … the political side, and you're under the microscope probably more than any other.
Christopher: The thing that worked best for me, I used to have a large problem with sort of moving too fast. Politics is high pressure, and it's especially when you're a month away from an election and it is go, go, go. This needs to get out the door right now. This may seem kind of intuitive. The best advice I could give someone is A, learn and then learn how to meditate. Meditation has helped me just sort of slow down my thinking because when you move too fast, that's when mistakes get made.
Doug: That would be a fair comment.
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Doug: I'm part of a group online, and it's called Influencers Only, and it's a group of email guys.
Christopher: I'm aware of it.
Doug: Okay, we get to see some really good examples of big brands that may have pulled the trigger too quick, and the email goes out and they didn't test it, so they didn't know what it was going to display like. You get it, and it's just an absolute nightmare.
Christopher: The only reason I like Mail Chimp, personally, I remember using Mail Chimp, and I think they still do it, although I haven't used Mail Chimp in a while, is right before you send an email, it shows a sweaty hand over a red button. They understand how concerning that can be, and what that … as soon as I hit this button, 15,000 people are going to see this email.
Doug: That's funny.
Christopher: It does, it happens, and there's no calling it back. It's a bone-headed move. You see that in Influencers Only. The [inaudible 00:23:36] are Coca-Cola and Walmart, these are large companies that are making these mistakes. It's not the sexiest of advice, but if you can take 10 minutes in the morning to meditate, I have found that has made a large impact on my day to day workflow.
Doug: That's really cool. You just gotta find what works for you. I like to hit the gym because I just chill, and it's just all that work, and I don't have time to think of anything else other than, “Am I gonna survive this?” I need to breathe, I can't breathe, I can't breathe, I can't breathe.
Christopher: Yes. I used to love the gym, but I have a one-year-old daughter. My days at the gym are suspended for a little while.
Doug: For a little while.
Doug: I had the good fortune of my daughter inviting me to go with her. It was a bring a parent, and she belongs to a gym that's a women's only gym, so it was a boxing class. It was funny seeing a whole bunch of dads in there with their daughters in a boxing class.
Christopher: That's great. I love boxing as a workout.
Doug: Moving forward and talking about other stuff that you're doing … you spend a lot of your time, or most of your time, in political side. Are there any other types of industries that you work in that you enjoy, and that you've had success in?
Christopher: Nothing formal that I've done. I have friends who are authors and stuff, publishing authors. I am very interested in watching the self-publishing movement that's taking the [inaudible 00:24:47], especially on places like Amazon, and I have tried to help a lot of them on a pro bono basis. This is how you break into the field, these are the trends to watch, this is how you learn keyword placement on Amazon.
I am fascinated by that, I am sure at some point I will write a horrible book that I will put up on Amazon and sell 15 copies of, but I think it's absolutely amazing the number of gatekeepers that have been sort of tossed aside by the growth in digital. I think that's also a really good way for people to learn. There's so many self-help stuff out there for learning email, and learning how to write a book and market a book that for someone that can do that well, and write the same book, the sky is the limit.
Doug: I've heard Amazon described as a search in with people that have credit cards.
Christopher: Yes. That's a good idea, that's a good description.
Doug: The way that I have just gone through and written these two books, was I used a third party. It's a group in Los Angeles, and they have basically three models, do it yourself, hack it out there, hire a ghostwriter, which often loses your personality and your style, and then there's the third process which I used, which was the hybrid.
It's basically preparing our outline, work with their branding guide, do your research, prepare your outline and then each chapter you prepare as an [inaudible 00:26:09], you get on the phone with their writer, and you basically present it. At the end, they ask you questions and soon enough you got 10, 12, 14 chapters done, and you've actually written a book.
Christopher: That's a good idea. I think I might try that. I might steal that from you. Just as the concept of rather than sort of write out this novel, but fare it as a Ted Talk. Yeah, I'm going to put on a headset and walk around in a turtleneck and hammer it out. That's a good idea.
Doug: Yeah, and just get a buddy on the other end of the phone that can ask you some questions. Someone who maybe doesn't know your space intimately, so you've got more of a lay person giving you some feedback. I know when I was going through my email book, and I'm talking about spam filters and spam traps, she's going to go, “What's that?”
Doug: Right, not everybody knows what that is.
Doug: I'm looking forward to walking you through that process. I'll be happy to share any of those details with you. Speaking of sharing details, who is one guest that you think I should have on the show?
Christopher: Here's the problem, the guests that I could think of are my competitors in the space. I don't want to give them the same platform that I do.
Christopher: I can think of a lot of names, but they are all going after the same pool of clients I am.
Doug: Okay, so we're not going to do that. Where can people find you?
Christopher: I can be found on LinkedIn. I'm pretty active there. It's linkedin.com/christopermhanks. I'm also on Twitter, you can find that on my LinkedIn profile, but I would encourage anybody to go there and ask me any questions you might have, no matter how weird, how odd, how off the wall. I love helping people out. I know I just said that about my competitors, but for someone who is not in the political space, I love giving people advice and just things I have learned because I had a lot of people help me on my way up. I want to give back and get more people involved in this industry.
Doug: That's really cool. I would love to learn more because we certainly in Canada need some help, take a page from you guys in terms of how you communicate with your audience through email, raise money and get the right people elected.
Christopher: Yeah, I appreciate that.
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Doug: Thanks so much for your time. We'll close it off today. We've had Christopher Hanks sharing with us some great insight on email marketing, automation and talking a little bit about politics. Check the show notes, we'll have all of Christopher's information, I'll make sure I've got the link to his LinkedIn and his Twitter account there. I would say, take advantage of the offer he made.
If you've got a question if you want to learn more about marketing in the political space, or have a general question, reach out to him. Thanks so much, Christopher.
Christopher: Doug, thank you so much. This has been a blast.
- Christopher Hanks on LinkedIn
- Christopher Hanks is a Senior Digital Strategist. He is directly responsible for developing and implementing the online political strategy for several statewide political campaigns. His responsibilities also include data management, online fundraising, email planning, content creation, ensuring email deliverability to mass audiences, and social media strategy.
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An email list is a very effective fundraising tool.
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