I just got phone banked by one of the numerous statewide campaigns in Virginia. I won’t reveal the name of the candidate, but the phone banker on the other end interrupted me at a peaceful time. I did not enjoy that.
Here I am, posted up on the second floor of the Good Stuff Eatery on Capitol Hill. My usual Capitol Hill office is the second floor of Cosi for sentimental reasons and for sophisticated jazz music. However, tonight, I went next door due to a desire to listen to 1970′s rock music, which Good Stuff Eatery provides from time to time. Fleetwood Mac, John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Petty, et al provide the foundation of my DC soundtrack along with the go-go music unique to the DMV. Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” would be my proverbial “desert island” DC album, but DC’s greatest rapper Wale’s “More About Nothing” mixtape would be a fierce competitor.
I just scarfed down a greasy melt and onion petals. I run and lift weights constantly so the occasional unhealthy fare does nothing for me. I am sitting on a padded bench against the wall with my feet propped up on the chair in front of me. I opened my MacBook to submit proposals and price quotes to prospective clients. ESPN Sportscenter is on the flat panel television in front of me. I am wearing a suit, tie, pocket square, VA flag pin, and gold jewelry.
Life is good and it can only get better.
Then, all of a sudden, my phone rang. I saw a (540) area code on the caller identification. Who could it be? It could be anybody from Stafford County to the Shenandoah Valley to (gasp!) that insane asylum called Western Loudoun County. Yet, I pick up the phone since cellular technology can not pinpoint the true origin of a call based on an area code.
The caller on the other end read from a script without letting me say “hello.” His reading skills and pronunciation skills were perfect. He sounded like a robocall. My peaceful, tranquil Capitol Hill office has been disturbed and I was perturbed.
I listened for the next 30 seconds as the caller outlined the reasons why his candidate is running and all the initiatives his candidate would promote in office. The caller concluded by asking me if he can count on my support and vote at the RPV Convention.
Several questions flowed through my mind in split seconds.
- Who is this guy?
- Why should I care?
- Can’t campaigns think of more creative ways to reach people and bank votes instead of phone banking and door knocking?
- What makes him think that a total stranger over the phone will convince the recipient of an unwelcome phone call to vote for his guy?
- Is this guy and his boss ever concerned that phone bankers can come across as scammers over the phone?
- Did this guy think I was gullible enough to commit to voting for his guy based on a superficial 30 second elevator speech from a total stranger?
- Why did this guy start talking and never even pause to give me a chance to say “hello” back?
When given the chance to speak 30 seconds later, I asked the guy, “do you want a tip?” He was taken aback. This was not how his script was written.
I said, “try to engage the caller because you just sounded like a robocall.” He said, “oh, ok, thanks, so can [name redacted] count on your support?” I said, “I have been where you have been before. I have worked in this business for far too long. You can’t even begin to comprehend.” I was so tempted to say, “do you know who I am?!” Haha. I continued, “[name redacted] and I are on a first name basis. He knows what I think. I don’t need to tell you.”
The caller said, “great, so can you tell me if [name redacted] can count on your support?” Frustrated, I hung up. I attempt to recreate the peace I had on Capitol Hill that was so intrusively disrupted. (Yes, I do notice the irony of hanging out on Capitol Hill and complaining about political hacks!)
Political candidates, staffers, and activists; listen to me. As a recovering political hack who broke out of the political bubble to experience a semblance of real life (A political colleague of mine on the same boat calls us “The Walking Dead.”), I have discovered living on the other side of the phone and the door that our campaign tactics are rude, intrusive, annoying, bothersome, condescending, and selfish. Do not call me and disrupt my dinner unless you are a friend because only friends can interrupt me anytime without repercussions. Worse, do not knock on my door and force me to walk all the way from my home office to the door only to discover that a total stranger with an elevator speech is trolling for votes. Where I grew up, we would not even think about opening the door to total strangers due to the crime and home invasions that were going around.
As I wrap up this soliloquy, a song by the King, Michael Jackson, came on at Good Stuff Eatery that best sums up the people’s declarations against phone bankers and door knockers…”Beat It.”
It is 2013. The private sector continues to innovate rapidly, yet campaigns are still using 20th century strategies of outreach. Businesses today have long given up on cold calling and door-to-door selling to make sales. Yet, political campaigns and the politicians themselves still have an inordinate amount of fun cold calling people and selling door-to-door. Most people do not appreciate it and it shows up with great frequency on the campaign data reports as “not home” or “refused.” Think of better ideas for outreach, please.