Deborah Honeycutt, BMW Direct, and a misunderstanding of direct mail programs

A lot of Democrats are making a big deal out of this. Any conservative who has ever done a direct mail program is reading all the reports and scratching their head wondering what the big deal is.

In fact, the only reason this is somewhat of a story is because the FEC has required a change in accounting methodology that now deepens the disclosure requirements and lays out every aspect of the direct mail program. In the past, some aspects of the direct mail programs were not fully disclosed and no flags were raised for people who don’t know what they are talking about to raise.

Here’s the deal:

Deborah Honeycutt, the GOP candidate in GA-13 against Congressman David Scott, and every other person who engages in a direct mail program absolutely knows going into it that it is going to be a short term loser. However, in the long term, direct mail pays off.

In a direct mail program, you send out a massive amount of mail, get very few responses, send a second massive wave of mail, get very few responses, send a third massive wave of mail, get very few responses, and then start sending very targeted mail that gets you a great deal of money.

It is a systematic process of building a reliable house file of donors who are worth their weight in gold.

But it is initially expensive.

In the process of the few initial mass mail pieces, you are testing messages to see what resonates with various constituencies.

Over time, you have a pool of people who can regularly be mailed who will send you back a few bucks that will (1) pay for the mail and (2) give you extra to build your cash on hand.

And the GOP has been doing it for many, many, many years to great, great success — more so than the Democrats have ever been able to do. That it is mostly Democrats writing about this is no surprise, they aren’t used to the pattern.

Generally though, it works.

Now, in this particular case, I do think Honeycutt is misspending her money.

First, she probably will not beat David Scott. The demographics are not there for her in that district, particularly with Obama at the top of the ballot.

Second, first time candidates should rarely do direct mail unless they are running as ideologically partisan candidates. Honeycutt can’t really do that because of the district demographics. She does not meet the profile of someone who can have a successful direct mail program. Herman Cain? Yes. Jesse Helms? Yes. Paul Broun? Yes. Cynthia McKinney? Yes. Deborah Honeycutt? No.

Third, It is much more difficult for candidates like Honeycutt in elections like this one to run on the “clean up government” direct mail bandwagon. Republicans are already perceived by the electorate as corrupt. Sure, she is running against a corrupt Democrat, but the GOP is not seen as the house cleaning party right now. And Honeycutt, not being a known commodity, will be more closely equated with her party than her positions by anyone reading her direct mail.

All that said, this has much more to do with Talking Points Memo (TPM) trying to create a negative narrative against BMW Direct. The company is a good mail house. It has a great track record with candidates. It is terrific at raising money. The best way to destroy its reputation is to push into the mainstream media the narrative that BMW Direct takes advantage of its clients and milks them for all they’re worth.

That’s not true of BMW Direct, nor is it true of direct mail programs. But superficially it is very easy to make it look that way when people have no clue how direct mail works.

Don’t think Honeycutt is really the target of these stories, though the local Georgia press has picked it up that way. This story is about attacking GOP direct mail vendors and Honeycutt is just the latest victim in the story.