Granny Flats – The Abstract


In early 2019, it was clear that the Raleigh City Council was approaching a watershed moment. The incumbent, popular mayor decided against reelection. Numerous, serious candidates were creating committees and beginning to fundraise.

Our client, the Triangle Government Alliance, conducted a poll to take the temperature of the electorate. It was clear that, though the council as a whole was rather popular, a plurality of voters thought it was time for new faces to represent them. We combined intuition about existing controversies and, informed by data, created a grassroots campaign to influence the election. Briefly, here’s how we did it.

Granny Flats: A Digital Approach

The core of the campaign was centered around a satirical character named Granny Flats. Her name comes from a nickname for Accessory Dwelling Units, which are small buildings adjacent to homes usually occupied by mothers-in-law or short-term tenants.

An example of a Granny Flats social media graphic.

Granny’s character allowed us to poke fun at some of the more ridiculous issues and scandals in Raleigh politics, but it also made for a novel method to personify the issues that were important to voters. In a political environment where our messaging focused on the lack of interest incumbents had for their constituents, letting Granny ask “Does your voice matter?” made an impression.

Bolstered by a comprehensive social media plan, the Granny Flats account shared videos, articles and blog posts throughout the course of the campaign. All told, the Facebook page touched more than 60,000 Raleighites and her videos collected 20,000 views — all this in an election with barely 55,000 votes in the mayoral race.

Companion Mailers

While the digital campaign made a constant, broad impact, we also outlined, designed and mailed nearly a dozen different pieces of direct mail to highly targeted likely voters. These mailers worked in two, complementary ways: One, the negative mailers against two targeted incumbents, and two, positive mailers to boost preferred challengers.

One of the pieces of mail, directed against an incumbent councilor, stirred up controversy. The news coverage of the piece rebounded in our favor, as reporters parroted the claims made and were unable to refute them (because they were fact-based and cited the same newspapers as sources). Incumbents crowing about negative campaigning only reinforced the claims in the mailers, and drew attention to their own negatives.

The mail pieces largely fell in the last two weeks of the election, propelling our narrative into the last days of the election season and keeping momentum behind preferred candidates and away from the targeted incumbents.


The campaign was a clear success. Entering the election, our client hoped to flip two seats on the City Council. The final result: Three new councilors on City Council, including their preferred mayor and preferred candidate in an open seat. Additionally, their preferred incumbents were easily reelected. All told, only a single candidate opposed by our client won reelection.

We did this by setting a narrative early and maintaining it. The goal from the genesis of the campaign was to keep the incumbents on the defensive, fending off attacks and never gaining strong footing to promote their accomplishments. With this electoral victory, the makeup of the Raleigh City Council has shifted for the foreseeable future. In the next municipal cycle, instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars to flip seats, our client’s preferred candidates will have name recognition and incumbency advantage.

An early investment in the latest election will pay dividends for years to come.

You can read the full case study for this campaign here.

APT Case Study


One of the pervading themes in the Raleigh municipal elections for 2019 was the divide between those candidates interested in slowing growth and those interested in tackling the issue head-on. The Raleigh area sees a net growth rate of about 60 new people per day; it’s less a question of “How do we slow growth?” and more of “How can we be proactive and prepare for the growth that’s coming?” 

While traditional political actors were spending thousands of dollars in advertisements, spurred by political action committees, an opportunity presented itself to raise awareness about salient issues without being directly in the political fray. Thus, a 501(c)(4) was created: The Alliance for Progress in the Triangle, Inc. (APT). Its charter states the purpose:

The Alliance for Progress in the Triangle, Inc., is organized for the purpose of promoting the social welfare and public good of the citizens in the State of North Carolina, by:

Empowering local communities through education and advocacy focused on smart growth, sustainability, and progress in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina; and building a grassroots network of citizens to advocate for affordable housing, sustainable development, mass transit, and other issues important to local citizens

A portion of the money raised by the 501(c)(4) could be spent on political communications. The rest was left to administrative costs and to informing the public about pressing issues. APT focused its spending on three buckets: transportation, housing affordability and environmental stewardship.

Digital Assets

The hub of any digital campaign is its website. The APT website was simple and to the point. Its homepage described the purpose of the organization, relevant information about the entity and a form to contact the executive director.

On a separate tab, the website hosted information about the environment, including local stories that would be of particular interest to Triangle residents. The top of the page, to which all the digital advertisements linked, featured a call to action: 

Raleigh will be nearly 5° warmer by 2050. Tell City Council to act before it’s too late.

Below is a screenshot of the website’s environment page, including the CTA and a button to email the entire Raleigh City Council at once:

Below, the page featured articles about climate change, green policies and environmental stewardship more generally. Clicking anywhere on a box would send the user to the article:

APT also has a Facebook page, which was the central platform used to advertise. The Facebook page was very basic; it was not used for regular posting, only for running advertisements. The page could easily be revived for long-term use. A simple logo was commissioned to use for brand consistency and to ensure the ads were of high production value.

Ads for the Facebook page were divided into two categories: static and video. The four video ads featured APT’s Executive Director, Dustin Engelken, and were filmed in-house at his office. All post-production was done in-house as well, featuring the new logo and instrumental music:

For each of the video ads, a companion static ad was created as well. This allowed there to be a diversified ad placement while still keeping the message consistent. Some users will not stop to watch a video, so it’s key to ensure there are options for every audience type. These ads, along with the video ads, appeared on Facebook and Instagram.

These ads were created in-house. Each was placed on Facebook, along with the four video ads, targeted to Facebook users within Raleigh who were most likely to engage in content regarding the focus of each respective ad. For example, those who engaged with content about environmentalism were prioritized to receive ads about climate change and environmental stewardship. In addition, the website hosted a pixel, which means that those who click on the ads and visited the site were queued up for more ads in future. This lowers the cost of digital advertising by putting a string of code on the site and identifying users. Since repetition is an essential part of persuasive communications, this maximizes the chances that the same people are served the APT ads multiple times.

Traditional Media

In tandem with the digital advertisements, a traditional print media campaign was conducted as well. In working with McClatchy, APT placed two full-page, color ads in the Raleigh News & Observer, the paper of record in Raleigh. These ads allowed APT to make a splash in a format more likely to be seen by the donor class in Raleigh, and to continue building out the brand in an impressive way for a new entity.

The ad on the left appeared in Sunday, September 29th’s paper. The ad on the right appeared in Sunday, October 6th’s paper, two days before the election.

Final Thoughts

A social welfare organization can be quite limited in its capabilities, especially during election season. The Alliance for Progress in the Triangle is a wonderful case study in how to maximize what possibilities are available, especially when similar entities exist that are promoting political messaging that 501(c)(4)’s simply cannot replicate. 

Navigating an election with a social welfare organization can be tricky, but when done right, the results are hard to refute. In just three weeks leading up to the October 8 municipal elections, ads from APT racked up compelling numbers in an election where hardly 50,000 cast ballots:

Facebook + Instagram ads had over 488,000 impressions with a frequency of 3.51, meaning each person touched was served ads more than three times on average. 

Many people may have the impression that 501(c)(4)’s are too tricky to use effectively during election season, but that simply is not the case. APT is a testament to the profound impact that social welfare organizations can have when implemented correctly. All told, the APT campaign went from concept to completion in less than a month. The impact it had on the municipal elections far outweighs the cost in time and money.

In addition to the self-evident benefits of social welfare advocacy, the enthusiasm created in aligned parties made the project a fundraising boon. A percentage of the money raised by APT was transferred directly to a political advocacy group that could speak on electoral issues. In tandem with that campaign, the programs were a major force that resulted in the election of a new mayor, the defeat of three incumbent councilors, winning an open seat and returning endorsed incumbents back to City Hall. 

Granny Flats Case Study


Raleigh functions as a City Council, with seven councilors and one mayor. Two councilors are elected at-large, along with the mayor. The other five seats have discrete districts. In the at-large race, the top two vote-getters win the seats. Candidates must capture a majority or else the runner-up can request a runoff. In the mayoral and district races, that means 50% + 1. In the at-large, each of the top two need 25% + 1. 

Before moving forward, outlined below are the various players featured in the election, including incumbents and challengers:

Mayor<Open Seat>Mary-Ann Baldwin
Charles Francis
Caroline Sullivan
Zainab Baloch
Justin Sutton
George Knott
At-Large (two seats)Nicole StewartRuss StephensonJonathan Melton
James Bledsoe
Portia Rochelle
Carlie Spencer
District A<Open Seat>Patrick Buffkin
Joshua Bradley
Sam Hershey
District BDavid CoxBrian Fitzsimmons
District CCorey BranchShelia Alamin-Khashoggi
Wanda Hunter
Ricky Scott
District DKay CrowderSaige Martin
Brittany Bryan
April Parker
District EStef MendellDavid Knight

Though many chose to run, only a handful of the candidates listed above were serious, in the sense that they had an infrastructure, support within some faction of the community and financial means to compete. The competitive candidates included all the incumbents:

  • Nicole Stewart, first elected to an At-Large seat in 2017.
  • Russ Stephenson, first elected to an At-Large seat in 2005.
  • David Cox, first elected to his District B seat in 2015.
  • Corey Branch, first elected to his District C seat in 2015.
  • Kay Crowder, first appointed to her District D seat in 2014 after her husband resigned for health reasons.
  • Stef Mendell, first elected to her District E seat in 2017.

Every district had serious contenders. In the open races, the top candidates were:


  • Mary-Ann Baldwin, former At-Large councilor.
  • Charles Francis, attorney and former candidate for mayor in 2017.
  • Caroline Sullivan, former Wake County commissioner.

District A

  • Patrick Buffkin, a local attorney.
  • Sam Hershey, a local businessman.

Targeted Persuasion was hired to lead a campaign for an independent expenditure group called Triangle Government Alliance, which consists of various . IE groups cannot coordinate with political campaigns, so all of the work done on behalf of one candidate or against another was entirely unknown to the respective candidates until an advertisement made it online or a piece of direct mail was delivered to a postal address. 

Midway into 2019, our client, the Triangle Apartment Association, endorsed the following slate of candidates:

  • Mayor: Mary-Ann Baldwin
  • At-Large: Nicole Stewart & Jonathan Melton
  • District A: Patrick Buffkin
  • District B: Brian Fitzsimmons
  • District C: Corey Branch
  • District D: Saige Martin
  • District E: David Knight

In the 2019 municipal elections, Raleigh found itself at a crossroads. The popular, incumbent mayor declined to seek reelection. The incumbent council, earning the moniker of “The Council of No,” stood in direct opposition to many of the policy prescriptions that would allow Raleigh to maintain its growth from a sleepy town to the metropolitan center it is today. Early in the 2017 term, a faction of slow-growth councilors overtook the mayor’s prerogative to assign committee positions, offering a list of their own that quickly passed.

If the loss of control in that early vote was not enough, the City Council would continue to divide sharply over big-ticket items, often voting factionally. Though all incumbents, save the Independent mayor, were nominally Democrats, their true division fell on a different spectrum: NIMBYs and YIMBYs. The former, the slow-growth faction, were opposed to the urban development that is necessary for growing cities to house the scores of new residents who immigrate daily. The acronym stands for Not In My Backyard, the idea that the preservation of neighborhoods and character overtook the imperative to tackle issues before the city. NIMBY councilors included Stef Mendell, David Cox, Russ Stephenson, Kay Crowder and an occasional fifth councilor, Dickie Thompson, who declined to seek reelection.

On the other side were the YIMBYs, or Yes In My Backyard. This wing of voices proposes smart, dense growth. In lieu of urban sprawl, which pushes new residents into the suburbs and clogs transportation, they advocate for upzoning: increasing availability of housing in dense areas by building upwards. They’re already coming, so build it. The market principle is simple: as demand for housing increases, the only solution is to increase supply.

By the tail end of the 2017-19 council term, divisions between the NIMBY faction and the rest of the city council had only deepened. In a statement outlining her decision against seeking reelection, incumbent Mayor Nancy McFarlane said that, “We used to fight together for the things we cared about. Now it just seems like we fight with each other. The mean politics of Twitter and social media is painful when it’s about you or someone you love. This social disease has exploded since I first ran for city council in 2007. Raleigh politics could use a reset.”[

With the political environment as fractured as it had been before at the local level, and with no mayoral incumbent to throw around political weight, the Raleigh City Council seemed poised for change. The Triangle Apartment Association, a group advocating for the rental housing industry, hired Targeted Persuasion to implement a campaign strategy for their independent expenditure group, Triangle Government Alliance (TGA), to help effect that change. Here’s how we did it.

Informed by Data: Strategy and Building our Message

The two most outspoken NIMBYs on council leading up to the 2019 contest were David Cox, in District B, and Stef Mendell, in District E. Cox first won his seat in 2015, while Mendell had just won in 2017. The most recent elections, in 2017, were the clear starting point to gauge the relative strength of these target candidates.

Councilor Cox seemed to have a solid base of support. In 2015, he ousted incumbent John Odom 53-47. Odom sought his old seat again in 2017 and lost resoundingly, 68-32. Cox clearly shored up support and was entrenched.

Councilor Mendell presented a clearer opportunity for change. She captured her seat in 2017 by a razor-thin margin, upsetting the incumbent Bonner Gaylord, who ended election day with well over $100,000 in unspent campaign funds. With no candidate passing the 50% threshold, Gaylord was entitled to a runoff but declined. 

With these candidates in mind, we consulted polling data commissioned by TGA. The numbers showed clear room to message and reinforced the idea that 2019 was in fact a “change election.” Polling indicated that, while 53% of residents approved of the work done by city council, 43% thought it was time to elect new people to 33% saying all deserved reelection. 

Given the relative satisfaction with the council as a whole, we developed a messaging strategy to define Councilors Cox and Mendell, with a specific focus on the weaker incumbent, Mendell. While a loud minority of 33% fit well into the NIMBY category, and had their champions in Cox and Mendell, further analysis of polling showed clear room for movement: 

  • 49%, a plurality, would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supported higher density;
  • 75% would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supported walkable urban development;
  • 84% supported the construction of more housing that could be afforded by middle class families;
  • 77% supported the construction of more housing that could be afforded by low income families;

It became clear that, for wide sets of Raleigh voters, the policies enacted by the “Council of No” were anathema to the priorities they offered to pollsters. Given the anemic turnout of municipal elections, we set about creating a program that would revive interest and give voice to the issues we knew would resonate with voters after reviewing the data. A catchy and quirky character was developed: Granny Flats.

One of the issues facing Raleigh was, and is, housing affordability. The City Council implemented stringent regulation on the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units, also known as a granny flat. It’s a small building adjacent to the main house where family members, like a mother-in-law, might stay. Many people use the structures to bolster their income, renting them out over short amounts of time. This strict policy, which made construction of new granny flats nearly impossible, was a clear way for us to personify the issues.

We pulled together various options for how the character might behave, look and speak. It would be easy enough to go with what suited us and run with it but providing options to our client was paramount in our process. Opening a dialogue early and maintaining communication throughout the process built the relationship between consultant and client early in the campaign, which made more difficult decisions and quick turnaround possible when it really mattered in the fall.

It was important to make the character relatable for the people of Raleigh whom we hoped to persuade. We ensured that the character fit with the environment she was set to inhabit. After providing a menu of options to the client, we landed on a character outline and moved forward with recruiting an actress who could embody the figure. We were able to locate a local actress and put her on a monthly retainer, allowing us to film as often as needed to make quick, pithy videos and turn them around within a matter of hours.

After selecting the actress, we commissioned a photo shoot to ensure we would have plenty of options when going to produce content for social media. By securing enough photos for the entirety of the campaign, we were able to save money for our client and time for ourselves. Having a base level of photos also meant that we were able to record videos ourselves using equipment owned by Targeted Persuasion. This further reduced the cost to our client and increased the speed at which we could turn out new content in-house.

Using intuition and backing it by polling data, we crafted messaging and gave voice to the issues facing Raleigh. Granny Flats herself was able to speak on the issue of granny flats, housing affordability, transportation – anything that could help move the needle in the direction of our preferred candidates and put the opposition on the defensive.

Online Messaging

Speaking to voters in order to persuade them has become extremely cost-efficient via digital targeting. We can find voters based off of myriad characteristics, like proclivity to vote, political leaning, issues they find important – any indicators online that one may think, and vote, in a certain way. We sought to maximize every single dollar spent on advertising, to stretch every dollar as far as it would go.

One way to accomplish this was through retargeting. When visitors came to the Granny Flats sight, they were targeted by pixels inserted by our webmaster. That means that, after visiting the site one time, a viewer was exponentially more likely to be served our same ads next time they go to a different site or to Facebook. This accomplishes two goals at once. We lower the cost per ad, because the algorithm prioritizes visitors as opposed to targeting folks at random, and we increase the views per ad. Repetition is one of the most powerful tools a persuasive message can leverage. People need to see the same message half a dozen times before they really start paying attention; that’s the point after which you can truly start persuading.

The social media page for Granny Flats was built out as the easiest way to disseminate messaging. Posts linked to the Granny Flats blog site, which housed Granny’s thoughts on various issues facing Raleigh. Using the blog allowed us to frame issues in a way that benefited our message and reinforced the narrative we sought to build about Raleigh’s need for change. 

In building out the social media presence, we reached out to local influencers that were well known and respected and supported the same candidates we did. This helped us get the social media pages off the ground and into the conversation; without their help in sharing the messages from the beginning, it would have been far more difficult to build up Granny Flats’ credibility. We utilized the #ralpol hashtag on Twitter, which local politically interested people follow and contribute to. That meant Granny’s posts were always put squarely in front of influential people from Raleigh, including reporters. Once election day became closer, we prepared 10 different pieces of direct mail – more on that later. The negative mailers, three for Cox and three for Mendell, were launched in tandem with a digital strategy to ensure that more people saw them, and that people who did see them saw multiple iterations, on different platforms. Collectively, the digital ads had more than 100,000 impressions.

These ads were placed targeting likely voters in the districts of Councilor Mendell and Councilor Cox respectively. Each linked to the Granny Flats blog and had links to back up the claims made in the ads.

On the digital side, we continued rolling ads targeting the negative aspects of the incumbents, but we began pushing positive ads on Facebook that shared the TAA’s endorsements. This allowed TAA to tout their endorsements and continue building their profile as a political heavyweight in Raleigh politics. Every candidate with endorsement ads went on to win their election.

Mary-Ann Baldwin, Nicole Stewart, Saige Martin, Patrick Buffkin and Corey Branch all received the same graphic, with money behind the ads running on Facebook in the final two weeks.

As the end of the election neared, we designed and produced an “October surprise.” In politics, it’s common for a bombshell or similarly election-moving event to occur. Often, they’re unforeseen, but we created our own in the form of three hard-hitting videos that ran on Facebook and Instagram. Each featured the worst headlines written about Councilors Mendell, Cox and Stephenson. The videos linked to the Granny Flats blog with references to each claim, so voters could verify the facts themselves. 

The same issues targeted in earlier ads and direct mail were repeated, and with the chorus of media coverage garnered by the Cox mailer, the incumbents found themselves sinking further into negative territory. As planned, instead of highlighting any reasons they should be reelected, the incumbents had to remain on the defensive throughout the election.

Though most of the campaign regarding direct mail and digital advertising was pre-planned and executed in advance, there were opportunities to act quickly and capture moments as they arose. For example, in the beginning of the campaign the two incumbents, Cox and Mendell, were slated to be the only targets. 

But as the election progressed, one of the mayoral candidates, Caroline Sullivan, attended a fundraiser for her campaign with Hillary Clinton as the host. This may not have raised eyebrows initially, but because of the candidate’s connections through her lobbyist husband, she was able to host high-dollar fundraisers out of state; this one, hosted by Sec. Clinton, took place in Manhattan. It was a perfect opportunity to create a low-cost, high-reward attack via social media. We turned it around within hours of the article being posted.

We knew Caroline Sullivan was ill-defined, having served an uneventful term as a Wake County Commissioner years earlier. For some voters, the only knowledge they had of Sullivan going into Election Day was that she raised money for her Raleigh municipal election from high-dollar donors in Manhattan.

In the final weeks of the election, the Granny Flats Facebook page, which was the hub of the campaign social media, reached more than 60,000 people and had nearly 20,000 views on videos. Contextualize those numbers with the actual turnout of the election: Somewhere close to 55,000 voted in the mayoral election. More people saw the ads and posts on the Facebook page than voted in the election.

Direct Mail and Media Relations

The quick start to the campaign, and relative frugality in assembling the pieces to begin, meant that by mid-year we were under budget. We were able to reallocate some of the funding that went unused to launch a mailer outlining Councilor Mendell’s negative votes. With filing over a month out, we put pressure on Councilor Mendell to try and persuade her against seeking reelection. In tandem with the social media efforts, we also designed and distributed the first piece of direct mail for the 2019 cycle. 

The strategy for Councilor Mendell was clear: As a fluke victor in 2017, she did not have majority support within her own district. Her record since her victory only made her reelection more difficult. By aggressively targeting Mendell early and often. By painting a politician purely through their negative positions, it creates a hole for them out of which it is difficult to escape. Every dollar they spend to combat negative highlights is a dollar that cannot be spent to spin their campaign positively. A candidate can exhaust their war chest only to find themselves treading water.

Ultimately, Councilor Mendell decided to seek reelection. However, given the early efforts made and the foresight of the TGA to act preemptively, she sustained negative hits that would continue to plague her throughout the campaign. 

Using polling data from before, in line with trends we could see developing in the election as key issues, we created six mailers to target incumbent councilors Mendell and Cox in late September, in the two weeks prior to the October 8 election. These were designed and created to highlight negative votes and actions taken by both of these incumbents. One of the mailers in particular, “David Cox thinks you should shut up,” garnered heaps of media coverage.

The Raleigh News & Observer, the local paper of record, printed the story the Monday prior to the election. By pursuing negative lines of attack, TGA was able to underscore the downsides of incumbent candidates while allowing the challengers to remain above the fray, focusing on their own positives and differentiating themselves from their opponents. 

Between the various outlets who covered the story, thousands of dollars in free advertising was captured at no cost to TGA. In fact, because the mailers were well-researched and backed by citations from the very outlets covering the story, the negative messages about the incumbents were repeated and bolstered by the validity of the press. 

The News & Observer has a distribution of 75,000 and IndyWeek has close to 45,000. In the final days of the election, Raleigh voters were spoon fed heaps of negative coverage on the incumbents. While the incumbents had to fight back the negatives, the challengers were able to clean their hands of any involvement, since independent expenditure groups cannot coordinate with campaigns. No mention of the challengers is in any of the negative mailers.

In the wake of the negative mailers and the press coverage, we worked quickly to provide support to our client, the government relations director for TAA, who was the face for the campaign to the media. The mail landed on a Friday afternoon, and by candidates were beginning to condemn the image depicted. We worked around the clock that weekend, keeping an eye on the news coverage and the reaction from Raleigh politicos and business leaders. By the end of the weekend, the targets of the mailers had overplayed their hands and were receiving attacks on social media for their apparent hypocrisy. Many of the incumbents were running negative campaigns, and their cries of foul for the mailers fell on deaf ears.

By the time media reached out for comments, we had prepared a stock statement for the client to use and he delivered it to any reporters’ inquiries. The news coverage rebounded to our benefit, too. In every instance where the story was covered, the press spilt far more ink describing the negative claims we made about the incumbents than they did on the image of the mailer itself. Even those who may have been turned off by the mailer were force-fed more negative messaging about the incumbents.

While the negative ads were deployed against the incumbents, we designed and mailed four positive mailers surrounding challengers in Districts A, B, D and E. Each underscored the positive positions that each challenger took with regard to an issue that resonates particularly with Republican voters, who otherwise had little in term of options between an entirely Democratic slate of candidates. We focused on property rights and sent mailers to likely Republican voters in each of the four districts in the final week of early voting.

Each of the TAA supported candidates in the four districts were bolstered by the property rights mailer, including Patrick Buffkin in A, Brian Fitzsimmons in B, Saige Martin in D and David Knight in E. Only one of the four would go on to lose.

Taking Stock of Results

Entering election day, we were confident in the odds of David Knight to overtake Stef Mendell in District E. While Cox presented a steeper challenge, pouring resources into the At-Large race in the hopes of forcing Russ Stephenson into a run-off with Johnathan Melton would also give us the desired outcome. With the Council dividing between 5-4 votes in favor of the NIMBYs, taking two seats would flip the balance; it didn’t matter where the two came from.

As results began trickling in, it was clear that the results were moving in our favor, and considerably so.

The mayoral candidate endorsed by TAA, Mary-Ann Baldwin, led the vote count by the end of the night. Her biggest competitor, Caroline Sullivan, limped into third place, nearly 18% behind. We were confident that Baldwin could easily best Charles Francis, the runner-up in 2017 and now again in 2019, in a head-to-head runoff. 

But the results in other districts began to paint a picture. Almost uniformly, the challenger candidates, all supported by TAA, were outpacing the incumbents. In District D, held for years by a Crowder, now Kay Crowder and formerly her husband, the challenger Saige Martin was surging ahead. Patrick Buffkin, TAA-endorsed and running in the open District A, was pulling ahead of his opponent as well. All told, by the end of the night only one candidate supported by TAA did not win his race. Bold names were endorsed and supported by TAA.

In the Mayoral race:

  •             Mary-Ann Baldwin – 38%
  •             Charles Francis – 31%
  •             Caroline Sullivan – 20%
  •             Zainab Baloch – 7%
  •             Justin Sutton – 2%
  •             George Knott – 1%

In the At-Large race (top two win):

  • Nicole Stewart – 34%
  •           Jonathan Melton – 23%
  •             Russ Stephenson – 19%
  •             Portia Rochelle – 12%
  •             Carlie Spencer – 6%
  •             James Bledsoe – 5%

In District A:

  •          Patrick Buffkin – 53%
  •             Sam Hershey – 36%
  •             Joshua Bradley – 10%

In District B: 

  •          David Cox – 54%
  •          Brian Fitzsimmons – 45%

In District C: 

  •          Corey Branch – 63%
  •             Shelia Alamin-Khashoggi – 23%
  •             Wanda Hunter – 11%
  •             Ricky Scott – 3%

In District D: 

  •          Saige Martin – 47%
  •             Kay Crowder – 33%
  •             Brittany Bryan – 11%
  •             April Parker – 8%

In District E: 

  •          David Knight – 69%
  •             Stef Mendell – 30%

In an election where only two seats were needed to tip the balance away from the NIMBYs, three were won. The lone NIMBY, David Cox, was left powerless as the old guard gave way to the newly elected, pro-growth councilors. What’s more, in races where the runners-up could have called for runoffs, all three declined. Charles Francis, Russ Stephenson and Kay Crowder all opted against a costly and, likely quixotic, runoff. The momentum was clearly on the side of change, and every candidate rode that wave into election night. In no small part, the money and influence exerted for the first time by TAA made the prospect of runoffs unattractive for those entitled to them.

In fact, the one loss was a marked improvement over the past election results. Remember: David Cox defended his seat with 68% of the vote in 2017, and that was against the former incumbent. In 2019, his vote share dropped 14%, to 54%. The vote count separating Cox and Fitsimmons was fewer than 700. Fitzsimmons improved upon his last attempt, too. In 2013, Fitzsimmons ran against then-incumbent John Odom, losing 59%-35%. He picked up 10% more votes than his last run and kept the 2019 race neck and neck until the very end.

The clearest takeaway from the 2019 municipal elections is to start early. Typically, municipal races are sleepy exercises and don’t begin in earnest until the summer. Filing doesn’t even occur until mid-year. But with the clear consensus that 2019 would be a change election, and with no coattails of a popular mayor for incumbents to ride, challengers entered early. Candidates began committees and solicited donors as early as February.

Third party groups started early, too. TGA hired Targeted Persuasion after a proposal in April, and work began in May. Early victories in direct mail and targeted advertising helped set the narrative for the race and kept incumbents underwater. The early work and success showed interested donors that the TGA was both serious and influential from the start. This allowed our client to solicit checks from donors who may have otherwise sat out, and the momentum only continued growing into the fall. The campaign both gave our client their desired outcome (and then some), but also boosted their influence in the region for elections to come. Now, instead of saying, “Who is the TGA?” prospective candidates will ask, “When can I meet with them?”

 Already tenuous holds on office were winnowed by a barrage of negative, and importantly, factual messaging. When the targets of ads went to dispute the claims, they had no recourse. All the direct mail and digital advertising was backed up by articles from reputable sources like the Raleigh News & Observer and IndyWeek. 

All told, the campaign plan worked as intended. We depicted the incumbent councilors as out of touch, self-serving and wrong for Raleigh. On election day, the voters agreed. Entering the new decade, these new councilors will not only benefit the community, but will be difficult to remove. Incumbency advantage is hard to overstate; by making investments here, in the election where it would count, TGA secured a local government that would be amenable to their concerns and priorities, saving countless hours and dollars in headaches and negotiations. 

Three Tools to Improve Social Media

Three Tools to Improve Social Media

In the last blog post, we went through the prominent social media sites and unpacked some key differences between them, including the best practices for each and the demographic breakdown of their respective users.

Now that you know what Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are more deeply, and how they differ, there are a number of services that you can leverage to maximize your time and effort on the sites.


Buffer is a program that is free to use, but includes a premium version that costs $15 a month. The free version allows you to schedule posts on all sorts of social media accounts, but only three can be linked at one time. For example, if your campaign has a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram page, you can link all three to Buffer and start scheduling posts.

A look at an empty queue on Buffer. Any posts added to the queue automatically post in the next available slot; in this case, we have posts scheduled for 11:00AM.

The options for social media accounts are: Facebook pages, Facebook groups, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn pages and LinkedIn profiles. A premium account adds the option of using a Pinterest page, too.

If you’ve heard of Hootsuite, Buffer is a similar program, but I have found it to be a lot more intuitive and user-friendly. For example, Buffer has an extension that you can install on Safari or Chrome that allows you to add articles to your queue immediately, without having to copy a link or open a new tab.

Buffer also lets you establish times that you want to post, so instead of scheduling each post individually you can toss articles and content into a queue. Every day, or multiple times a day if you want, Buffer publishes the next item on the list automatically. With a free account, you can put up to 10 items in your queue at a time.

Buffer is simple, low-effort and gets the job done. It’s easy to plan out a week of posts in advance and know that they are queued up to post exactly when you want them published.


Canva is another site that you can use for free, but has a premium version to unlock extra features.

If you ever see posts on social media that are clean, colorful graphics and wanted to replicate that without a graphic designer, Canva is for you.

The Canva homepage. Templates at the bottom are just a fraction of the hundreds of free options available, with even more unlocked if you become a paid member.

The site offers hundreds of templates that are pre-formatted for any social media sites you use, ensuring that the dimensions are going to fit perfectly. No longer will you need to worry about whether an image you share on Instagram needs to be cropped, or if it looks just a bit off on Twitter. Canva has the exact proportions already.

Not only are the templates the right size, but they also have numerous designs already created. If you want to start with a blank slate, you certainly can, but Canva already has most of the graphics you want pre-made. Just upload your own photos and rewrite the placeholder copy with your own text.

Canva also saves all of your designs online, meaning you don’t have to keep up with random images all over your desktop. Simply return to Canva’s site and all of your past work is housed right where you left it.

If you want quality graphics with little effort, Canva is a great first place to go.

Google Trends

Google Trends is not a content creator, per se, but it should help to inform your work on other platforms. Major companies leverage Google Trends to keep track of what is trending online. Keeping abreast of important changes in the social media world can be the difference between capturing a moment and seeing it pass in the rearview mirror.

A screenshot of the currents trends. Users can input custom searches to track any phrase or topic online.

There are endless possibilities regarding what one might search. Keep up with sports coverage, celebrity popularity or more pressing issues like political campaigns, popular legislation or public opinion.

Creating unique content is great, but if it isn’t timely then it may fall on deaf ears. Using Google Trends, especially in tandem with the trending information on Twitter and other social media, can position you to succeed in spreading your message.


Social media savvy cannot be an afterthought in 2019. As time continues, the number of digital natives online will only grow as a proportion of total users. Younger users have a better eye for what works and what doesn’t, making the job of the content creator all the more important.

At Targeted Persuasion, we understand how social media works and how to leverage it to achieve success. If you want to contact us to start a conversation about how we can help your project, campaign or business succeed, click here.

best places to advertise online

How to Maximize Your Presence Online in 2019

How to Maximize Your Presence Online in 2019

Photo by Tim Bennett on Unsplash

Nowadays, if you don’t have a presence online, a substantial number of people may never see your business, candidacy or campaign. In 2019, the question is not whether or not you should have social media — it’s how much time you spend perfecting it. As of last year, 69% of United States adults use at least one social media site. That number continues to grow.

Understanding the fundamental differences between the major platforms, and the different users on each, will inform the way digital campaigns target their audiences.


Facebook is your bread and butter. 68% of U.S. adults use Facebook. More than two-thirds of marketable, targetable adults. To leave that platform unused is to tell those people that you do not want their business, attention or vote.

Besides being the largest platform, apart from YouTube, Facebook is very straightforward in its capabilities. Users can post text updates, photographs, videos and, more recently, polls, which are a great way to gauge your followers.

Photos tend to receive more interactions than plain text, and videos most of all. Knowing how to leverage the tools available to companies and campaigns that Facebook has available is essential to unlocking its full potential. Because most people are “friends” with their actual friends on the website, word of mouth spreads quickly and you can tap into an entire network quickly if content is shared by users.

Here’s an example of utilizing Facebook to solicit comments from an audience via a poll, taken from a Raleigh City Council race:

On Facebook, 62% of men and 74% of women use the social media site. 81% of 18-29 year-olds, 78% of 30-49 year-olds, 65% of 50-64 year-olds and 41% of 65+ year-olds are on the platform.

74% of Facebook users log in daily, 17% weekly and 10% less often than weekly.


Twitter is quite a different beast than Facebook, and many make the mistake of treating them exactly the same way when publishing content online. As of last year, about 24% of U.S. adults used the site.

Whereas Facebook is geared toward friends, families and acquaintances, Twitter is more conducive to interactions with influencers, companies and reporters. Users on Twitter are more plugged in to the day-to-day messages that are shared on the platform. Twitter is more conducive to quick messages, updates and calls to action. It also puts the user squarely in front of media influencers like reporters, columnists and reporters.

For example, Blackstone recently announced that they were converting to a publicly traded company. A video promoted on Twitter put their explanation in front of people that would want to know, like financial reporters, investors and politicians.

On Twitter, 23% of men and 24% of women use the site. 40% of 18-29 year-olds, 27% of 30-49 year-olds, 19% of 50-64 year-olds and 8% of 65+ year-olds.

46% of Twitter users log in daily, 25% weekly and 29% less often than weekly.


Instagram was purchased by Facebook a few years ago, so any presence on one allows easy crossover with the other. The difference in audiences makes the pair a nice complement, too. 35% of U.S. adults use the platform.

Instagram is a platform to share photos and videos with followers. It ballooned in popularity amongst high school and college-aged people upon its release, and still has an outsized number of users in the 18-24 age group.

Well-executed graphics can be very effective on Instagram, with easy-to–share capabilities. As with Facebook, the users often follow friends and family, so shared posts carry the endorsement of a familiar face.

Apart from the credibility of friends, affiliate marketing is extremely popular on Instagram. Celebrities and other influencers often share images that appear organic and sincere but are actually advertisements for some product or another. Game of Thrones is a great example; excitement around the final season of the HBO series allowed for endless marketing campaigns with celebrities and numerous brands. An example:

30% of men and 39% of women use Instagram. 64% of 18-29 year-olds, 40% of 30-49 year-olds, 21% of 50-64 year-olds and 10% of 65+ year-olds use the platform. Of those users, 60% log on daily, 21% weekly and 18% less often than weekly.


Each social media platform has quirks and unique features. To be successful with your online presence, it is essential both to understand each platform separately and to see how they complement one another. No single social media site has a monopoly on United States adults. It is not a question of which site to use, but how to use them all effectively, maximizing the value of each.

At Targeted Persuasion, we know how to make the most of your time spent on social media and web presence. In fact, we can do it for you. Contact us today to begin a conversation.

In the next blog post, we will unpack a few ways to make producing and sharing content on social media easy, saving time and impressing audiences.

best places to advertise online Case Study

Want a pro’s guide to running an effective public affairs campaign? You came to the right place. We’ve broken down a recent campaign we ran for the League of Women Voters of North Carolina. Learn about the tools we used and how they all came together to make this a success!


How Politics Affect Your Business & What To Do About It.

Whether you like it or not, politics affects all of us – and your business or industry isn’t immune either. Decisions made in Washington and the state capital can either help or hurt your bottom line, and if you don’t have a seat at the table with decision makers you could – to use a technical term – get screwed.

Ben Popkin is a Targeted Persuasion client and founder of Popkin Strategies, a consulting firm that focuses on healthcare and insurance issues in North Carolina. Ben worked for the State in various positions for years. Few people know more about the inner workings of state government than Ben. Below, he explains why it’s important for business leaders to keep a close eye on the goings-on in the legislature, even if you don’t have a political bone in your body.

TP: Tell us about your background and why you decided to go into consulting. 

I studied health policy and law at UNC and had a brief stint in rural health research at the Cecil G. Sheps Center at UNC after graduate school. Eventually I found my true fit when I started working for the North Carolina General Assembly. I first worked as a staff attorney in what was then called the Research Division, (now the Legislative Affairs Division) where I covered an assortment of topics, from criminal law to health and insurance, but my main focus was on the health-related issues, responding to constituent issues and staffing standing and study committees. That role made very clear to me the value of our legislature’s use of non-partisan staff. These non-partisan staff serve as subject matter experts to provide accurate, unbiased information about their particular areas to legislators on both sides of the aisle in both chambers. I also spent time in the Legislative Drafting Division, with staff attorneys who play a similar, but different role to the Research Division staff. Direct involvement in the budget process was probably my favorite aspect of that role. That work gave very interesting insight into State policymaking for sure.

“Unintended consequences can and do happen as a result of legislative action, and it is very hard to predict any and all effects of a bill before its implementation.”

When the federal government passed Affordable Care Act, I was hired by the NC Department of Insurance as they were gearing up for State level response and action to what the federal legislation directed the states to do. There, I was project manager for the ACA grants that we had received from the federal government. At the time, we had been awarded upwards of $90 million to assess and plan an approach for creating a health insurance exchange and doing it in a way that was best suited for North Carolina. It was definitely an interesting time to be working on health law and policy and navigating the federal and State roles and actions was something I’ll never forget.

From DOI, I moved to the Department of Health and Human Services to serve as Assistant Secretary of Legislation and Legislative Counsel… I recently left DHHS and started my own firm – Popkin Strategies – to work in the same areas I have for years, but with greater flexibility than as a full-time state employee. I offer an assortment of consulting services including government affairs, legislative analysis, and drafting, as well as legal services to those operating in the healthcare and insurance spaces. I have discovered that there is no shortage of need for informed legal assistance relating to Medicaid Transformation, and look forward to remaining extremely busy from here on out. I continue to work as I always have, to help our State policy makers make the most informed decisions they can for the good of the State and its people.

TP: Why is it important for business groups to monitor what’s going on in their state legislature? 

Obviously, understanding the laws and regulations that affect the areas in which associations or businesses operate is vital. And actions in what you may think are unrelated areas could have significant impact on a group’s interests. For example, the Department of Insurance has wide ranging jurisdiction over areas far beyond what might think – from firefighters, building codes and fireworks to disaster relief. Those familiar with the Department and its operations may know this, but it could be extremely difficult for an association focused on their own area of expertise and operations to be aware of all of the many areas to monitor that could affect their own operations. Any association will be well served by having someone who is knowledgeable about the legislative environment and the areas of importance to the association so they can understand the implications of what is happening in Raleigh and be positioned to act to protect and further their interests.

“In a void of information, legislators can have very little time to do background research, so they’re going to be reasonably reliant on stakeholders to give information about issues coming before the legislature. I would say developing those relationships is about the most vital thing an association can do as far as policy making goes. The goal is to make sure that the information they have is shared with the legislator so they can make the most informed decisions when drafting, debating, and voting on bills.”

TP: Can you think of a particular example during your time in government where a private company or association was blindsided by a piece of legislation or government change?

I can do better than that, I can give you an example where private businesses were protected from being blindsided by a piece of legislation. Several years ago, the General Assembly was considering addressing smoking in public places. With strong leadership from Representative Hugh Holliman and a recently issued US Surgeon General report on the effects of smoking, the issue of negative health effects of smoking on the person smoking and those near the smoker was given significant discussion in the legislature. As we all know, tobacco is and has long been a very important agricultural crop in North Carolina, with strong economic and cultural ties to our State.

The debate was lengthy and vigorous and throughout the course of the deliberations and development of the legislation, representatives of the various businesses that would be affected by the legislation remained engaged with the legislators and other stakeholders. These association representatives’ aim was not to block the policy, but to help guide the policy so that the aims of the bill could be achieved while the interests of the businesses represented could be preserved. The end result of all of this, which was uncertain during that process, is that North Carolinians can now go to eat in restaurants and bars that are all smoke free and these businesses were able to stay in afloat – selling food and employing people without suffering unintended financial harm following enactment of the law. Unintended consequences can and do happen as a result of legislative action, and it is very hard to predict any and all effects of a bill before its implementation. In this case, however, the actions of the association representatives helped prevent their member businesses from being blindsided by the bill and helped us all be able to go out to eat without coming home smelling like an ashtray.

TP: How important do you think it is for associations to have one-on-one meetings and relationships with influential legislators?

I think it’s vital for associations to have the opportunity to share their priorities and perspectives with their local, State, and federal officials. The job of a legislator is not an easy one. No one can expect a legislator to be an expert in everything. It’s the job of the constituents, in this case the associations, to make their interests and priorities known to the legislator. In a void of information, legislators can have very little time to do background research, so they’re going to be reasonably reliant on stakeholders to give information about issues coming before the legislature. I would say developing those relationships is about the most vital thing an association can do as far as policy making goes. The goal is to make sure that the information they have is shared with the legislator so they can make the most informed decisions when drafting, debating, and voting on bills.

TP: Can you talk a little about the committee meeting process and how that impacts the final bill that gets put on the floor?

Everyone knows that there are a lot of ideas that get generated. Bills are then developed when a legislator has a particular interest in an issue. They’ll work with the relevant stakeholders to assess what the current state affairs are and what type of change they would like to see. In the committee process, you have the opportunity for other legislators and stakeholders to raise any issues and really vet the pros and cons of any action. As the bill moves from one committee to the next, it gives people the opportunity to make sure their concerns are addressed. It’s a great chance to air out any issues. Ideally before bills get to the floor for a vote, a bill will have been reviewed and improved by addressing issues raised in the committees.

TP: What advice do you have for associations when the legislature is considering legislation that could negatively impact their industry?

Remember, unless the legislator is already an expert in a particular area, they must rely upon information they get from other sources. This will come either from their own research, from unbiased, non-partisan staff, or from stakeholders, including their constituents and associations. The best thing an association can do is know which legislators are interested in issues relevant to the association’s area of interest, develop a relationship with that member and share their expertise on issues and perspective on the real-life impact of legislation that’s under consideration. It is exceedingly difficult to fully understand the full breadth of a bill’s potential impact or to foresee every eventuality. The legislators often have to rely on associations or other interested parties to make the best decisions they can for the State. Having real life examples of impacts of legislative change on constituents is vital. If an association can share information that is relevant and accurate to the issue at hand, that is helpful to the legislator and important for the good of the State.

Want out find out how Targeted Persuasion can help your business or association develop relationships with legislators or monitor the goings-on in your state government? Contact us today.


Media Relations Training with Jeff Tippett

There’s a crisis in your organization. The phone rings. It’s a reporter. Here’s your chance to control the narrative and put a positive spin on the story. But you’ve never talked with a reporter before…

Don’t worry, you’re not alone. Throughout my career in public relations, I’ve helped members of large and small organizations prepare their media relations strategy. Last week, I got the chance to do media training with the League of Women Voters. I wanted to take the opportunity this week to share the three most important things to keep in mind when executing your media strategy.

  • Craft your message
    Many organizations and businesses are doing great work in their community, but they haven’t figured out how to effectively craft their story. Ask yourself, what are the three ways by which I want my organization to be known? Once you’ve boiled down your ideas into three bullets, practice your delivery to make it sincere and memorable.
  • Prepare for the interview
    Ask, then clarify, what the reporter is looking for in the interview. Once you understand the reporter’s goals, you can begin to practice 5-10 second soundbites that will effectively communicate your message. Talking in front of a mirror or with a colleague can help you build confidence in your answers.
  • Broadcast vs. Print
    While messaging and preparation are important for any interview, I want to note some differences between broadcast and print interviews. Keep in mind that broadcast is looking for quick turnarounds while print can do more in-depth work. Providing visuals in both cases is important, but it is essential for a TV interview. Whether you have footage or a good place for them to film, it’s a great opportunity to further control your message.

I realize that sometimes people simply don’t have the luxury of fully preparing for an interview. If this is the case, ask people on your team for help. If no one else can do it, try delaying the interview. Tell the reporter you are busy in a meeting, and ask if you can email them some responses. Try not to say no, but it’s important to think over your message before any interview.

If you need help preparing for an interview or are interested in learning more about crafting an effective media strategy, contact Targeted Persuasion today.

“If they can’t repeat it, they didn’t get it” – Sam Horn


About Jeff Tippett: After more than a decade of award-winning work in advertising, marketing, and public relations, Jeff launched the public affairs and communications firm, Targeted Persuasion. The firm has established a strong track record, signing local and international clients and helping guide organizations, businesses, and political campaigns to success. Jeff would love to talk with you about your public affairs and communications strategy. Reach out today.

The Grassroots Campaigns… Where it all started

On December 4, 2014, the City of Raleigh served a resident a zoning violation with the threat of a $500 per day fine. What was the offense? Listing a spare room on Airbnb’s website. It was clear; a grassroots campaign was needed to protect Raleigh’s entrepreneurial spirit.

Jeff Tippet of Targeted Persuasion was brought in to lead the campaign. He started off by forming a team of local activists to create awareness around the issue. “I looked for people with large networks to help get the word out,” said Jeff. “We wanted to find people with shared reasons to be involved.” This led to early momentum in their effort to change the city’s laws around short-term renting.

The biggest generator of earned media for the campaign was the first town hall meeting which was picked up by local TV and print news outlets. Jeff credits the success of the town hall to the network of activists that came together, and the quality of the panel that was assembled for the event. “We had city councilmen as well as a representative from Airbnb which created more excitement for the town hall,” said Jeff.

Due to the success of the initial campaign to protect the entrepreneurial culture in Raleigh, Airbnb signed an 18-month contract with Targeted Persuasion to do public relations work for Airbnb across North Carolina. Read the complete case study here.

In reflecting on the Airbnb success, Jeff Tippet believes there are three key questions that should drive any grassroots campaign:

  • Are you talking to the right people?
    Quality over quantity is the name of the game. It’s best to work backwards from the roots and think about who wants to hear your message. Throughout the campaign, it’s important to always reflect on your success in reaching the right people in the most effective way.
  • Do you have the right message?
    Make sure you are talking about something your audience cares about in language they can understand. Remember, people are loss-averse, so instead of telling them everything they can gain from your campaign, tell them what they stand to lose.
  • What are you asking the audience to do with your message?
    Make sure you have a specific ask for your audience. If you want them to donate, make it fast and easy. If you need them to volunteer, be ready to sign them up for a shift while they’re still on the phone.

Jeff has always been passionate about his work with politicians and political organizations, but the work with Airbnb helped launch the public affairs chapter of Targeted Persuasion’s history. If you need help with a grassroots campaign, contact Targeted Persuasion today.


PR 101- Civic Engagement

How does the general public view your industry? Do some members of the public have a negative or lukewarm feeling of your business? You can change this through civic engagement and a good public relations strategy. There are a number of ways to do this, but the goal is to put a friendly face on your brand or the industry you represent. Below is an overview of how to execute a successful event.

  • Set a Goal
    Before you plan your associations next event, it is imperative that lay out clear objectives. Are you trying to raise awareness? Promote yourself? Put a friendly face on your industry? These questions will help you better understand if you’re trying to target employers, media, customers, etc. This blog post breaks down this phase into three clear steps.
  • Market your Event
    You can go about this in a number of different ways, but some of the best strategies include press releases and social media campaigns. After you’ve crafted an effective press release follow it up with a social media campaign in the days or weeks leading up to your event to ensure sustained interest.
  • Capitalize on Earned Media
    Earned media is media attention that is created through some good old fashion sweat equity. Civic engagement events are the perfect opportunity to capitalize on this by creating interactive activities for guests to engage with.
  • Measure Success. Learn from Mistakes.
    Once your event is over, it is important to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Did you get enough media attention? Did guests enjoy themselves? What could have improved the outcome? Read these tips from people who have learned from avoidable mistakes.

Below is an example of a civic engagement event Targeted Persuasion helped organize in Asheville.

If you need any help with your organization’s upcoming event, contact Targeted Persuasion today.