Although I didn't get in on the very beginning of Jenny Arneson's campaign for Minneapolis School Board in 2010, I was able to start early. I got a call from the campaign several weeks before the precinct caucuses, needing design help -- lit, website, signs -- which is so often the perceived need, but usually just an entry point to more important discussion of messaging, image, and presentation. Encouragingly, the small campaign team already had a smart and workable convention strategy, but were lacking ways to distinguish Jenny from her endorsement opponent.

Although her opponent had stronger establishment support and a longer-political track record, Jenny had the advantages of having stronger community support and more visibility as a neighborhood parent activist. This allowed for:
  • A distinct advantage from colorful, catchy, professional materials, countering any perception that Jenny was "just a mom."
  • Some amount of "promotional real estate" dedicated to very long lists of "average people" in the district who endorsed Jenny, countering the opponent's necessarily much shorter lists of supporting elected officials and power-brokers.
I'm always interested in promotional efforts which not only are unexpected (and so draw additional attention), but also that can demonstrate (without stating so) the positive characteristics of the candidate. As we tried to figure out how to approach convention delegates who we felt likely would support Jenny's opponent, but who would be needed to avoid a convention deadlock, I suggested sending a simple thank you note to this subset, hand-written, thanking them for their participation in the process. There was no mention of supporting Jenny; in fact, there was no "ask" at all. To our delight, we received surprised compliments from several strong supporters of the opponent.

Finally, there was the speech. As at most nominating conventions, the candidate has to give a short speech to a crowded hall full of people who are tired or bored, and somehow has to distinguish herself. Unfortunately, most speeches are the same at this level, time-worn phrases and platitudes, delivered with competent enthusiasm by people with limited public speaking experience. The first draft of Jenny's speech was heartfelt and full of admirable ideas, but too full of predictable statements to rise above the noise. Not having time to enlist a Hollywood screenwriter this time, I reworked the speech myself, clarifying points, removing cliches, and building rhythms and routine-breaking turns of phrase. Drawing on my amateur experience as a theatrical director, I coached Jenny extensively in her delivery, singificantly improving her comfort level with what she was saying and how to say it.

In the end, Jenny got the nomination, comfortably, on the second ballot. With a lack of serious general election opposition, she became a Minneapolis School Board director in January 2011.