Signage Provides Awareness for Political Candidates

Bernie Sanders devotee travels country with vehicle wrap
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The political season is upon us – as if you needed for me to provide that update. Unless you’ve lived under a rock, you’ve seen plenty of social-media messages alternately singing hosannas about or demonizing candidates for elected offices. Or, perhaps you’ve seen snippets of the early Presidential debates, and, with all the snarky comments and misinformation, wish they settled matters the same way as WWE professional wrestlers (who wouldn’t clamor to see Donald Trump vs. Ben Carson in a steel cage; conversely, a debate between grapplers Roman Reigns and Bray Wyatt on foreign policy or gun control would be more entertaining, and perhaps more informative).
Along with the season of kissing babies, photo-op meals with “ordinary” Americans in small-town diners, and platform speeches with a wall of loyalists in the background, signs, banners and vehicle wraps promoting candidates or ballot issues also provide harbingers that votes are soon forthcoming. National campaigns have been in full swing since last summer, but races for state and local races will soon be ramping up, and candidates’ campaigns will require signage. Your printer could be humming for the next nine months if you make the right connections.
However, there’s a word of advice regarding dealing with political campaigns: get paid first. If a losing candidate’s campaign owes you for your work, you’re apt to be left holding the bag; their offices will have shut down and they’ll have departed faster than tumbleweeds in a dust storm.
Here’s a look at three shops who embraced the opportunity to fabricate political signage, and how they won the endorsements of their candidate clients.
Berning Down the Road
Democratic Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders first gained fame as a student at the Univ. of Chicago in 1962, when he organized the city’s first civil-rights sit-in to protest the school’s segregated housing policy.
His activism kept him involved in public-policy debates, and he eventually became the mayor of Burlington, VT. Later, he served two terms before running for the state’s lone House of Representatives seat. After having lost his first campaign, he succeeded on his second try and subsequently served eight House terms before winning a Senate seat in 2006. After having served his entire political career as an independent, Sanders joined the Democratic Party in 2015 in order to launch his Presidential run. Although an elder statesman at age 74, his stances about income inequality, climate change and universal healthcare have resonated with younger voters.
Given his nearly rock-star status among many millennials, it’s only natural that a vehicle wrap would be a visually impactful, low-cost method to promote name recognition. However, this wrap wasn’t purchased by a Sanders campaign operative; a rank-and-file supporter bankrolled it. Paul Sasso, who’s lived in San Diego with his wife since 1996, paid to have his Tesla electric-powered sedan wrapped to convert it to the “Bern Machine.” He’d worked as an architectural draftsman and designer until he opened a kitchen-remodeling business in 2003, which he shuttered in 2011 following the economic downturn. He’s since become a political activist.
“All of Bernie’s policies throughout his entire political career have been driven by compassion,” Sasso, whose primary issues of interest include climate change, raising the minimum wage and universal healthcare, said. “I put Sanders stickers all over my car before hosting a Bernie for President house party last July. The stickers received a lot of positive response, so I decided to wrap the entire car with NASCAR-like graphics. It’s that important to me that Bernie win the election.”
He hired San Diego-based Wrap City Inc. to execute the job. According to its co-owner, Derek Greco, the six-year-old shop operates an approximately 2,000-sq.-ft. facility, employs five and executes approximately 80 wraps a year.
The Tesla is well known for its electric power; however, Greco said its curves, contours and factory-paint surface energy differed little from other cars Wrap City has decorated. Sasso’s wife, a graphic designer, developed the vector-file template, and the shop fine-tuned the “Bern’s” template using Adobe Illustrator software.
Wrap City produced the approximately 200-sq.-ft. wrap over seven panels: one for each bumper, one for each side of the car, and one each for the roof, hood and hatch. Except for the Tesla emblems, Greco said none of the car’s parts required removal. Wrap City imprinted the wrap on 3M’s Controltac IJ180-10CV3 air-release material with its HP 360 latex-ink printer in 12-pass, 600 x 600-dpi mode. He likes the six-color machine because it doesn’t require outgassing before installation, and because the inks provide eight-year color stability. 3M’s Scothcal 8518 glossy overlaminate will protect The Bern Machine as its traverses the country in an effort to drum up interest (and votes).
Sasso has logged more than 10,000 miles in the Bern Machine as he’s driven from San Diego to Washington, DC, with numerous stops in between. He received a particularly animated reaction when he drove in unannounced to Louisville, CO’s Labor Day parade. To his surprise, he won first prize as the parade’s best-decorated vehicle. As the primary season unfolds, Sasso plans to drive his car throughout the Southwest (Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Nevada are all regarded as key swing states).
“Thus far, reaction has been positive,” he said. “Thumbs-ups have outnumbered middle fingers by about a 5-to-1 ratio. And, for every photo of the Bern Machine posted on Twitter or Facebook, I donate a dollar to Bernie’s campaign.”
Swing-State Graphics
Colorado is among the most purple U.S. states. Purple being a mixture of red (Republican) and blue (Democrat), the term symbolizes a swing state that will be hotly contested with every statewide or national election. When elections are highly competitive, signage and the resulting name recognition they generate can make the difference.
Brighton, CO’s Signarama franchise, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this January, runs its CET Color flatbed printer “eight to 10 hours a day” to produce political signage during peak election season, according to Dawn Homa, the franchise’s owner. The shop decorates 3/16-in. or 10mm-thick Coroplast® corrugated-plastic material for its political signs; additional, common shop substrates include acrylic, vinyl and ceiling-tile material. In addition to flatbed-printed, politically related materials, the shop produces banners on its latex-ink, six-color HP 360 printer, engraved name badges and inkjet-printed, magnetic signage for cars.
“During Presidential election years, political signs represent about 5% of our business,” she said. “Political candidates are usually working another job while running their campaign, so their time is very critical, and communication must be accurate and efficient. So, most correspondence is handled via e-mail, including proofs. Graphic designers have usually laid out the artwork. The people in charge of campaigns are usually very cost-conscious, and the ability to produce a lot of signs for a very economical price makes a flatbed printer a great tool for printing political signage.”
Homa said the shop formerly printed its Coroplast signs directly onto 18 x 24-in. panels, but eventually discovered that it was more efficient to print 10 sign graphics simultaneously onto 4 x 8-ft. sheets, and then cut them down to size. This process provides Signarama with the flexibility to print larger sizes. Most files arrive as PDF or .EPS files. When working with political campaigns, she stipulates that only one campaign representative approve the proofs; a committee approach leads to miscommunication, and ultimately rework.
The shop played an instrumental role in the recall election of two Democratic state Senators from Colorado Springs, John Morse and Angela Giron, who drew the ire of their conservative – and avid hunting – constituencies because of their staunchly pro-gun-control positions. In support of the recall, Homa printed approximately 5,000 Coroplast signs and more than 100 banners. To meet the campaign’s stringent deadlines, the Signarama printed signs continuously over two weekends.
Another high-volume, political-sign project involved its production of approximately 4,000 stake signs in support of Brighton’s fire-department bond issue. For two weeks, Homa’s flatbed ran off signs continuously for eight-hour days. She recalled, “The campaign kept sending people to pick up 200 signs at a time, and they mobilized quickly to install them.”
A Capital Idea
In Washington, DC, politics aren’t a diversion or a hobby – they’re the city’s raison d’etre. Given the political machine’s ubiquitous nature, its high-density, urban landscape and staunch regulations against so-called clutter (a machete is required to cut through the irony that politicos, who are the progenitors of widespread signage nationwide, suddenly find garden-variety, right-of-way signs unsightly in their own backyards).
As such, a medium that is, as of yet, untouched by ordinance regulations becomes that much more vital to promote a candidate – enter vehicle wraps. Capital Wraps, which operates facilities in Washington, DC; Raleigh, NC and Myrtle Beach, SC, began out of founder Keoni Denison’s garage 10 years ago. Today, the company operates a 10,000-sq.-ft. shop with 15 in-house employees, and also contracts with certified master installers nationwide to service national accounts.
Vehicle wraps remain a core business component, but the company’s repertoire has expanded to include floor graphics, tabletops, elevator doors and numerous other surfaces. Likewise, Capital Wraps aspires to grow its political signage beyond the type that rolls into traffic. Most clients submit graphics as high-resolution vector art, which is subsequently processed with Photoshop and Illustrator software.
“Our sales team is always reaching out to various candidates,” Cora Blue, Capital Wraps’ marketing manager, said. “In some ways, a political campaign is an easy customer because its brand is established, and it has a clear vision of the graphics it wants. However, we’re usually working on huge buses, which are obviously challenging.”
She continued, “Under normal circumstances, wraps can last for several years if cared for properly, but the shelf life of a political campaign is much shorter than that. It can be a challenge for a politician to keep a message current through wraps and signage.”
A textbook example of its bus-wrap work involved Capital Wraps’ work for Natalie Williams, a former candidate for Washington, DC’s City Council. I’ve never seen a bus wrap for a city-council candidate around Cincinnati, but, again, Washington, DC demands aggressive politicking.
To execute the job, the shop produced 14, 4 x 9-ft. panels with 3M Controltac IJ380Cv3 air-release media, which it printed on its HP 360 latex-ink printer at 600 x 600 dpi in 10-pass mode. Blue said the shop used a unique seaming process that deftly overlapped them and cut the material such that images look seamless.
“It might look easy, but our installers are highly trained,” Blue said. “Believe me, it isn’t.”
Unfortunately, Williams didn’t win the election, but Blue said she’s running again – and still has a vehicle wrap still in impeccable condition to help present her message.