Corrections or additions?

This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the June 29,

2005 issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

A Politician Markets Himself

Consumer marketing is so difficult that most start-ups don’t even try

it. Reaching a broad audience — as opposed to, say, Rhode Island yacht

owners or seniors suffering from acute arthritis — is so daunting that

even the largest companies know that they need laser-sharp strategies

and pockets deeper than the Grand Canyon to succeed at it.

But difficult or not, consumer marketing is something every politician

must do — and do exceedingly well. Joe D’Angelo, Republican candidate

for Mercer County Freeholder in a county where Democrats outnumber

Republicans 2-1, knows this. He is also better prepared than many

candidates to get his name and his message out to voters. This is so

because D’Angelo has been involved in marketing in one form or another

since he was in high school.

A Trenton native who grew up in Yardville and graduated from Mercer

County Community College in 1992, D’Angelo became a businessman at 17.

“I ran a marketing company for bands,” he says. A guitarist himself,

he was a member of Midnight Reign, a band that was doing 200 shows a

year at the height of its popularity. Friends in other bands, seeing

how good he was at obtaining bookings, hired him to get them gigs.

Soon he was making more money marketing bands than playing in one.

One of his more successful music ventures was a New York City-based

KISS tribute band. “It was a huge business,” he says. “We were getting

4,000 to 5,000 fans a night. We traveled from Chicago to the South.”

His cut was 20 percent, and it provided a good living. In order to

have health benefits and a little stability, he also worked for the

county. “I did bands right up to 1998,” he says. At that point the

KISS act, powered by pyrotechnics, was too risky for many venues to

take on.

He then used his marketing acumen to start Jersey Style magazine,

which had its offices on Chestnut Street in Trenton, right near the

home in which he lived as a child. “September 11 was the end of the

magazine,” he says. Most of his advertisers were liquor companies and

bars, entities peddling fun, and after September 11 the fizz was

gone.”

Taking his marketing expertise to another industry, D’Angelo then went

to work as director of marketing for the Better Business Bureau of New

Jersey. A short gig, it ended when the bureau decided to outsource its

marketing function. He then went to work for the Creative Marketing

Alliance, an ad firm with offices at 118 Clarksville Road. He recently

left that job and is now doing some consulting on ad strategies as he

works on his run for freeholder.

Energetic, and fueled by all that he has learned in a disparate group

of marketing experiences, D’Angelo talks about how much marketing a

candidate has in common with marketing any other product or service:

Product education. In traveling around the county D’Angelo is finding

that a great many people have no idea of what a freeholder is or does.

He explains that a freeholder is an elected, part-time legislator at

the county level of government. The seven members of the Mercer County

Board of Chosen Freeholders are elected at-large to three year

staggered terms. State statutes determine the number of freeholders

based on county classification and population. The board has a chair

and vice-chair; these positions are rotated among board members each

year.

The title of “freeholder” is derived from an old English term used to

refer to a person who owned an estate of land free of debt. The title

was adopted in New Jersey during the Colonial period, when only those

who owned real estate free of debt were eligible to participate in

elections or hold public office. New Jersey is the only state that

retains the title of “freeholder” to denote the elected members of the

county governing body.

Recognition. Even those who know that a freeholder is may have no idea

of who D’Angelo is. His solution: “I’m going to knock on 15,000 doors.

I’ve hit 2,500 already.”

In addition to introducing himself on doorsteps, he is trying some

off-beat ways of getting his name out. Recently he acted as a guest

bartender at Gersh’s Place on Liberty Street. And he is about to

embark on a diner tour of the county, pouring coffee and chatting with

anyone who walks in.

Branding. Whether it’s a KISS knock-off band or a band-aid, every

product has to work its way into consumers’ consciousness. This, as

all marketers know, is increasingly difficult. Every corner of every

consumer’s world is filled up with competing voices. Gubernatorial

candidates Corzine and Forrester are on the radio non-stop, shopping

cart ads are pushing improved dog chow and deodorant, and, just this

past week, a cable company placed its foot-long hanging tag ads on

sunflowers in area gardens.

D’Angelo knows that he has to brand himself, and is working hard at

it. When he visits those diners, he will hand customers business cards

stating that it is his pleasure to serve them. When he marches in the

4th of July parade he will hand out 5,000 flags bearing his name. He

has given out balloons, lollipops, and keychains touting his

candidacy. Like Tide or Verizon, he needs to become a household name —

at least among likely voters in Mercer County.

Opt-in updates. Perhaps because of his experience in professional

marketing, D’Angelo knows that there are few things consumers hate

more than junk mail. Yet he needs to keep his message in front of

those he hopes will remember his name and vote for him. His solution

is that of the smartest marketers in all fields. He sends out mailings

only to those who have requested them. He does not buy lists and he

does not copy listings from phone books.

“When I knock on someone’s door I ask if they would like to receive

mailings,” he says. He asks the same question at events. Anyone who

would like to receive his newsletter goes on a mailing list. No one

else, he says, will get his materials.

E-marketing. His other marketing experiences have shown D’Angelo that

the Internet is a vital weapon in any marketing campaign. “E-marketing

today is the biggest way to market your company,” he says. He reasons

that it should work for candidates too. His website

(www.dangeloformercer.com) is set to launch soon. A key element will

be the E-mail box. “People can E-mail to me directly and I will

respond,” says the candidate.

Targeted marketing. “There are little pockets of culture in Mercer

County,” says D’Angelo. To reach them all he is preparing separate

pieces of campaign literature, including bi-lingual information for

the Latino community.

D’Angelo, who is married to his high school sweetheart, Patrice, the

administrator of the Trenton Episcopal Cathedral, has specific goals

for the product that is himself. “I would like two to three terms as

freeholder, and then I would like to run for County Executive,” he

says. His strengths as a marketer could well determine whether that

degree of market penetration and acceptance will be achieved.

— Kathleen McGinn Spring


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