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North Carolina’s Realtors spent $700,000 on a media campaign against the “home tax.” The campaign failed. Why?

The Realtors had a good idea: Mobilize public opinion to change legislative votes. But they didn’t go far enough.

Carter is the master of this strategy. He did it for Farmers for Fairness (hog farmers) in the ‘90s.

But Carter – and his clients – were willing to do something the Realtors didn’t do: target individual legislators.

Farmers for Fairness literally went into four legislative races and targeted candidates. All four lost. And the rest of the legislature paid heed: I don’t want that to happen to me.

The Realtors never threatened an individual legislator’s political life. In fact, when rumors flew that the Realtors were threatening to target legislators, the Realtors denied it.

The lesson for future “outside game” campaigns is simple: If you’re not willing to make an example of a specific legislator, the generalized threat won’t work.

Fortune favors the bold. But most campaigns, considering a bold strategy, inevitably water it down. Someone in the strategy meeting says, “We don’t want to go too far.” So the plan gets dialed back, less aggressive. And it loses.

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