Dan Eldridge and his family

Dan Eldridge used social media to win his race for Washington County, Tenn. Mayor

(Editor’s note: This article first was published as a guest blog post for SoloPR on October 25, 2010.)

“All politics is local”

Tip O’Neill

Dan Eldridge, a highly successful local businessman, called me seemingly out of nowhere one day to tell me he was planning to run for County Mayor in Washington County, Tennessee. This position is known as County Executive in most states. What he would like me to do, he said, was to “write a press release” for him. Once we got together I realized he was at the earliest stages of a campaign, and I advised him that he was going to need a lot more than “a press release” in terms of campaign communications.  That was August 2009. At that time no one thought Dan stood any chance of winning. This youthful forty-something entrepreneur was about to face a formidable gray-haired career politician in a Republican primary that would be a winner-take-all contest May 4, 2010. (There was no Democratic opponent.) Here is the story of how a dark horse ran to victory in part through social media.

Facebook Friends

During our first meeting I advised Dan that he needed to be on Facebook. We created his personal page and he quickly enjoyed connecting with old friends and family. Next MarketingMel worked on his logo and web site creation and from there I created his Fan page linking it back to his web site. At first Dan was hesitant about the fan page but I assured him that his natural transparency would shine on the web and I would be there to administer the site.

Turn naysayers into advocates

As it turned out there were few naysayers on the Fan page. One man from the start had lengthy, negative questions but we always responded positively and asked him to attend our town hall meetings. Although he declined, after the election he came back on the Fan page and said that he didn’t vote for Dan but he would now support him as Mayor.

How to multiply your friends: Neighborhood gatherings and photos

As part of our campaign strategy we held a series of neighborhood gatherings. Local movers and shakers from throughout the region hosted Dan in their homes. Each time they did I would post and tag the photos of the event hosts. This became an “ah-ha” moment for many who didn’t know Dan but perhaps knew his friends or his friends’ friends.

Flipcam fan

My Flipcam became a trusty friend. I can remember the first time I used it as one of the party hosts, Tommy Greer, Dan’s CPA, was introducing Dan with a ringing endorsement. The camera was so tiny Dan had not seen me with it and he turned to me in front of the crowd and said, “I wish you would have gotten that (introduction) on tape.” It was a great feeling to smile and say, “I did.”

I used the Flipcam to get third party endorsements of Dan throughout the campaign and we posted them to YouTube and his fan page. The Flipcam came in very handy for an interview with his three children as they walked the trail with him and again on election day when his cute, 18 year old daughter Meredith voted for the first time with her parents. The local TV station loved that angle as well and eagerly showed up to interview her and her parents on election day.

What the other candidates did/did not do

Most noticeably the other significant candidate played “follower” to our leader position. It was only after Dan said that he was on Facebook and twitter that the opponent appeared there and he never generated the momentum we had. A third, one-issue candidate also ran but was not a key competitor.

Generate Election Day Excitement

On election day I went from precinct to precinct taking and posting pictures of the poll workers. One thing we know in PR is that perception is reality. I wanted all of Dan’s Facebook fans to think that everyone was out at the polls voting that day and by golly, they better be there too!

Conclusion: Work Hard and Think Strategically

It must be said that Dan Eldridge was and is a hard worker. He wanted to win and never took anything for granted. He was still shaking hands as the polls closed at 8 pm May 4th. Dan garnered 51% of the vote with the other two opponents taking 35 and 14 percent. In addition to all of the hard work, Dan will tell you that his social media presence was a game changer. He said other mayoral candidates from across Tennessee told him ours was now a bellwether for local campaigns state-wide. So if you get a call from a candidate asking for a “press release” you’ll still want to write it as I did. Just be sure you have a good social media strategy in place as well.

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It was great to receive this letter of endorsement from Washington County Commissioner David Tomita who was sworn into office last week.

MarketingMel with client David Tomita

“I hired MarketingMel after getting acquainted with her during the highly successful Dan Eldridge Campaign for Washington County Mayor. I saw what she was able to do for Dan, who like me, had not previously run for political office. I hired MarketingMel for both PR consultation and news release writing and placement. She took care of getting the information out via print, web and radio and I know that I got more coverage in a more professional manner than I would have with anyone else. MarketingMel is a refreshing change in the Tri-Cities political PR market and I would definitely recommend her. Feel free to contact me at davidktomita [at] hotmail.com or call me at First Tennessee Bank should you have any questions. I will be glad to provide a reference for MarketingMel.”

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Election night with Lori and Al Fatherree

MarketingMel on election night with Lori and Al Fatherree

I learned many things from Dan Eldridge as I watched the now Washington County-Mayor elect over the past nine months.  His first rule was, “always surround yourself with good people.” I held my breath each time he would say that knowing that I was part of the campaign team. Creating the PR,  social media, web site, and special event planning for the Eldridge campaign was perhaps the most arduous task I have undertaken in my career.   Every time our committee assembled , I would look around the table  and realize the strength of a good team. It took a hard-working group of people with strong roots in the county, the city, and a knowledge of East Tennessee politics to pull off the win. (When we started this campaign many naysayers told us they wouldn’t give us a snowball’s chance in a very hot place of winning!)

Nothing in life is really won alone. A huge thanks to the folks who were on my team from the start. Tim McLeod who designed the web site, Theresa Bellamy who created Dan’s logo, Beth Barrett who helped me with the administration of the campaign, and Kyle Long who helped with video shooting and editing.  Kudos to Tina Wilson for her fine photography of Dan and his family.

Dan first came to me last August because he “needed a press release.” In addition to letting him know he was going to need a lot more than just a press release (I shared with him the importance of Facebook, twitter and an online social media presence during our first meeting) I urged him to team with someone with political know-how.  That’s when Dan came back with news that my former co-anchor and one time business partner Tony Treadway would be just the right person for the job. Indeed he was. Just as we did years ago anchoring the WJHL-TV 6 and 11 pm news,  Tony and I once again collaborated and always had each others’ back. Clarence Mabe and Al and Lori Fatherree were instrumental in their knowledge as treasurers and Kelly Wolfe provided outstanding political insight.

So many people have told me I should write about the campaign that I plan to turn my experiences into a book. I am working on the outline now while it’s still fresh on my mind. Teamwork seems like a good place to start.

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It was nice to wake up Sunday and see the alert for the Kingsport Times-News article on Social Media Marketing with quotes from MarketingMel. It’s been an unusual few days. I had an undergraduate student interview me about social media for her ETSU term paper. Then the article appeared in the Kingsport Times-News Sunday. Then last night I bumped into a women who is working on her dissertation on social networking who wants to interview me.  Her husband had seen me on TV chatting with 11 Connects Sara Diamond about social networking. Interestingly both the graduate and the undergraduate student were very interested in the ethical and legal implications of social networking. I have plenty of ideas on that and will share some in this space.  I told her I would be glad to sit down with her after May 4th and share some of my presentations on social networking for business that I’ve presented to business groups across our region. For now I am completely covered up with the PR for Dan Eldridge’s campaign for Washington County Mayor. Two weeks from today is election day! If you haven’t already done so be sure to check out the web site my former n-tara colleague Tim McLeod and I created for Dan. We just posted a fun video that I shot with my little flipcam of Dan’s kids talking about their dad. People always enjoy seeing a candidate’s family before they go to the polls. When I come up for air I plan to write about how Facebook reminds me of dating. See you after the election!

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Mary Ellen Miller


It was a year of firsts and opportunity for MarketingMel. I got to achieve what so many people only dream of: the launch of my own business. As people, including me, streamed out the doors of my former employer last February I did what my father taught me long ago. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”
The company name was easy to decide on. I had already established MarketingMel’s handle on twitter. Mel has been my nickname for years. Thus, MarketingMel, the PR firm was born.
In creating your own company you tend to dig into the tool chest and find any and all tools that you used  in the past. For me one of those tools was television broadcasting. Thanks to Neal Boling, the news director at WJHL 11 connects who sought out my input for TV news stories on social media including twitter and Facebook. Some fantastic clients believed in me and I want to say a special thanks to Dan Eldridge, John Bullington and Todd Mussard, CPA. Each of those business professionals believed in me and what I could do for them in providing public relations, personal branding, marketing and social media consulting.  Thanks also to the CCC, a group of consultants who cheered me on every step of the way. Dave McAuley at The Summit Leadership Foundation, my office away from the home office was also there providing fantastic conference and meeting room space for me.
I thank God for the blessing of being able to start a thriving business in a down economy and I look forward to what the New Year holds. Here’s wishing each of you the very best in 2010.

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MarketingMel points out JC Penney's Facebook fan page

MarketingMel points out JC Penney's Facebook fan page

Since the company launch last spring MarketingMel has been extremely busy assisting clients with their public relations, social networking, marketing and media relations strategies.  The firm’s most recent endeavor was a joint venture with my former n-tara colleague Tim McLeod. Together we created a web site for Dan Eldridge, who is a candidate for Washington County TN Mayor. Please visit the site and circle back here to let me know your thoughts. Of course any web site is evolutionary and we’ll be adding more photos and new videos after the launch announcement Tuesday.

I began my career as a broadcaster and it’s strange how life goes full circle. I just signed a contract with Northeast State to do voiceover work for training videos that will be used by Eastman Chemical Company operators. This project is funded under an agreement with the State of Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development . Thanks to Kyle Long who asked me to audition for that project.

I’ve worked closely with former Board Chairman of the Tennessee Appraisal Commission, John Bullington, on publicizing a very specific issue pertaining to the appraisers and the Home Valuation Code of Conduct or HVCC. We got tremendous coverage, including pickups on Reuters, Fox News, Yahoo Finance, etc. 

I’ve also worked with Todd Mussard, CPA to help him with his social networking, advising him on his web site, twitter and LinkedIn strategies and I secured a speaking engagement for him in front of a targeted group of professionals.

Lots of public speaking engagements have been on the docket including the talk on social networking as seen in the photo at the Times-News Women’s Expo last week. I’ll write more about those in an upcoming post.

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