...What they do is fail to plan.
In the private sector, startup companies often spend months developing business plans. That intensive but necessary process includes a significant amount of research...and that research is critical to the development of effective strategies and tactics.
Most political campaigns are like business startups and the candidates are essentially new “products.” We published a blog post a couple of years ago “Ten Questions To Ask Before Running For Office.” Assuming you can ask and adequately answer those questions, the next question is “Now what?”
The answer? Plan, Plan, Plan.
The first number you need to know is “Votes To Win.”
Do your due diligence. How many registered voters are in the district? What is the typical voter turnout in the district for your type of race? Keep in mind that turnout for the last Presidential election isn’t necessarily a good indicator for your City Council primary though it can be informative regarding your total universe of potential voters.
There can be a lot of variables, especially in primaries with multiple candidates or in a race against an incumbent who has not faced a serious opponent in years. You may have to look at proxy elections. What was the turnout in your district for the latest State Rep. or Senate campaign? What was the turnout in the Congressional primary? The information is there. You just have to figure out where to look for it...then interpret it properly.
Now, what is it going to cost to win?
For each of the “Brats”, (Congressman Dave Brat shocked the nation when he unseated then House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor), there are hundreds of “Who Dats?”. You can certainly win while being heavily outspent, but you can’t win without some money...and you probably won’t win with less than you absolutely need.
Your campaign budget isn’t determined by what you think you can raise. It is determined by what you need to spend to win.
As a rough estimate, you should figure $7 to $10 per vote. There are regional differences--and campaign finance limits will be a very significant factor--but that is a good ballpark starting range.
Pre-think and Re-think.
It is important to remember that you don’t need one budget. You need three. You need your budget, your budget minus 30% and your budget plus 30%. Regardless of what you raise, you are going to spend 60% to 70% on Voter ID and GOTV. If you fall short of your fundraising goals, you want to know in advance where you are going to cut. Conversely, if you exceed your goals, you want to know how and where you are going to deploy added resources. Given that campaigns, like companies, have both fixed and variable costs, the adjustments will not necessarily be proportional. Making those decisions now, in the relative calm of pre-campaign planning, will almost always yield better results than changes made in the heat of battle.
Who’s got the map and who’s driving?
It is not uncommon, especially in smaller campaigns, for the candidate to be involved in developing the campaign plan. Once you determine your Votes to Win number, crafting a plan is a relatively straightforward exercise of identifying your voter universe, determining the most efficient way of contacting those voters and securing their votes. How many doors is the campaign going to knock on? How many Voter ID calls are you going to make? That’s going to help you determine how many volunteers you need. There are dozens of other variables involved, but the overall framework remains the same: Begin with the end in mind.
Once the campaign starts, the candidate has three jobs: raise money, meet voters, and secure votes. That’s it. Anything and everything else should be delegated. Anything and Everything.
Every campaign at any level needs a Treasurer. While this can be done by a trusted family member or friend, hiring a professional political accountant will often avoid unnecessary legal difficulties. After a campaign plan is created, (preferably by an experienced general consultant), the three most important initial hires of a campaign need to be Fundraiser, Campaign Manager and Digital Strategist.
The primary focus of the fundraiser’s job is to make sure the campaign is raising the money needed for the campaign in a timely manner. The actual responsibility of raising campaign contributions lies with the candidate, however. No one is going to be as effective as the candidate, especially with big dollar donors. The fundraiser sets up the call lists, recommends the ask level, checks that the calls are being made, and follows up on commitments and pledges.
The campaign manager is there to run the campaign and, by and large, that means implementing the campaign plan. The campaign manager should be in a position to hire/recruit additional personnel as needed and ensure that campaign challenges and opportunities are being promptly addressed. The most effective campaign managers report to the candidate about what is happening with the campaign on a day-to-day basis without asking direction about what should be happening.
Some readers might be surprised by the inclusion of a Digital Strategist as a first hire. Until recently, the idea of digital having a senior seat at the table seemed radical at best. At worst, it wasn’t even mentioned. That has all changed. Digital strategy isn’t just a website and social media accounts. As digital and field operations have merged, digital strategy touches absolutely every aspect of the campaign. Critical campaign functions like fundraising and donor communications, email, online ads, data analysis, voter identification, and volunteer management all run on your digital platform.
Just like in business, success comes down to the basics: research, planning, implementation and evaluation. Set your goals. Develop a plan to achieve them. Put your plan into action. Constantly evaluate your results and react accordingly. The time and effort you invest at the earliest stages will generate big returns as the campaign develops.
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