Friday, March 16, 2018

Swag or Not?

Swag? Not until your basics are met: website, handout, mail, signs, all budgeted for and assured of being fully funded.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Campaign Committees - What are they Good for?

No, I won't say, like the song  - "Absolutely nothing!" because they are good for a lot. They can help keep you focused. Help you find elements of your message, inform you of ongoing or new developments you might have missed and of course, volunteering for all those pesky little campaign tasks no one should have to do alone.

But they also can be distracting, discouraging and, sometimes, downright dangerous.

Often, when candidates tell me they don't need my services, or they "are going in a different direction," that's code for "I have a campaign committee. why should I spend money on a paid consultant?" 

Let's go over some of the dos and don't of the Campaign Committee.

Campaign committees are good for: 

1. Providing local on-the-ground insight. Members of your committee, if chosen wisely, can keep you apprised of what's going on in various parts of your district, or with various constituencies. They can keep you up to date on issues, breaking and otherwise, that are on people's minds. All this helps you craft a message for the voters.

2. Cheering you up when times get tough. They'll stand by you through thick and thin. They'll give you good news from farflung parts of the district. If they're true friends and advisors, they'll bring you the bad news too, like when the local grocery clerks are extolling the virtues of your opponent.

3. Grunt work. These are your volunteer leaders. They can be the backbone of your field campaign. Willing to walk precincts in the rain; to encourage others to join in; they'll sit with cell phones glued to their ears for hours making those calls to undecided voters. They'll hold house parties for you and get their friends and neighbors to attend, to donate and even to hold their own events.

They will lick stamps and stuff envelopes, when a quick fundraising letter needs to go out. They'll forward emails and get all their friends to "like" your Facebook page.

3. The cream of the crop will become field coordinators, phone bank operators, finance committee chairs. Every member of the committee should donate whatever they can to the campaign war chest.
Now for what they are not good for, in fact, may be toxic for:

1. Writing the campaign plan. Yes, everyone has good ideas, and no one's ideas should be completely ignored out of hand, but this is not where your plan is created or your strategy worked out. This is a leaderless group who needs to take direction, not try to give it.

2. Crafting the campaign message, or worse, the actual campaign materials you will leave at voters' doors and mail to their homes. Your committee is likely to have English majors, maybe even ad execs. You'll have artists and everyone will have a cousin, sister, uncle or good friend, who's a brilliant designer. While all that may be true, and sometimes good ideas arise from brainstorming sessions around the coffee table, those are the jobs of your consultant and the professionals they hire who understand campaigns and the special way messages must be crafted and targeted to get the most bang for your precious campaign buck.

3. Second guessing. Don't let the committee second guess your consultant. Pick one or two trusted sets of eyes to review the pieces for spelling errors or factual inaccuracies. But if you let 12 people have a say in everything, you'll  have twelve opinions. Let them know you value their input, but make sure the lines of authority are clear. And remember, you are the boss. You can fire volunteers, even though you don't pay them and they have the best intentions. Some people are natural downers and must be gently sent on their way or channeled into a more productive role.

I've see all of these and more pitfalls on campaigns. If candidates whom I interview go "in a different direction," I wish them well. Occasionally, they win their race in spite of it all. More often though, I hear from them months or years later (often when they've decided to take another crack at running) "Well, you were right. My committee really didn't know what they were doing. Are you available to help me this time around?"

I never gloat.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Candidates that want to Pick your Brain for Free

Campaign managers and consultants will know what I mean In fact, anyone in any sort of profession must get this all the time. "Can I just ask you a few questions?" Then they proceed to try to get you to tell them the secret of success over the phone or in your first short initial "get to know you" meeting.

Watch out. These people are likely fishing for free help, whether it's with how to find endorsements, raise money, hold an event, or just finding out how far they can go on their own.

Now, if you've been reading this blog, you know I give free advice. I give campaign tips; the dos and don'ts of a successful campaign. But I like to think I give just enough advice that the savvy campaigner realizes they can't do it alone. Campaigning is, for the most part, not a DIY activity.

Some small campaigns do make it on their own with the help of a great group of volunteers, but chances are there are some seasoned veterans in the group, who've been down this road before and know the pitfalls. Those cases are rare. Even most small campaigns hire a consultant to guide them these days.

But I found myself in that situation recently. A lovely young man new to political life with just enough knowledge of website development and social media under his belt, to realize he needed something more. So he reached out. We talked extensively. He sounded promising. He sounded like he was on the verge of hiring my team to guide him and his band of volunteers on the path to victory. It wasn't a small race, County Supervisor in a mid-sized county. He knew what he didn't know. And I was (foolishly) flattered that he looked to me to provide it.

It was in our second meeting, when he said "I have talked to a few others (that's ok, that's due diligence), and I have a good feeling about you," that I realized his good feeling was that I could be counted on to talk passionately about campaigning just long enough to make hm feel educated, and no longer in need of paying for my services.

Of course he didn't say that at the time. It was the next day that he sent an email. It read, "Thanks so much for your time. I learned a lot, but I have decided to go in a different direction."

When I asked if he'd mind letting me know just what it was that determined his "different direction," he went silent.

Another one bites the dust. Well, you can't win them all. I will watch his race with interest, to see how it turns out. Anyone want to take bets?

Saturday, December 30, 2017

When not to run

You don't have to run for office. Sometimes you have to say no, I'm not going to do it, for a number of reasons. Perhaps the time isn't right for you. Perhaps the seat isn't right. Maybe you just cannot win, no matter what, because you're a progressive Democrat and the seat is held by a popular moderate Democrat with no bad marks against him.

That was the case with the young woman who came into my office the other day, hoping to get my support for her run for State Senate against the popular moderate Democrat incumbent. Only she wasn't even a Democrat. She used to be a Democrat. She ran to be a Bernie delegate and almost made it last year, but not quite. She also ran for this seat last year and came in third behind the Republican in the Primary with 13 % of the vote. This year she wants to energize millennials, not spend any of her own money (she spent a total of $3000 last time and most of that was filing fees), and raise $25,000. The winner raised $600,000.

No, she is now a "No Party Preference" voter. In this Democratic district, you need to make a commitment. You'll never get the unions, certainly not any Democratic endorsements.

"Why not stay in the fold, run as a progressive Democrat, " I offer her helpfully. "We are improving the Party. We can't do it from the outside. We can't do it if young people jump ship and make their mantra of "they are all the same" come true by their own actions."

"Don't run for Senate," I say. "Run for something smaller, school board maybe. So much easier to do, so much more in line with your background (educator, mother of a school age child), and as a young person yourself, it's a natural fit." Or get appointed to a board or commission in your town. Learn the ropes. Get some political experience under your belt.

And then, if she is successful, she might try for City Council in a couple of years. And so forth. This seat could be hers if she bothered to lay the groundwork. Just not this year. This gal is barely 30 years old for heaven's sake. She has plenty of time. She is so very sweet, very earnest, but that just isn't enough. Nor are her visionary politics, which I happen to agree with, but which do not answer the question, "What are you going to do for me?" which is on every voter's lips, whether they know it or not.

But this young woman is hell bent on being a sacrificial lamb. (Only doesn't know it herself.) She seems to really believe she can win with her $25,000 which she'll probably never raise. I do admire her spunk, but  all she will do is burn through her contacts, her friends, what supporters she has, and be left feeling bitter. I've seen it a million times. As she left my office, she asked for a hug.

Sweet, but no clue.

Don't be that person. 

And if you think I am talking about you, you are not the only one. And it's not just young people either. Think about it. Or as my mother always said, "Look before you leap."

Friday, November 24, 2017

Running in 2018? Start Now!

As I've said ad infinitum on this blog, it's never too soon to start your campaign. Going to Holiday parties? Have something to hand out; even a business card with your name and what your running for on it. A remit envelope is handy too. And get those first fundraising letters to friends and family in the mail. Yes, your holiday card list is a good place to start. Why not? Send Aunt Rose a card and tuck a note with a remit into it. She probably doesn't know what to get you for Christmas/Hanukkah anyway.

You're doing her a favor.

Don't be shy. Even at the office party, the neighborhood block part, your union's big do; tell people you're running. They'll be thrilled. And it gives you a chance to practice your elevator speech with a friendly crowd. If you get business cards in return, dash a note on the back to remind yourself how you met and any other pertinent facts about the person, then enter it in your data base as soon as you get home.

Follow up. Your fund appeal letter can go to them; a friendly phone call, or maybe even a lunch scheduled after the holidays, if they seem open to helping out. You never know when you'll meet that next big donor or stellar volunteer.

Above all, have fun, keep it a little bit light in keeping with the season, and know you are getting launched on your next big endeavor.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Election Day

Today is Election Day. You have voted or, more likely, not. They expect a low turnout as usual in an off or odd-year election, that is one with no major races on the ballot to stir emotions and partisan zeal. Races for Governor, Senator, Statewide offices. That's why the legislature in this state - California - decided to do away with them altogether and move all elections to even years.. There are only a few City council and special District elections today. I have one of them, in a small northern California town.

My candidate has never run for elective office before. But she has a long history of public service and community volunteerism, including positions on important local boards, the Parks and Recreation Commission and the Planning Commission. She will probably lose, because she is too qualified. We live in the era of the unqualified. Look at our so-called President, Commander in Chief, Leader of the Free World.

Just look at him and talk to me about qualifications to serve. And look at his cabinet. Or what's left of it; what's to come; they are dropping like flies, folding their wings and spiraling to earth; don't even need a swatter

What if he too spiraled out of the sky he imagines himself inhabiting; on top of; on top of his own world where he is the greatest.

He is the Muhammed Ali of his imagination, such as it is.

What if he tumbled like a giant baby with a diaper full of doo doo down the stairs, and oh oh, cracked his baby noggin on the cellar floor.
Oozing blood and bone and wads of putrid waste; we would dance in the streets, wouldn't we. We'd hold all night celebrations and drink ourselves silly with relief.

We'd hug our neighbors and their neighbors and the guy down the block, homeless and afraid; we'd take them all home and feed him like stray dogs rescued from the pound, that's how grateful we would be.

But I digress. It is now two days after the election. Alas, my candidate lost, she ran hard, two good mailers, that we did, and she walked a lot, but was just a little too shy and unwilling to ask for volunteers to help her walk and make calls. To schmooze at every event. And we needed to coach her better for endorsement interviews. She should have won based on her grasp of the issues and community service. One more mailer maybe? Phone calls for sure. And helpers. There were two incumbents and one associated with the incumbents. They won.

And that's hard to overcome. Without big issues, easily understood where you resonate with the voters and they don't.  Next time, as I always say. Next time.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Don't Listen to your Closest Friends!

Why, you are wondering, should you not listen to your closest friends? Aren't they ones who have your best interest at heart? Yes, but they are also usually the ones who know the least about what works n campaigns. You will hear thing like "I never vote for candidates who send a bunch for mail!" or "if they call at dinner time, I just hang up."

Sometimes, it's the people with a little bit of campaign experience who have the worst advice. "Why don't you have more signs up?" You'll never win without the most signs." or "In this town, people don't like slick campaign pieces. They won't vote for anyone who uses consultants to design fancy mailers."

Those statements are all toxic to a good campaign. well-meaning maybe; heartfelt. They may believe this way, but they are not running your campaign. At least I hope they aren't. Let's take these statements apart:

"I never vote for candidates who send a bunch for mail!"  These people wouldn't have voted for that heavy mail candidate anyway. If their candidate sent "a bunch of mail," do you honestly think they'd turn around and vote for the other guy, the one with little mail who has views they don't agree with? No. Mail works. It gets your message across to voters in the most visceral, physical way. Even if they toss it upon receipt they have to handle it and to glance at it enough to see, and register, your name, maybe even your three priorities listed below. Not mention your nicely designed logo and professional, but friendly, photo. Do it two or three more times, and you cement the relationship you started with that person. If they don't vote for you, they were never going to vote for you anyway. But if they don't know you, you've introduced yourself and told them why you would make the best choice.

"If they call at dinner time, I just hang up." Sure, but not before hearing your name. Or if they let it go to voice mail, they may hear your whole 30 second spiel. They'll be getting other calls at dinnertime too. And since everyone's dinnertime is slightly different, you can't always miss the dinner hour, without running into kid's bedtime, their favorite TV show, or even their own bedtime. Call when it works for you (if reasonable,; we usually stop all phone calls by 8:30 PM) and your volunteers, so long as you keep it short and on point, they'll get the message.

"Why don't you have more signs up?" There's a famous poster used by the Obama campaign. "I'm a Yard Sign; I can't vote. Go knock doors." It's apropos to all campaigns. Sure, it's nice to see your name all over town on signs in windows and on lawns, but the people with the signs are those most committed to you. You'll likely see just as many or more for the other guy. The people without signs are the ones you need to reach. And spending time and precious money on "sign wars" isn't getting your message out to the voters. Hitting them at the door, on the phone and in the mail are the things that count.
"In this town, people don't like slick campaign pieces. They won't vote for anyone who uses consultants to design fancy mailers." This may be my favorite one. It's heard in small towns across America. It may have at one time been true. Maybe when your friend ran for school board in 1987, she could do it with homemade signs and postcards printed at the local mom and pop shop. Today, all campaigns must be more sophisticated to win votes. Your mail must be sharp and well designed. It must catch the attention of the voters. And the competition at the mailbox isn't just with the other guy; it's with all the slick advertising you get every single day from a myriad of companies. So don't look at it as slick, but professional. Make your mail stand out. No, don't send one piece every day. That will get old and turn people off. Send three or four well designed punchy mailers that stick to issues. If you need to point out the difference between you and the other guy, do it in a clever comparison piece. You don't have to get nasty to make your point.

If there are several people running, it's even more important that you step away from the crowd and get seen and heard. All of these techniques are necessary to a winning campaign. The rule of thumb is you "touch" the voter 7 times, in small campaigns and large. In the mailbox, on the phone, at the door. If they come to a debate, that's great too, but most won't. You have to meet them where they live. Everyone has a mailbox, or a post Office box they check every day. Use it to your advantage.