Its over three years since I had been a campaign manager for a Congressional Campaign, and I was cleaning up my blog and discovered a couple of half completed notes on being a campaign manager that I planned on publishing for others to benefit from my experiences. In the intervening years, I got extremely busy and never had the time to edit and update.
Today, I thought – why the heck not? The information is still relevant and the ideas may help some new campaign manager learn some lessons from this crib sheet instead of from the fire of a candidate (or campaign). As I go through my notes, I will write some of my thoughts out – and capture them in posts.
Lesson #1: It’s all about the money.
One of the lessons I learned in running a Congressional campaign is that a political campaign is like making sausages – you never want to know how it is done, but you can appreciate when it is done right.
In building a campaign from the ground up – or improving an existing program – you face a lot of operational issues:
- getting low-cost, high-quality facilities,
- getting the best staff for the least amount of money,
- growing connections both within the district and the District,
- creating compelling marketing materials that hit the high points, but keep the powder dry,
- and so on.
And, aside from the operational ones – the interpersonal issues of political candidates and their families, the issues of staffers and volunteers – all of these are part and parcel of running the campaign.
But when it comes down to brass tacks, with all of these issues looming, what truly matters in the eyes of everyone is the money.
Money determines viability, strength and success in the future. Early money determines your perceived viability of the campaign. Effective money management determines the nature of your campaign management. Growth of money determines your future viability in various situations – including television, radio, print/direct mail, online and other outreach mechanisms.
Since money is the constraint on your campaign – consider the following suggestions when trying to create an effective political campaign.
It’s all about the incentives
A political campaign is just like a startup – especially when you consider the roles that people play. Let me compare the roles of each:
- Campaign Manager = Chief Operations Officer, President
- Candidate = Chief Executive Officer, Chairman of the Board
- General Consultant/Media Consultant = Board Member w/ equity
- Communications/Press Director = Chief Marketing Officer
- Finance Director = VP of Sales
- Field/Volunteer Director = VP of Human Resources
- Internet Director = Chief Information Officer, Channel Sales Director
Interesting breakdown, no?
Invisible first hire: General Consultant
In every campaign I have been involved in, there is always the “General Consultant” – the person who is counseling the candidate on how to run the campaign, whom to hire and how to win the campaign. Unfortunately, this is not a position that is easy to manage in terms of compensation – since they are usually the people who have the media production teams (for the TV ads you will be counseled to spend on) and they have the relationships with the media buying companies where your TV ads will be playing. The GC will expect at least 10% to 20% of the “media buy” (note, the median of the percentages is 15%), so with every dollar raised, think that 5% to 15% of that dollar goes to the GC.
Sorry – not much to offer here in terms of management advice. By the time you are a GC, you know the game – and do not invest in any candidate – unless you are a believer or an idealist (in the dictionary, see “Sanford Dickert”).
First hire: Finance Director
In any campaign, the first hire is always the fundraising person (which comes at a cost since the better ones have salaries that match their performance).
Most candidates are “counseled” to work with a “fundraising consultant” – which is similar to hiring a salesperson with their own Rolodex of clients. In the beginning, this is more than likely the best way to go – since finding the fundraisers are the prevue of the experienced. Soon, you will find that the consultant does not want to do the tedious tasks (calling, emailing, responding, organizing, etc) without considerable increase in expenditure – which means you have to hire a Finance Director who will address these issues.
When I ran my campaign, I saw these roles as sales roles – ones that had a dollar value assigned to them. I knew what their base salary was – and I knew what they suggested they could raise. Instead of pure retainer or pure commission, I did what any good VP of Sales did – gave them a mix of both, and incentivized them with a program that supported their strengths.
Now, the challenge is – the primary fundraiser is not either of these two people – it is the candidate. Plain and simple. No one donates to a political campaign just because the FD asked. It is all about the candidate contacting the potential donors – and that requires focus and time. If the FD or the consultant is incentivized, you will bet that the candidate will be doing call-time every day, and twice on Sunday.
Second hire: Field/Volunteer Director
Now, in some worlds – the conversation is about the Communications Director – since you need to get your message straight. But, if the GC is worth his/her salt, the message calendar will be worked through with them. So, the real challenge you have is to get volunteers and feet in the street to handle the retail politics that needs to be addressed. And this calls for a Field/Volunteer Director.
Intriguing part of this role is that this person needs to get an understanding of the community, know where political resources have been found before and are interested in being part of this campaign, and begin the effort of gathering signatures, canvassing the neighborhoods, putting up signs, recruiting supporters, licking envelopes and the like.
Funnily enough – these tasks do not sound like a Sales role – this is a recruiting role and a management role. Which is why, this role should have a similar incentive program as the FD, but in this case, target their success on the growth of solid volunteers and their performance in event attendance, phone calls, whatever – over particular time frames. The goal is to develop a momentum within the team for creating success – and tying the success to financial accomplishments.
For instance, one of my volunteers was given the role of Call Time Manager – working with the FD. His role was originally volunteer (he came with his friends) but then we gave him an incentive program which worked on both calls completed, donations generated from the calls, and projected revenue coming in over the course of the following months. Using a basic commission structure, we were able to increase the completion of calls for Call Time and gather more information for future calls on how to improve conversion and generate more donations.
Nothing magical – just an incentive that aligned the campaign’s goals with the volunteer’s. And the Field Director – he would get a percentage of success as well (or would have if he was not already on base salary).
Aren’t getting volunteers easy? Why compensate the Field Director for that?
I have always heard, “We can always get a volunteer to help us do X” in almost every campaign I have been a part of. But as I have learned both in politics and in corporate life, volunteers are notoriously fickle and quality varies wildly.
They want to help, but other things can easily pop-up and distract (e.g. job, wife/husband, children, emergency). IMHO, very few people in the world are capable of giving up their day job (or their relationship) to work a campaign which can end in either victory (reward: good feeling to a job with a governmental wage) or defeat. And while I have been blessed by excellent volunteers in the past, but not all of them could come to the plate today because of their other obligations – which I completely understand.
Incentivizing the Field Director on finding the right kind of volunteer assures you that you have some level of sustainability and stability on your staffing – and can build them up into other roles as the campaign grows.
Third hire: Campaign Manager
You more than likely are saying – “What? Why so late?”
Simple answer – you need money and people before you need middle management. Campaign managers are very important – because they usually compliment your strengths and weaknesses (yes, you do have some skills that are not as good as others). A good campaign manager will know how to manage the growing team and accomplish many of the tasks that need to be addressed.
The CM needs to manage the team – but also need to manage the District. Originally, I did not think that this is one I did not think was a big deal, especially in a Congressional campaign. But as with any hierarchy, my experience has led me to recognize the importance of maintaining a positive relationship with the Beltway. While money does not fall from heaven by “being friends with the District”, positive word-of-mouth is always important. Especially in a city that what you know and who you know is so important. And with donors taking their cues from the friends in “the know”, IMHO it is important.
So, how to incentivize the CM? Now, this can be an interesting one – and one I put together with my candidate. I focused on the cash burn and the cash generation, created these earlier incentivization programs for staffers so as to reduce the cost of staff, and then kept expenditures down while pushing for fundraising drives – both offline and on.
My success: for the first five months of the campaign prior to my arrival, 2.5 staffers cost approximately $13K per month. Two months later, we had grown our campaign staff by six people (not including me) and our cost structure only went up by $2K, but had incentive programs in place that we aligned with our fundraising targets.
Can you do this now?
Absolutely. I did this with companies, consulting arrangements, campaigns and other programs. Instead of paying for someone’s time – we focus on their commitment to the success of the effort and their contribution to the success.
The argument against this is often “But, there is no control by the staffer on the success of the campaign. How could they even agree to an incentive program?” My response is simple: no company, project, campaign or anything that requires people to work together is a guarantee. Enrolling them in the program and showing them respect, responsibility and professionalism is how teams are formed and successes are achieved.