Conventional Un-Wisdom – Hiring Staff

Conventional Un-Wisdom: To win in this district, you need to hire locals to work on your campaign.

This is a Conventional Un-Wisdom that happens early in the campaign assembly process and creates a rapid spiral in to more un-wise actions than a campaign can typically recover from.  Typically it comes from a “party elder” or even an elected official or party chair from within the district, giving it a great deal of credence, particularly to young and ‘outsider’ candidates.  The logic behind it is often based on local people not being accepting of outsiders or outsiders not being able to understand the district.

Good organizers are good organizers, some organizers are particularly good at organizing dense urban areas, some excel in rural or ex-urban communities, but they all know and understand organizing.  Beyond that, organizers on many campaigns are first time campaigners who are trained to organize based on the specifics of the campaign.  On a Presidential campaign, 20 or more (typically young) activists with very little experience start training on Friday and by Monday are ready to go out to their regions in Iowa or New Hampshire and organize for their candidate.

Hillary Clinton Continues Final Campaign Push Through Iowa
Good organizers trump bad weather.

Hiring for upper level positions it becomes even more crucial that professional talent be valued over local ties, I’ve been in districts that haven’t been won by Democrats in more than a decade and heard “you need to hire a local to run the campaign to win here.”  If the locals knew how to win, it wouldn’t take a decade or longer to get the district back.

Among the advantages of hiring non-locals is that you bring in new ideas and experiences, it is the combination of these experiences and ideas that helps us build a stronger base and more effective infrastructure.  This is one of the things that Republicans have historically done better than Democrats, they do a better job of rotating staffers to different regions and types of districts and communicating the ideas.  The further do a better job of making sure promotions are earned, not given automatically, that staffers attain a more well rounded experience before escalating to a position of management.  It isn’t unusual for senior staff in a Democratic campaign to oversee aspects of the campaign they have no experience or understanding of.   Frequently, Democratic campaigns have campaign managers that have only experience in one of the three major aspects of campaigning, most commonly finance.  While fund raising is extremely important, you need to know how to spend the money effectively.  This becomes particularly damaging long term when donors feel their money was wasted or mismanaged, potentially causing them to stop giving to the party or future campaigns.

When you bring in staff from outside the district, while they lack any prior knowledge or ties, they also lack any preconceived notions, grudges or biases.  They start fresh and look everywhere for information and support, rather than sticking to a closed network typical of a local organizer.  This may turn out to be a difference of hundreds of volunteer hours, tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars raised and enough votes to push your campaign to victory.   That locally bred organizer likely has relationships both good and bad that could help them within their circle and prevent them from reaching beyond their own circle.  They may risk lifelong loyalties and relationships whereas an outsider coming in won’t be penalized at all for reaching out in all directions.

Another advantage of non-local staffing, and one that should not be underestimated, is the quality of commitment and distractions.  Staff without significant local ties are less likely to be distracted by personal matters, they are more likely to live and breathe the campaign all day, every day.  The more focused your staff is on your campaign, the more invested they become in your victory.  Come September and October, your campaign will need every minute and every ounce of focus your staff can offer.

The stress of staffing decisions and hiring can be overwhelming, particularly early on.  After a candidate becomes comfortable with their campaign manager/general consultant, the candidate will become less worried about the processes and decisions.  Candidates and their family should be a minimally involved of the processes of staffing as possible.  A common mistake candidates make is being unwilling to dismiss a staffer who is not performing or who is somehow disrupting the campaign.  There may be pains and transitional stress with the removal of a staffer, but that pain will be far less than keeping them around, absorbing payroll and continuing to disrupt the campaign in foreseeable and unforeseeable ways.

Hiring family members, or family of top tier activists/elected officials is also discouraged due to excessive risks far outweighing the benefits.  If those staffers don’t work out, you not only have to deal with the normal pains of dismissing someone, but further the issues of alienating their top-tier activist family members.  With family of the candidate, it becomes even more delicate and potentially destructive.  Family members should be supportive and volunteer at the direction of the campaign, but if they want to help their wife/brother/father/son win, they need to respect that the campaign is run professionally and has a strategy and message that cannot deal with the conflicts of a family member going ‘off the reservation’.

New Hampshire Campaign Office 2010
New Hampshire DemHQ 2010

All staffing decisions should be made with capacity to do the job and the constraints of the budget first and foremost.  Often, campaigns with small or slow developing budgets will distribute titles to volunteers either as reward or encouragement to contribute more.  This becomes detrimental down the road as those titles conflict with the titles and responsibilities of professionals hired as the campaign grows.  Recognition and encouragement of volunteers is very important but you must keep long term plans and objectives in mind throughout the process.  If you title a super-volunteer as the “Volunteer Coordinator” 18 months prior to the election and then hire organizers or a professional volunteer coordinator later, how will that super volunteer deal with the demotion?  It can become particularly problematic when the hired professional is seen by the super-volunteer as being “a kid fresh out of college.”  The professional is going to work full time (and then some), using extensive training and accountable for their actions, the volunteer will not be accountable and is very unlikely to give the same time commitment or willingness to be trained.

On the right you can find some resources for hiring, and like a number of other consulting firms and organizations, MPA Political does hiring and training for all levels of campaigns and staffing, contact us now about your staffing or training needs.