Posts tagged Scheduling
Conventional Un-Wisdom: The Candidate’s spouse is above the campaign, they are not subject to the rules and expectations and should not be subjected to training and preparation. They know the candidate better than anyone and thus are more than capable of representing the candidate’s character and capacity in support of the campaign without guidance or training. Their responsibilities are limited only to what they wish to do.
When you look in on campaigns that are operating without professional direction or even some that do have professional direction, one of the common early failures is not defining the role, rules and hierarchy of the campaign to the candidate and their spouse. This results in the candidate and spouse defining their own roles and making their own hierarchy, which likely doesn’t adhere to any concept of “organized campaigning.”
In the first meeting with the candidate and spouse, the campaign manager should sit down and discuss the rules and expectations for the each of them. There should be discussion of time commitments, health concerns, and priorities. There are two very simple rules for the spouse to latch on to early. Spouse’s Rule #1: If you aren’t happy, you need to notify the campaign manager and discuss the situation. Spouse’s Rule #2: If the candidate isn’t getting enough sleep, food or is otherwise showing signs of declining/poor health, you must notify the campaign manager asap. Some will scoff that these rules border in to “marriage counselor territory” and distract the campaign manager from their responsibilities. The first is true, but, this is your responsibility, if the candidate’s spouse is unhappy or the candidate isn’t healthy, there isn’t much about the campaign that isn’t going to be negatively impacted. These rules are also accompanied by a rule for the candidate, Candidate’s Rule #1: Your primary responsibility is to make your spouse happy, if your spouse isn’t happy, you won’t win.
When you put forward those simple rules in an honest projection of what the time commitment and expectations of the campaign are from the beginning, you are far likely to incur issues later in the campaign. After establishing these rules, you can move on to defining the hierarchy of the campaign and the commitments and behavioral expectations. If the candidate’s spouse wants to play a minimal role in the campaign, that must be established early. If they are interested in playing a large role, that too must come out early. Either way, there is training and preparation to be done. You cannot wait until there is an urgent need to prepare the spouse, such as a pending media story. If the spouse desires to play a small role, is unprepared and then by random chance encounters a reporter, good luck controlling the story. If the spouse expects to play a large role, they need to have the limits and expectations defined early or they will quickly put the campaign in the position of either honoring the spouses commitments, making an alternate deal, or hanging the spouse out to dry. Consider the statement to be made:
“Mr. Dough made commitments without consulting his wife’s campaign, had he done so, he would know his wife and the campaign are already committed to attend a different event on the other side of the district on the evening in question, we apologize to the super_awesome_organization_01 for the miscommunication and hope their event will be a tremendous success.”
Doesn’t exactly leave warm and fuzzy feelings does it? There will likely be additional tension between the spouse and the campaign, and possibly between the spouse and the candidate as well. By properly preparing the candidate and their spouse well in advance, you can avoid all of these headaches a long the way.
Like all surrogates, the spouse needs to talk with campaign communications staff about what they will say when speaking in support of the campaign, how they will answer questions, and what to do when they don’t know or don’t wish to answer a question. Often surrogates think they have the best ‘story’ to tell about why they support the candidate, but it is rare that the story in question fits with the campaign’s message. Some surrogates are such tremendous storytellers that the off-message anecdote may work fine, but more often it will be a too long, too far off course, inside joke that the audience won’t receive in the manner the surrogate intends. The most common mistake for surrogates, just like candidates, is to speak too long. Shorter speech with more Q & A will provide the audience with a better impression and create an environment were the audience is more likely to get engaged in the campaign. A well prepared speaker can put forward a short “stump speech” that evokes questions the surrogate wants to answer. The same statement made as a response to an audience question will receive a far different response from the audience then when made as part of a speech. Given preparation and practice, surrogates often learn to enjoy this and become more engaged themselves, better displaying their passion and confidence for the candidate/campaign.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks is teaching surrogates, particularly spouses not to inject their own thoughts/feelings/expectations of the candidate/campaign’s positions. Teaching surrogates to say “I can’t answer that, but I’ll be sure someone will get back to you with the answer very soon,” requires a great deal more effort than you might expect, but has long rewards if the follow up process is handled well. The inclination is often to say something more like, “I can’t speak for my wife, but I personally believe that sporks are the best utensils and all others should be banned in the state.” The disclaimer that it is a personal opinion is of no value, the surrogate is standing as a representative of the campaign in support of the candidate. A surrogate should express no opinions that do not adhere to the campaigns message and stated positions.
One thing that is often overlooked is that there is a particular talent and skill to being a surrogate, and it doesn’t always correlate with the talent and skill of being a candidate. Some candidates/politicians make terrific surrogates, where you leave the room wanting to vote for the person they were supporting. Others are terrible at it, alienating potential voters or more often having voters leave the room wanting to vote for the surrogate, not the candidate. Most experienced politicians can learn to be good surrogates, but first they have to understand and admit that they aren’t the best surrogates they could be and ask for help. This is of course a rarity among experienced politicians, admitting weakness. When you are talking about the candidate’s spouse, they may be great about this, coming in with a “I don’t do this, teach me” attitude, or the may come in saying “I know her better than anyone, you can’t teach me how to support her, I’ve been doing it for 25 years.” Again, if you don’t approach the subject early, problems will develop and further complicate the process.
There are some odd quirks that come up depending on the spouse’s life, from career to recreational activities, the campaign needs to be as aware of the spouse’s life as they are of the candidate’s. Financial disclosure should be discussed early on, the spouse should be aware that they will be scrutinized in the public eye just as much as their spouse, if not more so (depending on their situation). They need to recognize that once the campaign begins, all of their actions, no matter how personal they feel they are, can and will impact their spouse’s campaign. This becomes particularly important in dual-career families, where both spouses have successful careers, there is potential for negative impact on their spouse’s career as a result of the campaign. Discuss it early, understand the possibilities and avoid traumatic fallout later in the campaign.
Children, particularly teenage children and young adults, should also be brought in to the discussion of how the campaign will impact their lives. They need to be warned that they could become a subject for gossip and media coverage, that their first kiss might make it to the front of the local newspaper. Use of social media should be discussed and the campaign’s new media person should help the kids “restrict” their Facebook access to just friends and family. Kids are incredibly resilient and much more tolerant to all of this stress if they understand it before it happens, the opposite is true if they are not prepared honestly in advance. They are more likely to lash out and feel as if they are being persecuted, blame their parent(s) and generally disrupt the campaign. I do not recommend using children as surrogates.
When a campaign is built on a strong foundation from early on, with open and honest discussions about expectations and responsibilities for everyone involved, the opportunity for success is far greater. When we make assumptions and leave things ambiguous, they will create problems we won’t know how to fix. With all of this, fold back in those Rules of Organizing, “If it isn’t written down, it doesn’t exist.” Write down the defined roles, responsibilities and expectations for the Candidate, Spouse, Campaign Manager, Surrogates and other staffers.
For your conveinence, here are all the Conventional Un-Wisdom, Unconventional Wisdom, and other posts that pertain to better campaigning sorted by what aspect of the campaign they primarily pertain to. You will also now find this list as a big button on the bar above and in the menu to the right. Please visit our Services page or Contact Us if you have any questions or desire more specific and intensive training.
Organizing – The Foundation of Progress – The basic rules of organizing
Tools for a Better Organized Campaign – Basic Fund Raising Spreadsheet
Events / Advance:
Tools for a Better Organized Campaign – Event Request Form
As I looked back on 2010 and saw the great big failures, they troubled me. Messaging failures, generally unprepared or unqualified campaign staff, candidates unwilling to learn, listen and/or improve, and of course strategies that were designed to fail from the start… But then there was a feeling of downright anger. How the hell can Democratic campaigns fail so often at the very basics of setting up an event? Does no one teach this stuff anymore? Do people not learn from event to event? Do they not see the big greasy piles of fail due to some form of rose colored glasses?
What am I talking about might you ask? Podiums with corporate logos instead of campaign logos, candidates speaking in front of mirrors or distracting paintings, rooms with 10 times as many chairs as attendees… This stuff isn’t at all hard to avoid and the positive impacts on your campaign are high for low cost in terms of time, effort and money. Why not give it a shot?
Starting from the beginning, long before the event. In political campaigns, this could be months in advance, or it could be a day or three prior. Fill out an Event Request Form, just as I explained in Tools for a Better Organized Campaign. This will give you the basics of the event, written down, because as we learned in Organizing – The Foundation of Progress, rule #9: If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist. Some where in the future, I’ll introduce a full event briefing, which will put even more of the details on paper (or on your smartphones) and better prepare you and your candidate for the event.
In this first step of completing the form, you will answer some very important questions such as:
Is this an event we the campaign are hosting, executing and in “full control” of? Is this an event someone else is hosting, executing and in “full control” of? What are the objectives and opportunities of this event? Who will my candidate, surrogate or staffer be meeting, speaking to or with? Will there be press present, audio? video? both? print? Will we, the campaign, be able to record/photograph the event? Will the host have photos taken? What potential challenges are there and how can we mitigate those challenges?
In this process, it is important to talk to as many people with information and experience with the event as possible, particularly with regard to events external to the campaign that are repeated/annual. History is a strong data point with regard to events. If the event has had 30-40 people attend the past 4 years, but the organizers are telling you they are going to have 200 this year, be realistic. Assume 30-40 is more likely until significant evidence indicates otherwise. You should visit and walk the venue, take pictures. Think about where attendees with enter, where they will gather, will there be food/drinks somewhere drawing the mingling crowd? How many chairs will there be, how will they be arranged, where will the walkways be? Are there tables? Sketch these things out as best you can.
Where will the candidate enter the room? Will the candidate have access to a “green room”, or a restroom, prior to entering the venue? When they enter, will they be overwhelmed with the crowd as they enter? Who will walk the candidate in, meet the candidate at the car/bus? Will someone be introducing the candidate to the attendees as they mingle? Will the candidate be going straight to the “stage” upon entering to speak, and straight out after speaking? How will they enter and exit? Is the facility handicapped accessible? Where are the rest rooms and are they Handicapped accessible? Where will people park and how far will they walk to the entry. What can we do if the weather is bad, do we have umbrellas and volunteers to meet people at their vehicles and walk them in?
One of the aspects to think about is photos/video, what will be seen and how can we make sure the candidate looks good and campaign logos are included in photos? If the event is “campaign owned”, you have very few restrictions on where you can put signs, banners, balloons, etc. Every organizer should have high weight clear fishing line, sticky-tack (the blue stuff is better than the white stuff), clear tape, a staple gun (and staples), coat hangers, paper clips (variety of sizes, binder clips as well), and whatever selection of rope/string/twine you can amass. Having your own folding tables, table cloths and such also comes in handy as well, plus a chair or two – you may be able to borrow these from local supporters, organizations (VFW halls, churches, local county party, even a friendly restaurant/bar, if you don’t ask you won’t ever get what you are looking for.)
So you have your adhesives and such, where do you put signs? I start with where the candidate will be speaking, the front of the podium if there is one, and then behind the speaker’s primary location, picture a tic-tac-toe board on the wall. Put signs in the top and bottom corners, and in the center…obviously if you start with the center at the candidate’s chest height it is easier to achieve symmetry. The logic is that you want any picture taken to include the campaign logo (and url if possible), assume photographers will reject any preset media areas and take photos from wherever they please. The sign over the candidates shoulders will be the most visible in photos, often you can remove the center sign after
putting up the outer corners and use that sign for the front of the podium or somewhere else in the room.
If there are flags behind the candidate, this is where those coat hangers come in to play. First, research flag code and observe the rules therein. Here is a key passage, Section 7.k.:
When used on a speaker’s platform, the flag, if displayed flat, should be displayed above and behind the speaker. When displayed from a staff in a church or public auditorium, the flag of the United States of America should hold the position of superior prominence, in advance of the audience, and in the position of honor at the clergyman’s or speaker’s right as he faces the audience. Any other flag so displayed should be placed on the left of the clergyman or speaker or to the right of the audience.
Now, the coat hanger… When you have flags hanging from staffs, they are generally limp and in many cases hard to identify. As photo backdrops, they can look a bit “lacking” as a result. To correct this, take the coat hanger, upside down, and tape the stem of the hook end to the staff just below the bottom of the flag, as seen in the photo at right. The end result can be seen in the photo at left featuring three hanger’d flags
behind a microphone stand/podium at an Alvin Brown for Mayor (Jacksonville) Press Conference. Note that the American flag is the tallest, slightly forward and at the speakers right (photo left), with the State of Florida flag in the center and the city of Jacksonville flag on the right. Be sure not to put the hanger too high on the staff, causing a very unnatural draping in the flag, angles can be used as I did with the Florida State Flag to alter the drape and emphasis a key symbol or section of the flag (Florida’s state seal in this case).
To the left, you have the final product, candidate Alvin Brown surrounded by some of the areas elected Democrats. Positives: Flags are visible and identifiable, well presented and adhering to code. Podium/mic stand has a campaign placard with logo including the candidate’s name. Negatives: podium/mic stand is a bit low or the placard should be affixed higher, to be sure it is included at least partially in photographs (particularly in newspapers that will crop the photo down significantly.) The large placard below the podium is angled quite a bit, thus creating a reflective glare in the photo, it needs to be firmly propped up and affixed to prevent it from shifting during the presentation and fixed at closer to a 90 degree angle to prevent glare. There is no url on the placard on the podium. Nit Picking: Voters and people in general have preconceptions of leadership and appearance is part of that, in this case, one of the focuses will be height, the candidate looks tall if you crop the right of the photo off, but with State Senator Tony Hill behind him (over his left shoulder), the candidate “loses a few inches” in perception. Project power and power will be perceived. If your candidate is not tall, create presentations where they appear taller. In this case, the short podium does that nicely, but the offset of Senator Hill erases that effect.
Throughout the rest of the room, if you have the opportunity, you should place placards at or just above shoulder height on walls at whatever density you can achieve with a pleasing aesthetic. Assume people will take photos during the mix and mingle portion of the event, the logo/candidate name/url should be displayed in those photos if at all possible. In a very large room, you might put one placard on the wall every 4-10 feet, in smaller rooms, put them closer, even down to just the width of one placard between placards. You can create nice visuals by “stair stepping” or “checkering” the placards. Affix them all in a straight line adjacent to one another (add a laser level to your tool kit), then adjust the 1st placard up one placard height, so the bottom right corner is touching the top left corner of the 2nd placard in the row, then drop the 3rd placard down one placard height, so the top left corner of the 3rd placard is touching the bottom right of the 2nd. There is all sorts of visual art that can be achieved, you can take out the center row leaving the high and low…get creative, find a good look that works in the room. HANG THE PLACARDS WITH STICKY TACK AND COLLECT AND RE-USE the sticky tack when the event is over. The placards and sticky-tack should last the duration of the campaign. Store it in a zip lock back (add a box of bags to your tool kit, as well as trash bags, large heavy duty trash bags, don’t go cheap, you will suffer the consequences, I prefer drawstrings too). Look around the room, think about where people might want to take photos, how can you make sure there is a logo in that shot? If you had taken photos when you first walked the venue, you should have looked at those with that thought in mind and had a plan. If you have banners or 4×8 signs, is there a good place for such in the room? Will it be effective or distracting? Putting a 4×8 with the candidate’s face right behind where the candidate is speaking will not play well. Placards on the doors entering and leaving, 4×8 or banners at the sign in table can be useful in drawing attention and indicating “this table is official.”
An important aspect of setting up and event is knowing who and how many people will be there. You must have a hard count, people you are certain will show up, people who have verbally told you (or an organizer, staffer, volunteer) they are attending for certain, within one week of the event. Anyone confirmed more than a week out should be reconfirmed a few days prior to the event. EVERYONE should be called in the last three days and reminded, typically the script of this something like so:
Campaign_Caller_001: Good evening Mr. Jones, My name is Campaign_Caller_001 with the XYZ_Candidate campaign. How are you this evening?
Mr. Jones: I’m fantastic, Michigan lost, how could life be better?
Campaign_Caller_001: That’s wonderful, I’m calling to ask if you have any questions about Tuesday’s event at Your_Town’s High School Auditorium with Celebrity_Draw_002?
Mr. Jones: What time am I supposed to be there again?
Campaign_Caller_001: 5:30pm sir, do you need directions to the school?
Mr. Jones: It’s at the high school on Unpleasant View Drive, right?
Campaign_Caller_001: Yes, that is correct, and you will want to park in the back and enter through the East doors, we will have signs directing you there around the school.
Mr. Jones: Great, I’m really looking forward to it, thanks for the call.
Campaign_Caller_001: My pleasure, please call us at 555-867-5309 if you have any questions. See you Tuesday at 5:30.
Now you’ve reminded them to attend, and likely generated a bit of positive mojo for being “on top of it” as a campaign. Adjust your hard count based on the feedback of these calls. Facebook “I’m attending” doesn’t count in a hard count. Call the people and make sure they verbally commit to attending. Maybes don’t count. Numbers matter, be precise. Once you have this hard count, and you know what the setup of the room is, if you are doing a presentation with attendees seated, take the hard count, subtract 10-20% and setup that many chairs. You can always add more chairs (make sure they are available, but if there are more chairs, people will naturally filter to the back and the ends of aisles, creating a sparse crowd. You want the candidate, press and attendees to feel like the place is packed, whether it is 20 or 2000. If my hard count is 45, I set up 25 to 30 chairs, depending on the room configuration. As you configure the room, remember to allow for a “press box” area, if possible a media riser (a platform typically 6″ to 32″ in height that allows the media to setup a camera on a tripod to see over the crowd, typically the same height as the stage or a bit higher). With a higher riser, you can put people directly in front of the camera shot, causing the room to look more full, with a lower riser, you may want to leave an aisle to allow a clear shot of the candidate and presentation. The media riser should have a “Mult Box” for the media to connect to the microphone audio feed and any other sound feeds (if you are presenting a video or have a call-in speaker for instance) as well as access to power (via extension cords, taped and covered with a mat for safety if possible).
Behind the flags in the photo above you see a curtain obscuring what’s behind the presentation, in this case it is the stage/podium of a union hall. They utilized what is called “pipe and drape” to create a false background behind the candidate, making the event look more formal/official. These are fairly simple in design and can be rented relatively inexpensively and also allow you to hang banners from the pipes, particularly handy in situations where there is no other means to hang a banner in the room. You can also create pvc pipe frames for your banners fairly inexpensively, find someone crafty – this can be particularly handy for walking in parades with banners. With the pipe and drape, you can create an alternate entry method for the candidate or other speakers, potentially allowing a “surprise effect.”
Candidates/campaigns often shoot for quantity over quality with events, trying to hit 5, 7, 10 events in a day, as was discussed in Conventional Un-Wisdom: Scheduling, in most situations, quality is more important than quantity. The candidate should take the time to speak to as many people in the room, specifically ask for their support (vote, money, and/or time), and thank them for coming out to the event, as is possible. If you over schedule the candidate and rush from one event to the next, you are missing opportunities to activate volunteers, increase output from existing volunteers, and of course positive donor and voter impacts as well. If your campaign feels like speed dating, you are probably doing it wrong.
The candidate should work the room with a local surrogate, someone who knows much of the audience and easily connected with them, and ideally a campaign staffer is also nearby to collect notes, business cards and answer any questions beyond the candidates purview as needed. That staffer can also assist in increasing efficiency by helping to transition the candidate away from one target and on to the next by either taking over the existing conversation or introducing the next person. This requires talent and practice to be executed gracefully and without negative impacts, but in larger rooms a necessity or the candidate will be bogged down by the small handful of people who are already maxed out in support or rejection of the campaign, extra time with the candidate isn’t going to change anything.
Signs identifying the presence of the campaign event should be visible along the path leading to the event as far as a few miles down the road. People who were already soft on attending will absolutely flake if they become unsure they are at or headed to the right place.
The last piece of the basics is flow in and out, with data capture and personal contact. Ideally you want a sign in table just inside or just outside the main entry, if you have a large hallway outside the event room, setting up outside the room will allow you to have some control getting people signed in before they enter. If the event is ticketed, you have further control, as well as additional complexities I won’t get to here. Sign in should be efficient and orderly, and if an extra staffer/volunteer and “work the line” to keep people happy, calm and understanding the process, things will go smoothly.
If you do sign in outside, you can do further data capture inside, with staff/volunteer asking “ID questions” to those that enter, and then re-asking the same questions to those same people post event. ”Do you support XYZ Candidate?” Coming in they may be unsure, going out they may be excited and strong supporters…take the time to ask why and of course ask them to volunteer, donate, etc. There is a delicate balance between approaching attendees enough and harassment, courtesy and friendly demeanor go a long way to maintaining balance. Apologize and take the blame, don’t pass it off on your peers, staff or boss.
Capturing sign in only on the way in is not enough, you need to capture feedback/data on the way out too. Was the event good? Did they like what the candidate had to say? Did something said or done upset them? What corrective measures can be taken before their support/vote is lost?
The more you do it, the better you get at it, and you will learn and grow, as with everything else. These are just a few of the basics, there is so much more that can be done, and good event/advance staff are extremely valuable. Anyone can be trained to do the basics, but there is real talent and doing great events top to bottom.
Back in December, I posted Organizing – The Foundation of Progress, the most basic rules of organizing. I also promised to begin posting some forms and other tools to assist in organizing campaigns. I’m going to start with a basic fundraising spreadsheet, based on what is used on my December 7th post on fund raising: Conventional Un-Wisdom: Fund Raising and an event request form that will be involved in a future post on basic event execution.
On this spreadsheet, as described in Conventional Un-Wisdom: Fund Raising, you find a simple setup for collecting and tracking fund raising. This spreadsheet is not a replacement for a full featured fund raising database, like NGP, and certainly not an alternative to a qualified finance staffer. Across the base, you will find four worksheet tabs, Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3 and Phase 4. These tabs are for use in this exercise, start from Phase 1.
Phase 1/2 is the first steps, as detailed in Conventional Un-Wisdom: Fund Raising, it is the first step of listing everyone you (the candidate) know, are related to, went to school with, worked with, shared a cab with or saw pass out at 31 flavors. Focus on the names and how you know the people at this point, friends, family, volunteers, interns and later finance/campaign staff can help fill in details.
The immediate focus is creating a list that will help determine whether or not your candidacy would have the necessary support in the first 90 days to push forward. Unless you are a self funding candidate or some form of “rock star” candidate, there is no need to send mail or email in this first phase, except thank you notes. As such, mailing addresses shouldn’t be fretted over during “call time hours”.
As you flip to Phase 2, you see the addition of phone numbers and email addresses, and first ask/pledge tracking. Phase 3 adds more ask/pledge/collection data, and in Phase 4, you have a complete process sheet. There are notes columns for each fund raising quarter, and you will note that the first two donors are given a red background as they have maxed out and can no longer contribute to the campaign.
Some of the terminology / codes used:
|1st Contact – M – Ask|
= First contact – Method – how much is the ask
|1/11/2011 – F2F – $1000|
= the date of first contact – face to face – asking $1000
Other Methods of contact: Ph = Phone, Ev = Event, S = Surrogate (You might use S# to indicate a particular surrogate, ie S1 for the candidate’s wife/husband, they might be keyed as “S1 Ph” for instance.). At later stages of the campaign you will have contributions come in through methods that are not instant-direct contact, ie letters, the interwebs, etc. Of course, don’t expect this to be significant – roughly 80% of your fundraising will come from direct solicitations by the candidate via call time. That is, if you are raising money effectively, efficiently and on a level to compete in six and seven figure races.
I think all the other abbreviations/terms are understandable, but please feel free to post in the comments if you seek further clarification.
The second tool is an Event Request Form, a basic form identifying the who-when-what-where-why and how for events that the campaign is requested to appear at. The use of these forms will help campaign management triage the candidates schedule as well as the schedules of staff and surrogates. The more you know about an event in advance, the better prepared the campaign can be to properly execute the event.
This is a sample of a completed event request form using a fictional event hosted by the Fredonia City Democratic Party. The request is for the candidate, John Dough, the time, date and location are given as well as a contact number for the venue itself. The candidates arrival and departure times are provided, this is very important given that in some cases a candidate may have a very narrow window to appear at event, or may need to attend the entirety of a 2 or 3 hours event.
The event description identifies the event as a Pig Roast and that the MC will be the local party chairwoman. The keynote speaker is identified as well as the subject of the keynote speaker’s remarks, the program is vaguely described, though more information is desirable. Often at the times these forms are initially completed, some of the details are still in flux and thus follow up is needed. Before the day of the event, the campaign should ascertain where in the speaking lineup the candidate will appear, any additional information on appropriate attire, and more information about the audience composition.
We also note who is filing the request, in this case it is a campaign field staffer named Kelly Marks, and her contact information is readily available. Below, in the box, we have the contact information for the host organization.
As with everything else, the best thing you can do is hire high quality professionals to run your campaign, implement efficient processes and of course, bring in the best trainers. Before and after that, I hope tools like these will help your campaign deliver the results needed to advance progressive values.
Conventional Un-Wisdom: As a candidate, you need to meet as many people as possible, you should have as many events scheduled each day as is possible.
This one is found on campaigns of all budgets, from the most experienced to the greenest candidates. For some candidates, this is a matter of style/choice or as a counter to a perceived or actual weakness. For whatever reason, schedulers tend to squeeze as many events/meetings on the calendar as possible, putting the candidate in intended or accidental tardiness perpetually.
The contrast of two extremes can be seen looking at the Republican Presidential nominating contest in Iowa 2007/8, particularly between Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee.
Romney’s campaign resembled the average Iowa effort for a wealthy/well funded candidate, spending upwards of $40 Million in Iowa. His family had an RV, they had buses, they used planes, they crammed in five to nine events/meetings crisscrossing the state every day. Huckabee’s campaign more resembled the thrifty couch to couch model set forth by Jimmy Carter. Spending less than five million in Iowa, Huckabee typically had only two to four events in a day, staying at each until he had shaken every hand and spoken to every Iowan who showed up. This proved to be effective for Huckabee, with him winning Iowa netting 34% of the vote, besting Romney by ten thousand caucus goers, or roughly 9% more of the record turnout 120,000.
Huckabee is an incredibly gifted campaigner, with exceptional memory and recall of the people he meets along the trail. He is known to recall and ask people about the things they had mentioned to him at the previous month’s (or longer past) event in their town, demonstrating exceptional empathy in the process. No one expects this level of performance from candidates, but it is a phenomenally effective club to have in your bag.
Why do schedulers and campaigns in general function in a consistent fifteen minutes “behind schedule” state? Typically, people don’t get to an event and settled in until at or shortly after the scheduled time. This can lead to candidates showing up to partially (or completely) empty rooms, which makes for embarrassing pictures and bruised egos. Now, if you have talented, well trained organizers, they can plan and execute the events without anyone noticing or caring that the candidate wasn’t there at the scheduled start time. You want your candidate to walk in to a full room, you want him to spend a few moments in private with the host/hosts of the event, and you want him to be introduced to the room (both formally and during mingling) by a local endorser (possibly the host). All of these things can be accomplished without leaving the attendees feeling like the campaign is behind schedule.
As for scheduling, one of the first challenges is making commitments weeks or months in advance of events and then having additional events crop up at the same time, possible great distances apart. I will seldom support a candidate breaking a commitment to attend some other groups event. One way to alleviate this problem is to develop a strong network of surrogates, unpaid supporters of the campaign that can speak passionately in support of the campaign and have sufficient local, regional or national recognition and credibility to benefit the campaign. This could range from one the candidate’s school teachers who has also taught a significant portion of the community in which they are speaking to another elected official (Member of Congress, Mayor, Governor, Sheriff, etc) to a true celebrity. Michael J. Fox speaking out in support of Claire McCaskill on the issue of Stem Cell Research was a major component of McCaskill’s victory of the 2006 Missouri Senate Race.
If you have a network of surrogates developed, preferably with them sorted by capacity/issue specialties, you can then distribute them to events as needed, allowing the candidate to be more selectively utilized without alienating key allied organizations. As the campaign season nears the end, more events will crop up in conflict with one another, by this time, the campaign must have a variety of experienced spokesmen to represent the campaign at events. Whether it is the candidate, surrogate or staffer speaking, you should always record what is said on behalf of the campaign. Review of the recordings may allow you to correct a small issue before it becomes a big story or to effectively refute a bogus claim made by the opposition.
Many campaigns function on 3, 5, or 7 day scheduling – I prefer a minimum of ten day scheduling. If a candidate doesn’t have a “dinner time” commitment on the schedule 10 days out, I have them eat dinner with a random supporter in a targeted precinct. The supporter can invite neighbors, co-workers, whatever is their preference, but with little stress, keeping the expectations and logistics minimal. The candidate can then sit, be themselves, and build relationships with voters they may have never otherwise reached. With a near zero cost to the campaign, these types of informal events can be very effective, particularly in the early stages of the campaign. Rather than trying to hit every media market and region of your district each day, aim to hit each once per week, spending quality time in each region, hitting multiple earned media opportunities in each.
Events more than ten days in advance should be well researched, both the event in question and any other potential items on the calendar in that time frame. Be sure to get multiple opinions and data points on potential external events, often the hosts will oversell their event to get a commitment. If the event drew 75 people last cycle, 75 the cycle before that, and 75 six years ago, its probably going to draw about 75 this time too. Who are those 75 people? People you have had extensive contact with and no results? People who are unlikely to support your campaign? Rabid supporters who don’t expect you to attend the event because it won’t help you win? Activists who expect you to be there to show your support for the organization that is supporting you? Get as specific as possible, from ticket sales to attendee lists to table arrangements. Will there be a podium? PA System? Is the program an hour? Four hours? Know before you commit your campaigns time. Briefing memos should be prepared for every event on the campaign schedule – time, date, location, who will be in attendance, specific focus points, important facts, type of remarks, notes from past events in the same community, etc.
All surrogates should be prepared before speaking on behalf of the campaign, regardless of how elite or qualified they may be, they are not experienced with this particular campaign and they have significant potential to cause damage to the campaign very quickly. Most surrogates will appreciate and respect such preparation if it is done correctly. Even family members and the candidate’s oldest friends should be properly prepared before being sanctioned to speak on the campaign’s behalf. I rarely support fully scripting a surrogate’s speech, but the campaign should talk with them about why they support the candidate and what points to emphasize versus what things not to bring up or to down play. Just like the campaign’s media operations, surrogates need to be on message to be effective. It is amazing how many campaigns fail to prepare particularly high level surrogates, leaving a Congressman or Senator to flounder in front of a crowd, unsure of what to say beyond “Vote for this guy, he doesn’t suck!”
A recent campaign in a US Senate primary was among the worst examples of what I refer to as “Speed Date Campaigning.” Rather than building quality relationships and providing the motivation of personal contact with the candidate, the campaign crammed as many events in to each day, utilized a private plane to span a large state every day in an effort to hit every media market every other day. While dramatically outspending his opponent, and having at one point polled significantly ahead, on election day it ended up a double digit loss. When you take the time to build relationships and favor quality meetings/events over quantity of meetings, you build a stronger base that is much more resistant to character attacks and mudslinging. You develop a more motivated and energetic volunteer corps, voters more likely to actually cast a ballot and take the next step of encouraging friends/family to do the same.
This is particularly important in primaries, one of the things Democrats do generally worse than Republicans. Often our Democratic candidates take a “screw ‘em if their not with me” attitude in the primary, particularly when it comes to party ‘elders’ and top tier activists. I encourage candidates in contested primaries to reach out to those ‘high level’ supporters of their primary opponent in a non-confrontational manner, sit down with them and say, “I’m here because I believe I’m the right person for this job, I hope if I win this primary you will support me, and I respect your decision to support the other guy…” It’s amazing how dramatically this can impact the post-primary period of the campaign, taking just a small percentage of time pre-primary to net huge gains to start the general election.
I’ve heard of campaigns trying to schedule separate meetings with 5-7 activists/donors in a single hour, every time I’ve seen it attempted, it has backfired on the campaign, with activists/donors unimpressed or insulted. If the people are worth meeting with, they are worth treating with respect and giving them enough time to accomplish something meaningful. Campaigning is a process with outcomes delivered over time, rarely instantly. Relationship building needs to begin as far in advance of the election as possible, with the results trickling in over time and culminating with a victory on Election Day. The quality of the relationships you build will have a significant effect on how well your campaign resists character attacks.
Whether you are running for school board or U.S. Senate, take the time to show the people who come out to meet you that you appreciate them, value their vote and will listen to their concerns. On the other hand, your staff needs to keep you from wasting time on people you will never convince to support you as well as on people who have already reached their maximum support potential. Properly trained staff should help the candidate navigate the room, ideally having been in the room and met the attendees prior to the candidate’s arrival. See the prior Conventional Un-Wisdom on attire to ensure successful interaction with the attendees.