A Woman’s Guide to Running for Office: Part 3 — Building Your Team
This is part of a larger series we’re doing on women running for office. If you haven’t read part 1 and 2 yet, we suggest you read them here first.
Depending on the level of office you are running for, you may or may not decide to hire a campaign manager. It’s almost inconceivable for the higher offices to not have one. It’s critical for a larger campaign that you have a trusted right hand (wo)man to help the behind-the-scenes run smoothly. However, for a smaller office, you can probably fulfill a lot of the would-be responsibilities of a campaign manager yourself. Even if you don’t hire a campaign manager, though, you’ll still need a scheduling, communications, fundraising, field, mail, and media team. We’ll cover each of those now.
How many volunteers do you need? How many doors do you need to knock on?Grassroots organizers are going to be the backbone of your campaign, but they will need leadership, so you will need to find volunteer team leaders. You will also need a field organizer and director. They can be put in charge of navigating and growing your volunteer base. How big is the race you’re running in? If it’s local, of course your volunteers will all be local. But, if you’re going for a state or federal position, you’ll eventually have volunteers in different cities across the country.
Depending on your budget and how big of a campaign you’re running, you will likely need several different experts to make the fundraising ship run smoothly. You might want to hire an event planner if you choose to host events as a form of your fundraising. You might also consider hiring a treasurer. Even a small campaign will have expenses. Unless you are adept at keeping track of income and expenses, you’ll want an experienced accountant to help you track this information.
You NEED to nail your messaging — and sooner, rather than later. This will dictate everything else that you do. What you decide your messaging will be is going to color how you present your campaign and yourself online, at events, one-on-one with voters — everything. Think about why you are running this campaign and work backwards from there. If there’s one thing you wish the voters would walk away with knowing about you, what would it be? Are you building your campaign around one particular issue? Are you building it around empathizing with voters?
This message isn’t for you. The message you cultivate is for your voters. What will resonate with them? How do you create a message that allows you to engage with the voters while still maintaining your integrity?
Repetition is crucial. It’ll take repetition, repetition, repetition, to really hone in on your messaging.
Create a “message box.” Making a personalized message unique to your campaign is no small feat. But the “message box,” which is a tool that’s been implemented by campaigns for years, might make it easier.
This is the template of the message box. It will help you visualize what your plans are and how your message is really coming across. In the upper-left quadrant, write down what your message is, if you could execute its communication awlessly. Write down the issues you care about. This will be the core of your message. Write what you are fighting for.
In the upper-right quadrant, you’ll write about your competition. What are they saying about their mission? What are they advocating for?
In the lower-right quadrant, write down what the competition is saying about you. Are they trying to smear your campaign? How are they framing your positions in an attempt to lessen your credibility?
Finally, in the lower-left quadrant, you are working proactively. How can you frame what the other side is saying about themselves? What are their weakest points? What issues are they not touching on that YOU would?
Be wary of stereotypes. Remember what we said earlier about triggering them. This is why you have to be strategic about your messaging and make sure everyone on the team is on the same page about it. Like we said, your messaging is going to dictate your advertising, your public persona, and what you talk about to voters. What are some negative stereotypes regarding females — and possibly your race — and how can you proactively fight against those through your messaging? If there’s something that people keep saying over and over about you, begin your entire conversation with anyone by dispelling that thing. For example “Hi, my name is so and so, and if I really were someone who doesn’t like people, would I be here in 32 degrees outside your house wanting to talk? By the way, can I come in? Humor will dispel the power of whatever is being said about you.
Create a calendar. What will be regularly scheduled, and what days? Create your communications and content calendar around your event calendar, of course. What will be the most effective method of advertising events? Do you need to schedule a press release before major occasions? What kind of Facebook post do you need to send out?
How will you get the message out? You might want to hire a PR expert for your campaign. You don’t have to hire them on a salary — instead, you may decide that hiring them on a project basis makes more sense for your budget and timeline. But an experienced PR manager will be able to get your message out to outlets you would never have been able to tap into otherwise.
You need an online presence. It will vary based on your particular campaign and race, but even if you are only sending out a few emails, you need to plan that out (try MailChimp!) It’s the simple truth that in today’s modern society, if you don’t exist online, you might as well not exist at all. Make accounts on all major platforms — Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram if you have the bandwidth. Perhaps most critically, you need to create a user-friendly website. Your website needs to look slick and be practical in practice. You can hire someone to help you do this, or create one yourself - Squarespace is a good option. All of your social media platforms need to link back to your website, and your website needs to link to all of your social media platforms. Being active online is a way to interact with your supporters in a more personal way, especially when you gather up more and more volunteers — you won’t be able to personally interact with every single one of them. You website should include, at the very least:
- A bio of who you are
- A outline of your campaign platform and the issues you care most about
- Contact Information
- A place to donate to your campaign
If you decide it’s important to create a social media presence, you can use what’s already out there to your advantage. Use hashtags to engage and interact with the community. If you’re on Twitter, try to use at least three hashtags per post. Pictures receive a lot more attention on social media. Use gifs. When you get later on in the campaign, post a “throwback Thursday” picture of you at the beginning of your campaign. The possibilities are endless when it comes to how you use your social strategy.
Also, make sure to look at new tools like Hustle, that can personalize large text blasts and save you immense amounts of time. A tool like VoterCircle can help simplify reaching out to voters in key parts of your district through social media. If you are up against candidates with lots of money, playing smarter will pay off. We’ll go into more detail later about revolutionary digital tools you can utilize, during the execution section.
It’s important to have excellent content to get out your message, but along with great content goes great design. Ask your network or volunteers if anyone has design experience — although, you may want to consider hiring one for your campaign. Design will correspond with content to create a cohesive message, and it’s worth investing in an experienced one to ensure that your message visually resonates with your base.
Digital may be the future, but most campaigns still do actual mailers. For an extremely small race, it may not be necessary. Then again, for only relatively small races, it might be the best way to get your message out quickly. Figure out how much it would cost and make the personal decision of whether that cost is worth it for your campaign. Ask yourself these questions when contemplating this decision:
- What is your vote goal?
Everything in your execution should come back to this question. What is your vote goal? You should have this from the planning/research section. How many votes do you need to win — and then remember, you’re aiming for slightly higher than whatever that number is. If you can realistically knock down all of those doors, mailers might not be necessary. Meaning, if you’re running a hyperlocal race and need 1,500 votes to win, you might not need political mailers — IF you start early enough and have enough volunteers knocking down doors for you. If you’re running a medium or large race, however, political mailers will be crucial for success. Another question to ask:
2. What’s your landscape?
You will almost always use mailers in any race, but may deploy them differently or more frequently depending on your district, and it’s always better to be as aware as possible of your demographics. A town where houses are miles away from each other will make it dif cult to personally appeal to voters by showing up at their doors. Mailers will be especially cost and time effective in that case. In fact, for many smaller races, direct mail will be the only form of paid communication used, since political mailers are relatively cheap and quite effective.
3. Is your competition using political mailers?
You should be aware of what methods your opponents are using for everything. This is not because you have to do everything they’re doing — in fact, that should decidedly not be your approach. Be thoughtful about what works for your particular campaign. But, if your opponents are using political mailers, and your voters are seeing them in their mailboxes — ask yourself, are you doing everything you can to be seen as much as they are?
Then, if you do decide to pursue mailers, what’s your plan for this? You will want to personalize the campaign experience, target your voters, and connect with your audience when it will be most effective. Also, this is not going to be a method you use once. On average, it takes four direct mail touches — along with other communication methods — with your audience to have an impact. So, plan to mail out at least four personalized political campaigns, and remember that political mailers should always be a puzzle piece of a larger, comprehensive communications strategy. Mailers are not going to be your only channel to engage with the voters.
In really small campaigns, like running for a school board, polls are less necessary. But even in relatively small, local campaigns, they can be useful. In an ideal world, a candidate always wants to test out a message before spending money communicating and implementing it. So if you are focusing on policy change or particular issues, you’ll want to get the voters’ perspectives. So, what does polling consist of and who can help you with it?
Polls are a way to scientifically, randomly measure the voters’ opinions in your district. A pollster will conduct these surveys, and they will likely happen over the phone. Pollsters will call registered voters, at random, to get their perspective on your policies and issues. Polling firms are usually located in larger cities.
If your budget allows, focus groups can be a nice complement to polling, because many argue that quantitative research isn’t enough. Focus groups are a place to learn what your constituents care about. What do they want to see solved? Ask them, on a scale of 1–10, how likely they would be to vote for you. What could you do that would get them to a 10? (Make sure you ask open-ended questions.) Focus groups are going to tell you what polls cannot. If you do decide to conduct focus groups, however, make sure you keep them loosely structured — they shouldn’t be strict. You should also not be the one conducting them. People are not going to be as honest about how they feel about you and your policies if you are sitting in the room with them.
What events do you need to attend? For a larger campaign, you might need a personal assistant or scheduler to help you keep track of the events you have to be at and the ones you don’t need to go to.
Your scheduler can also help you and your team keep track of which events your surrogates can attend on your behalf. If you’re fairly organized, then you should just get a system down and be transparent with your team about what you’re using. Google Calendars works pretty well and has a user-friendly app. You can see your team’s calendar and invite others to events with you. Regardless, you’ll need to consolidate your schedule and gure out a system that works for you and your team.
How are you planning to build out your tools? Unless you’re a computer science whiz, you’ll need someone who will help you design your website, for example. Do you have an effective method for in-team communication? There are so many excellent tools out there these days that you should explore. Ask yourself what you will need out of your tools. How large is your team? Will you need extensive in-team organization, or will a single Slack channel suffice?
Algorithms go along with polling. The ideal campaign utilizes data, as well as lived experiences, to make good strategy decisions. Time is going to be your most constrained resource — if you have an hour to either knock on doors or call donors, you want to use data to make your decision so that you can be the most effective. You don’t want to waste time by continuing to use a strategy that’s not working. You want to understand your voting audience as intimately as possible, and data will help you do that. Businesses can help you create and execute algorithms for your demographics. Which firm do you want to work with? Private companies that are party-aligned can help you gain access to the voter database — are you in a large enough race that your party can help you out?
If you are running for a local race, are not affiliated with either the Republicans or the Democrats, or haven’t garnered enough traction to get your party’s attention, you’re at a disadvantage. But you still need to find and use data. What’s your game plan?
NationBuilder is a political campaign software that might help you out, but their data keeping methods are nicky. But, they might be your best bet because you can create your own data in this system, which claims to be the most used political campaign technology and prides itself on being an effective, nonpartisan method for smaller campaigns. Your technology hire will have to help you with your data calculation.
This is part of a larger series we’re doing on women running for office. This is part 3. The next part is about executing your campaign strategy, which you can access on our home page. NewFounders is a coalition of leaders seeking to use innonvation to reconnect people and politics.