5 tips for running a political campaign in 2017/18
MAKE YOUR CAMPAIGN A COMMUNITY
Before I get to the analysis and advice, a little background on myself so you can gauge if I have proper credibility.
I first volunteered on a political campaign back in ’98 when I was 16. My big brother was the volunteer coordinator, so I used the race as chance to get closer to the fella, and he found a dedicated letter folder and a precocious kid to knock on hostile doors — smart. As a 16 year old on a congressional race, I was able to be a fly on the wall and observe everything going on, because no one expected anything from me. Plus, every drunk staffer and/or volunteer wanted to pass on their words of wisdom. In other words, I gained a true 360 view of how a campaign operated in 1998.
As my career moved forward, I started specializing in certain areas and eventually managed different teams and campaigns. I moved from a holistic but general view of campaigns to a deeper, but siloed one as time went on. Then, switching gears, I went to business school to obtain an MBA so I could better understand team management and campaign strategy.
Fast forward to November 2016. As a struggling screenwriter in Los Angeles, I made an arrangement with a long shot city council race; I’d help out as a general consultant on the race if they let me sleep in the campaign office while I continued to pitch my projects around town. Once again, I was the idiomatic fly on the wall. Some folks would come into the office around 7am and others stayed until 3am. Since I was only able to sleep when the office was empty, I was around to hear stories and lessons from all walks of the campaign. Additionally, I’m told I have a “fuck off” demeanor, so that allowed for ample observation time.
Another thing you should know up front: the city council campaign where I resided for eight months turned out to be a controversial dumpster fire. What I thought was a normal politician’s need to be seen and loved was actually a much deeper problem. I eventually bailed because the candidate lost my trust and respect. I care for everyone I met and worked with on this race, but when the candidate’s true personality was revealed, it was clearly time to part ways. While the candidate was flawed, the lessons learned from the campaign have value far beyond that race. With this in mind, I’ll use several examples from the campaign to illustrate points, and I speak with pride about the work and the community, not the individual candidate.
Now to the substance
We need to radically reevaluate how we view volunteers on our campaigns. Looking at volunteers simply as door-knockers and phone-bankers lacks empathy for a broad swath of brothers and sisters out there willing to help your campaign. Both activities are extroverted in nature and thereby inherently prohibitive to the introverted among us. Beyond personal feelings, holding this mindset can cost a campaign hundreds of thousands of dollars in opportunity costs.
34% of the American workforce is considered to be part of the gig/freelance economy. This environment forces today’s worker to be remote, adaptive, and creative. An unintentional benefit of this shift is that these occupations are often useful to political campaigns. In my last campaign, we had ten graphic designers in a Slack channel dedicated to volunteer assistance. These folks made most of our digital collateral, from social media cards, to infographics, to poster design. The same 10 people weren’t wealthy enough to donate, nor comfortable knocking on doors. But they had a skillset and passion extremely valuable to the campaign. We need to empower our volunteers to use their own individual strengths in support of our campaigns. This increases engagement and recruits a larger volunteer army.
Another consideration involves the changing landscape in communications. Social media companies are rapidly evolving and new entries are constantly launching. Like political campaigns, these platforms are in a constant battle for eyeballs. Understanding their business needs should help design the most effective approach in using their resources. Don’t fight these changes, feel ‘em.
The five sections in this series offer approaches in executing the philosophies laid out in this introductory summary.
Reflecting on this past race and relating it to 1998, I can say that as Democrats, our campaigns are currently rooted in a structure created in the early ’00s (McCain/Feingold), galvanized in 2004 through Howard Dean’s presidential campaign and DNC take over, and finally, we’re stalled in 2008 as we try to recreate Barack Obama.
I hope we don’t continue being the party that “fights the last war” and resist the changes in our workforce, information distribution, and ease in content creation. Similarly, we can’t get so excited by the next new shiny object we forget the cornerstones of campaigning in certain communities, no app can overpower the local town gossip…get those loose lips on your ship.
Our campaigns need to be as agile as our workforce.