One of the worst mistakes new candidates make is entering their race completely unprepared. I mean, what is to prepare for? You just have to get a bunch of signs, and make some facebook posts, right? Lol.
Once a person has decided to run for office the first thing they should work on is assembling a campaign team. If you’re running for one of the big offices in a competitive race (US Congress, State Senator, County Judge, or Mayor), then the following is what your campaign team should look like.
But if you’re running for City Council or School Board you’re probably going to have one or two people taking on as many of these roles as they can. So depending on your specific situation and campaign budget, your campaign team is going to look a lot different than this.
You should be prepared to invest AT LEAST $5k into your own campaign, just to get it started. This is something some candidate’s seriously need to consider before making the commitment to seek office.
General Strategist– this is the person that is going to lay it all out for you, and tell you exactly what needs to be done from beginning to end. This person should have AT LEAST 5 years of serious political campaign leadership experience. To be clear, I am not talking about advocates or volunteers, but people that have often been paid to work senior positions on campaigns.
If you have been politically active, you probably know someone that fits this description. Or at least you would know several people who know a person who has enough experience to be your General Strategist. You may even be fortunate to have several strategists on your side, all with different insights.
It is unlikely this person is available to be your Campaign Manager, but if they are, it is not going to be cheap. Depending on who you are seeking and what your relationship with them is like, and how much time of theirs you are taking, they may give you a lot of direction for free, or ask you for a big check upfront. If it’s one of the big offices, then this expenditure will be worth it. You have way too much on the line to be “trying new ways to campaign” or taking advice from friends and family because you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. You need someone that knows what to do, can take charge, and is a proven executer.
Low Budget candidates: Try to set a coffee or lunch meeting with as many potential general strategists as possible. If you have been politically active, this shouldn’t be too hard. Get as much advice and information as you can in that hour that you have with them. Write it down, and make your campaign calendar and team based off all the advice you received. Also be open to the idea that these meetings may have you realize, that this is not your time to run for office.
Campaign Manager- This person’s number one asset should be availability. For goodness sake, don’t get yourself a Campaign Manager that has a full time job or major commitments. Being your Campaign Manager should be their full time job. Also they should be a great office, schedule, and event organizer.
Of course campaign experience is always better, but it isn’t necessary for a good Campaign Manager, especially if your Campaign Manager has access to your General Strategist, or has at least sat in a couple of meetings with them so that they know what has to happen on this campaign.
Even if you know everything there is to know about campaigns, and you know how to do everything, get yourself a campaign manager, because as the candidate, you will never have time to run your campaign. Your Campaign Manager needs to be running you. Your Campaign Manager will make sure the rest of the team is in sync, and on task. Your Campaign Manager will handle all the petty shit that always happens in every campaign. You don’t have time for that.
Low Budget Candidates: I know times are tough, and you have some people saying they will do it for free, but find somebody that you can pay something. Trust me. They may think they won’t mind doing it for free, or that they have the time, but as the campaign gets started that will quickly change. It could also help to offer a win bonus (if you have a realistic chance of winning). Try to avoid your Campaign Manager being a friend or family member. My personal opinion is that no election is worth losing relationships with friends and family. Yes, of course, have them blockwalk and phone bank and poll watch, but try to keep your staff your staff. As a candidate, you will be less stressed.
Field Director- If you can only afford one campaign staffer, this is it. Just make this person Field Director/Campaign Manager. The pool of people that can be a Campaign Manager is much larger than the pool of people who are willing and have the skill set to be a Field Director.
First of all, this person is going to need to know how to use a voter database, and should be able to make philosophically sound decisions about which voters should be targeted in relation to your race. They need to know how to cut a list into walkable turfs that can be distributed to blockwalkers. They also need to know how to make phone, text, and mail lists, and intellectually know which voters should be on which list. They need to know how to collect data from voters, and how to use that data to analyze voter responses and to reshape voter targets.
Second, this person should already have a base of professional canvassers they can call on to help your campaign, as soon as you can afford Paid Canvassers. They should also have the ability to recruit brand new people, and train them to be effective at the doors. Your Field Director should have enough availability to “spot check” your canvassers, by being out on the field with them, and by calling voters for quality assurance.
Your Field Director is your biggest workhorse. It is the least sexy part of the campaign. This is the person that has to manage an entry level staff, doing the hires and fires, and probably the only Senior Staffer that will deal with voters and volunteers on a regular basis. Appreciate your Field Director, and give them a budget that allows them to hit as many doors for you as possible. Besides you, no one on your campaign is earning more votes for you than your Field Director.
Low Budget Campaigns- If you really can’t afford a Field Director, then find a kid trying to make a name for themselves, and hope that they are El Paso’s next Top Field Director. And by kid, I mean early 20s, probably just finished working for Joe Biden or Battleground Texas or one of those organizations where they learn field skills. They will probably know some basics, and have some sort of mentor they can call to help them with the more complex stuff. And they probably know some college age kids that can hop on as paid canvassers. Make him blockwalk too and pay him for his blockwalk hours, but give this person a couple extra bucks than the other canvassers. Offer a win bonus.
Communications Director- This is the sexiest job on the campaign. This is what most novice people picture doing when thinking of working on campaigns.
Most political Comms Directors also have some sort of campaign field experience talking to voters. Probably while they were still in college learning comm skills, they volunteered for some campaign, and liked it, and was able to work their way into the sexy part of the campaign. Your Comms Director is going to be heavily responsible for creating talking points, and having experience talking to actual voters is a huge advantage for a Comms Director.
This person should have a strong grasp of the English language. The type that takes pleasure in finding typos and grammatical errors. They should have the skill set to handle all your social media, as well as the ability to write all your press releases for TV/Print media. It’s a big help if they are already familiar with the media big shots and how to access them. They should know the basics for photography and video editing, and also can probably do some graphic and web design too.
Every event you are at, your Comms Director should be at.
Low Budget Campaigns: You can’t afford to pay anyone for this job. Just hope you, your campaign manager, and the rest of your team can team up on these efforts.
Finance Director- This person is not your accountant. This person is your fundraiser. This person should know all the big donors in town and how to get you meetings with them, unless they got it so good they can just pull a check for you. They should have a donor call list that they can give you to call. Yup, that’s right. Even if your campaign has a paid Finance Director, you still have to make the calls and have the meetings. I know, I know. You hate asking people for money. Well, understand, you’re not asking them to give YOU money, but to support your campaign for a better community. Your Finance Director should be able to set up profitable fundraisers.
Low Budget Campaigns: You can’t afford to pay anyone for this job. Have your Campaign Manager help put together a call list of potential donors, and hit the phones hard. Don’t have a fundraiser event, except maybe if it is your “kickoff” event. It is not worth all the trouble of setting up, especially when there is a good chance you will lose money hosting the event. Just pick up the phone and ask for a check.
Opposition Researcher-this person should be ruthless. Not only with finding “dirt” on your opponent, but also with finding dirt on you. They should be familiar with and have access to various search engines especially made for finding criminal records, civil suits, liens, property records, educational and professional history, etc. They should be skilled at conducting Open Records Requests. They need to know how to package all their findings in a way that is appealing for news media to cover.
Low Budget Campaigns: Again, don’t pay anyone for this. This is something you can probably find someone to do some of this for free. If not, spend some time early on with your campaign manager doing whatever research you can on your opponent. Don’t forget to acknowledge what your opponents will likely learn about you that they will use to attack you. Have your responses/counter attacks prepared.
Graphic Designer-If you have a Communications Director, they probably have enough graphic design skill that you don’t need to outsource for this. If not, you’re going to need someone to make your logo. But you don’t need the best graphic designer in El Paso for this. In other words, don’t spend a significant portion of your budget on graphic design. The skills needed to accomplish your logo are basic. I mean look at Beto’s logo when he ran for Senate. While it may take a Master’s Degree in Marketing and Advertising to understand the sheer genius of it, anyone with a computer can type their name in a basic font, in a light color, against a dark background. Okay, maybe it’s a little harder than that, but if you’re paying somebody more than a couple hundred bucks for this, it is a bad expenditure, especially if you’re already on a tight budget.
Chances are that you know someone that knows enough to get this done, and likes you enough to do it for free. I mean, your logo shouldn’t be so complicated that it would take more than an hour to do.
Low Budget Campaigns- Google: free logo design
Photographer- Again, if you have a Communication’s Director they probably are also skilled in photography, so just have them take your pictures. Yes you will need to take some photos of yourself, and probably of the community for your campaign literature and website, but you shouldn’t spend more than a couple hundred bucks, if anything at all. You probably know somebody with a camera that likes taking pics, and likes you enough that they will do it for free.
Low Budget Campaigns: just take some pics with an iphone and roll with that.
Website-You have to have a website. You should be able to get a decent website done for $1k or less. This requires a higher skill set than graphic design or photography, but yet I see more candidates try to get this done for free by friends more than anything else.
What I have seen happen a lot with friends of the candidates that are doing the website for free is that it takes forever to be finished, and updates to the website are hard to come by. So as the consultant, I have often been “hey the website needs to go live, and it needs this that and this, and it needs it now” to which the candidate replies “well, you know, my buddy is doing it for free, so I can’t rush them, and I asked, but he has to work all day, and is going out of town this weekend, so I don’t know when it will be ready”.
In comparison to photography or graphic design, it’s the Website that I’d rather pay for. But again, I think $1k is the most you should spend. Just keep it simple. Make a tab for your bio, platform, donate, and contact/get involved. Put some pictures up and link up all your social media. That’s it. Forget all the fancy stuff, it’s not going to get you more votes. A simple, easy to read website, with a good platform will help you get votes.
Low Campaign Budget: if you really can’t afford one, post constantly on all social media. It is not an adequate substitute for a website, but at least you give voters a chance to find you on their google searches and learn what you are about. But it’s only going to have value if you are posting constantly.
Volunteers-Take all the volunteers you can get and put them to work, but don’t rely on them.
When I first meet with a candidate, they almost always tell me they have a whole bunch of friends and family that are ready to help with whatever we need. This is usually said right after I explain why we need $10k for a paid canvassing program. I ask them how many volunteers do they really think are going to come through and be heavily involved with the campaign, and they will usually say like 20. To which I reply, okay so then in reality you are going to have maybe 4 or 5 volunteers helping on this campaign, if you’re lucky. And the work they are going to do is minimal, like 2 hours of blockwalking on a Saturday. That’s just not enough manpower to get the job done.
By the way, a $10K paid canvassing program might be too much for your budget, especially if you’re running for council or school board, but every campaign in a competitive district race should have a good $3-5k in paid canvassing. It will drastically increase the number of votes in your column.
Poll Watchers-You don’t need these. Not at all. You know those volunteers that want to “help” but wont blockwalk or phonebank? Send them to poll watch. Don’t pay people to do this.
Or, don’t do any of this. Just put your name on the ballot, wave some signs at polling locations, and hope for the best…lol.