I am outlining some basics of campaigning that have come to me over the years. Even though I have never been elected to the level of dog catcher, sometimes we can learn from those who have failed.
Some of the points I will make may seem like common sense to many; however, it is clear from what I have seen, that they are not being done by many. There is much more detail to planning and running a campaign and wanted to offer some candidates and some potential candidates some general guidance.
First and foremost decide WHY you are running for office. Articulate that ‘why’ into a 30-second pitch because it is a question you will be asked over and over. Decide if you are a serious candidate or ‘name only’ candidate. Either way, this post will be helpful. You also want to do a self-assessment that you are not too thin skinned for a political campaign. No matter how great a person you are, there is a strong likelihood that you and your ideas will not be welcome in certain circles. You need to rise above that and not lash out in defense. Taking the Harry Browne or Bob Burg approach to rejection is your best option.
Before you start your campaign, it is best to be prepared.
Order the book “How to win a local election” even if you’re running for a higher office. It will give you the background you need and is a handy reference guide.
Make sure your family is on board with this endeavor. Political campaigns can be taxing on the family; so as long as you have their full and unwavering support, you’re a GO.
Find a group of dedicated, core volunteers. This is often family or friends. Some will become part of your official campaign, others will help elsewhere as the campaign develops.
This group should include someone (or more than one) that is good with digital graphics and/or video experience. Rachel Mills, who produced the viral videos for Sean Haugh, suggests, “I think trying to get your best production value possible is crucial. It doesn’t have to cost a fortune these days, but that also means the ante is upped in viewers minds, too. If your production value is so poor that it’s distracting, it’s a problem. And keep it brief. Keep your videos under 3 minutes ideally.”
Be organized, or at the VERY least have someone on your team to be a detail oriented person. Forms need to be filed on time, schedules need to be adhered to, etc. This can be your campaign manager or someone else on your team — in a company this is often the compliance officer.
Depending on the level of office you are seeking and how serious your opposition is going to go after you, it may be a good idea to put a security freeze on your credit files and your driver’s license. If you are going up against a heavily funded Republican or Democrat, they are going to be going deep into your life.
Do opposition research on the candidate(s) you are running against. This can be as simple as reviewing their voting record if they’ve held office before, and can extend into hiring private investigators or using services like Lexis/Nexis. You, or a member of your team, will want to scour your opponents’ social media pages and feeds for anything that can be used against them, should they launch the first shot. You need to be ready to take them down accordingly for any hypocrisy.
Make sure you are comfortable speaking in front of a group. If not, then join a local Toastmasters organization to get comfortable. Usually, if you know the issues front and back, you will do fine, but many people will still freeze up in front of a large crowd.
Either have money in the bank or a job with a flexible schedule. Many meetings you may need to attend are during normal working hours and you MUST show up for any and all. If you raise money, you are able to use campaign contributions to get to/from campaign-related appointments.
Eliminate any pictures or postings you may have on your social media pages or feeds. While some may find it humorous of you naked with a bong to your mouth, the super voters will not. Just like you should be doing opposition research on your competition, they are likely doing the same to you. Think of how your postings may be perceived by others. It may even be beneficial to temporarily suspend your personal Facebook page, for example, in favor of a new campaign Facebook page during the race. You may also utilize the services of an online reputation company. Brand Yourself is one company that has a free version of their services and a paid version.
Create social media pages specifically for the campaign; however, do not have them go live or publish to the public until you officially announce. It is amazing how many candidates do not make use of these free services to draw interest to their campaign and drive traffic to their website. You are going to create a campaign website, right? It is a MUST in today’s campaigning and it cannot look like crap. Get someone on your team or someone from your political party to help you. If you have the funds, then pay someone to put one up. Web sites can be done on the cheap and still look really good. You do not need to spend a billion dollars like the Obamacare website.
Get excellent pictures taken of you for public distribution. If a reporter is looking for a picture of you online and all he/she can find one that is a selfie of you in a wrinkled t-shirt with a bunch of your friends photo bombing in the background, that will not do. If you can afford to have the pictures taken professionally then please do; if not, then have a friend take some pictures of you in a collared shirt, preferably in a suit and/or jacket. Take several, high-resolution photos. They don’t all have to be stuffy, you can have some professional-looking photos without the jacket and tie. Just watch your background, you don’t want a Robert Mapplethorpe photograph in the background of your campaign pics. You may not like it, but if you are serious about running for elective office, super voters and the media want to see you looking professional.
Gather the contact information for all political reporters in the area of your campaign. You will need this information to send out press releases and to call them in the future.
Order a small batch of t-shirts and/or polo style shirts for yourself, a few family and friends. You will order a larger batch later, but you need to have a small number on hand for when you are at public events.
Your website it up, you have your social media sites ready, you have great pictures at the ready.
Now you will file your paperwork with the appropriate elections office (city, county, state or federal) and take pictures of you handing over the documents. You will send out a press release via email as well as announce. From thereon, you should be sending out press releases on an ongoing basis relative to the office you are running for and that are timely (of interest to the media). Here is a press release template you can use. When emailing out the press release to the media, do not use it as an attachment (i.e. pdf or doc), but put the press release in the body of your email. If it is your first contact with particular media, then include an attached photo (not too large a file) OR provide them a link to your website where they can find high-resolution photos of you. Anything you can do to make the media’s job easier, the higher chance you will be included in their media.
Some campaigns have a launch party. If you do, have it open to the public and invite the media! It should go without saying, but don’t get drunk or smoke at your launch party. Pictures are going onto Facebook and Twitter real-time, so keep that in mind. If you need to smoke, kindly take a five-minute break that is private. Although I personally do not care if a candidate smokes or not, many voters view it as a negative and you want to keep negatives to a minimum.
Your focus should be on super voters! Super voters are voters who are guaranteed to show up and vote. That should not be done at the expense of regular voters; however, if you are short on time and funds, super voters could be your key to succeeding on election day.
Hopefully, you have already been going to various political and social meetings, and during the campaign you are going to want to increase and expand on them. You will, of course, go to any candidate forums or debates, but you need to go to as many political meetings as possible. If you’re a Libertarian running against a Republican in the race, then perhaps local Democratic Party groups will let you speak so long as a Democrat is not also in the same race and vice versa. This is done often, even though it is sometimes against party rules — it is mostly up to the local affiliate. You will also want to attend as many government meetings as possible and perhaps speak on issues that are on the agenda. Most of these meetings are video recorded and you can utilize that video for your campaign.
If you are sending out press releases and the media is ignoring you by not including you in stories of your race, then you are going to need to step it up a notch. Pick up the telephone and POLITELY and PROFESSIONALLY speak with the main reporter who is covering your race. ALWAYS, the response will be something like “if you raise $ X then we will start to cover your campaign.” So you can choose to dump $100,000 as a loan to your campaign to garner their interest, or you can appeal to their human side and utilize rapport techniques. Answer calls that come from reporters. It is amazing how many candidates do not call reporters back or email them back. Often the reporter is calling or emailing seeking a quote for inclusion in a story.
A few last notes. Your rhetoric should not always you being AGAINST something, you should be FOR something. So, how do your positions on your website read to the average person, how about your Facebook posts? Your focus should be on the positive as often as possible, showing the public why they should come over to your side of whatever the issue is. Also, for some reason, road signs seem controversial with some Libertarian campaigns and I am not sure why. Road signs/yard signs are invaluable to get your name out there. I would suggest 75% of the race is name recognition and if you are not getting it from the media, then you will get it from road signs. I have a lot to say about signs, but that is for another day.