You’ve just spent months running for office and now the post-Election Day hangover is upon you. After expending so much effort during the campaign, it’s easy to overlook the little things once the dust settles. So we’ve divided the advice that follows into two parts. Let’s start with the good news.
Congrats, You Just Won a Hard-Fought Race
You’ve earned the chance to represent your community. Most candidates who run for office don’t win, but now that you have it’s time to start thinking about what to do next.
Thank folks. You won, but it wasn’t just you who made it possible. You had a lot of help: voters, volunteers, donors, friends, family and organizations—they all played a part. So thank them in person or with a hand-written note. Thank everyone; believe me, they will remember.
Remember why you ran. You wanted to make change in your community, now is your chance. Think of the issues and problems you want to make a difference on and do it. Don't let the mayhem of being an elected officeholder distract you from achieving the goals you set out to accomplish in the first place. And don't over-commit. Focus on the issues and goals you ran on and work to achieve them.
Help your staffers find jobs, but don't hire all of them. Just because someone worked on your campaign does not mean they are qualified to do public policy, or have the temperament to do case work. Hire those who are right to work in your office, and help others find something else. Do not string anyone along.
Pay your debts. Hopefully you won't have any debts, but if you do, develop a plan to pay them off quickly. Don't wait on this.
Take stock of your assets. What does the campaign leave in its wake? These can be major assets for future runs or organizing efforts. You need to make sure that you organize everything you have.
Find and secure all of your lists. Volunteers, donors, IDs, sign locations—they all have value. Make sure that you decide what happens to these assets. Don’t let a well-meaning volunteer copy them and give them away to another candidate. You need to make the decision on how these are best used.
Take down those damn signs. Yard signs that never get picked up after Election Day annoy people, and they could also cost your campaign real money in the form of fines from cities or localities. So make sure you have a plan to pick up signs and get them of the street. And once you’ve done that, make sure you recycle them. All of your paper, lit signs, wood posts can be recycled or saved for the next race. A special pick up may be needed, but don’t just throw all your paper in the trash. And give your desks, office supplies and scrubbed computers away to folks who might need them.
Talk to your lawyer before you delete files. Understand what files you need to hold onto and what files can be destroyed. Store any files you want to keep on a secure portable drive as well as a second possible back up. Just because it’s something you don’t think needs to be kept post-Election Day, doesn’t mean you should trash it.
Analyze your race, once. Write down why you won: look at the numbers, ask your staff, and then write down the answers. After the initial analysis, put it away for a while and don’t drag the process out. In the end, it will not help you win the race again. In most cases, your next race will have very different dynamics, but I know you can’t help but analyze it. So do it quickly one day and move on.
You Lost – What’s Next?
Even though you worked your butt of, you fell short on Election Day. What now? Much of the advice listed above goes for losing campaigns, too: make sure you thank folks, get your campaign’s finances in order, pay your debts, find and secure all of your lists, and take stock of your assets.
If you intend to run again in the future, knowing what you have to work with is critical. Here are some other tips from someone who’s been there and who understands that losing isn’t easy.
Be gracious. Don’t be the candidate who tells everyone to jump in a lake after the campaign ends. A candidate’s reaction to losing can often be a bigger sign of whether they can do something in the future than the outcome of the race itself. You have a lot of folks who supported you, and you owe it to them and to yourself to treat this in a respectful manner.
Don’t play the blame game. You, your staff, your consultants, the weather, daylight savings time and Punxsutawney Phil may all share equal blame in your loss, but it’s not productive to take it out on them (or yourself, for that matter). It’s okay to ask constructive questions and be thoughtful about the race, but it’s not okay to say that you would have won if it wasn’t for the lime green color of one direct mail piece.
Help your staff find work. Before you think of your next move, remember that your campaign staff busted its butt to help you win and now they are scrambling to find work. Help them.
Don’t hide. Again, how you treat people after a loss is not just about you, it’s about the community you wanted to serve. In that vein, do not hide from the community once the race is over. Stay involved. Don’t forget why you ran in the first place.
Don’t dwell. Hey, what you did took a lot of chutzpah. Most people who think about running for office never do it. Many also don’t win on the first shot either. Enjoy the fun you did have and if you did not have any fun, maybe that’s a sign for the future.
Get professional help. If you find yourself unable to leave your home or relate to folks after a campaign, you may be suffering from depression. This can be serious and is more common than you may think. You and your family went through a high-stress situation and the outcome was not what you wanted. If this is something you can’t get past, find real help.
Remember the folks who were there for you. Every campaign I do I leave with unique and special relationships—mostly good. Folks I have worked on campaigns with have taught me to drive a stick shift, helped me with my mortgage, attended my wedding, and were a part of plenty of other milestones along the way. Cherish these relationships.
Now you can think about your next move. Will you run again? Will you go back to what you did before? These are all questions you can answer in due time, so don’t rush to land on an answer before you’re ready. And make sure you check all of the boxes above of your list before you figure out what comes next.
Joe Fuld is president of The Campaign Workshop, a full-service political consulting firm specializing in direct mail, online advertising and general strategy.