Lastly, consultants know you have strong opinions about how the campaign should run. If you don’t, you probably shouldn’t be running in the first place. So make your point known, but it’s critical to trust in your team. And don’t go behind the back of your campaign manager or a senior staffer to make even small changes. Would you rewrite a legal agreement that your lawyer wrote for you? Not likely. Your consultants just want the same trust in their expertise.
4. You don’t tell the full story
If you have something in your past that might come out over the course of the campaign, make sure the most senior people on your campaign team are aware of it. Even if you’re convinced that skeleton in the closet won’t be revealed, you’d be monumentally stupid to not give some thought to what happens if it’s uncovered. Don’t underestimate your opponent’s research team, and make sure you give your own team the information it needs to do the job.
At the start of a campaign, no matter the scale of the race, sit down with your team and go over everything that comes to mind. When you leave consultants in the dark—personal history, financial history, etc.—they can’t help you prepare for the fallout, and that has sunk countless campaigns.
Given that politics isn’t exactly an angelic business your strategists have likely had some significant crisis management experience. So if you’re straight with them ahead of time, they can probably soften the blow; it’s their job to tell you whether or not the skeletons can ruin you.
But even worse than hiding something altogether is offering half-truths to your consulting team. It’s great if you’re up front about your first DUI, but it gets much worse when folks find out you hid the second. The bottom line is that you rely on your staff to communicate a message, so you must be honest about your own past.
5. You think you’re Jed Bartlet
Anyone who’s ever been to the West Wing of the White House knows it’s not nearly as chaotic as the iconic TV show made it appear. Staffers aren’t always running breathlessly through the hallways, lurching from one crisis to the next. So don’t expect your campaign office to resemble anything you’ve seen on TV. It won’t.
Just because staffers are sitting quietly at campaign headquarters, doesn’t mean they’re not working hard. Progress and motion are two completely different things. It’s a reality some candidates just don’t grasp, say consultants.
Recognize the level of the office you’re running for and adjust the scale of your thinking accordingly. If you’re running for local office your campaign headquarters may very well be an old restaurant or retail space with wires hanging from the ceiling and bugs huddling in the corners.
Also, make sure you’re in tune with the reality of holding elected office. If you’re running for state legislature or for a Congressional seat, it’s likely your job will not be nearly as glamorous as seven seasons of “The West Wing” may have led you to believe.
6. You’re just too busy for this
Increasingly, campaigning is a full-time job. As a candidate, you need to put your social and professional life on the back burner. Depending on the scale of the race, you might have to be a candidate, and nothing more, for eight months to a year of your life.
It really comes down to a matter of math. If you’re involved in something outside of the campaign that takes a chunk of your time, the number of contacts you can make gets smaller.
Just like candidates who talk a big fundraising game and then don’t want to pick up the phone, consultants can’t stand candidates who tell them to pack their schedules with fundraisers and meet-and-greets, only to constantly have personal obligations trump the campaign trail.
It is important to make a living and to have time with your family, but you should have fully considered the time commitment before running for office. That’s not to say you can’t win a race while devoting time and effort to something else, but it certainly makes it harder on everyone else involved if your family or your employers are fighting the campaign for your time and attention.
Campaigns take work. You can’t expect to show up one day and just win an election. You need to take the time to make the calls, shape the strategy and work with your staff to execute. You can’t do that very easily if your real focus is somewhere else.
7. You think your locale is different
Want to see a political consultant’s face contort into expressions of pain and horror? Ask them how many times a candidate has said, “That’s just not how we do things here.”
Yes, geography is critical in every race, and it’s important to appreciate the nuances of your state or district. But in just about any area where you might run for office, your constituents are often concerned about the same things: the future, their wallets and their jobs. No locale is so different that a consultant should throw away everything they’ve ever done on previous races.
You may think consultants don’t understand your town, county or district well enough, but don’t take that as license to dismiss their advice. Sure, your district may be a friendly place where voters complain incessantly about negative ads. That still doesn’t mean voters won’t eat up a well-crafted negative spot aimed at your opponent.
Ensure that your consultants are aware of local history and local traditions that may be important to voters in your region, but understand that consultants have observed far more local politics than you have.