It’s a familiar refrain among political consultants: Endorsements often don’t matter.
On a national level, the endorsements that garner the biggest headlines are often the awkward ones—nods from celebrities or endorsements from former opponents. Think Donald Trump and Mitt Romney clumsily sharing a stage in Las Vegas earlier this year.
It’s not that they’re completely meaningless, but those types of endorsements are often much harder for campaigns to parlay into real help on the campaign trail. But on the state and local level, strategists say, endorsements can pay big dividends, assuming your campaign isn’t shy about making three big asks: money, outreach and time.
1. Money: Once you’ve sealed an endorsement, it is fair game to give the endorser a “wish list” of things you hope he or she will contribute to the campaign effort. But this is precisely where too many candidates fall short, according to Mark Nevins, a Philadelphia-based media and communications consultant.
“I think that’s one of the big challenges of being a candidate,” says Nevins. “Asking for help is tough.”
Whether it’s a direct contribution or a promise to headline fundraisers and bring more donors to the campaign, Nevins says the worst thing a candidate can do is be shy. Campaigns can often draw on the fundraising networks of their endorsers, assuming they ask.
“Speaking out in support of your campaign is terrific and appreciated,” Nevins says of endorsers. “But put your money where your mouth is.”
On the campaign side, a candidate needs to be strategic in obtaining fundraising help from an endorser. California-based consultant Rose Kapolczynski says even if an endorser isn’t willing to open their own checkbook for your campaign, they may still commit to helping your fundraising efforts.
“If the person is well-known, asking them to appear at a fundraiser can make it really pop, and it will bring in people who might not otherwise make a donation,” says Kapolczynski, who managed Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) successful 2010 bid for reelection.
One of the worst things a candidate can do when it comes to soliciting fundraising help from an endorser is leaving it to campaign staff to sort out. Being aware of what’s reasonable to expect monetarily from your endorser is the candidate’s job, says Nevins.
“Everybody brings something to the table,” he says. “If they didn’t, then the endorsement wouldn’t matter. Figure out what you can reasonably ask them to contribute.”
2. Outreach: Money aside, your endorser likely has some clout with a certain constituency or part of the community your candidate needs to make some inroads with. There are plenty of low cost ways an endorser can help you make those connections. Ask an endorser to headline an email of support. That makes it easy to relay an endorsement message to the masses, and it’s an extremely manageable request, says Nevins. The next step may be featuring the endorser in a direct mail piece if their profile is large enough.
“It’s so much easier for an individual endorser to give you a headshot and a quote for a piece of mail as opposed to appearing at an event,” Kapolczynski says. “If you have an individual endorser with mainstream appeal, you want to be sure as many voters as possible know they’re supporting you.”
Another possibility, says Kapolczynski, are robocalls from well-known endorsers. On the flip side are the endorsers who truly want to do nothing more than lend their name to the effort. It may not be ideal from the perspective of your campaign, but sometimes it’s the best offer you may get.
“You may get endorsed by a member of Congress who is just trying to be helpful in competitive races,” Nevins says. “But their grassroots networks in their own state or community might not get involved. As a candidate, you need to be aware of what’s reasonable.”
3. Time: Whether it’s asking for a few minutes to record a robocall or asking for a few hours to appear at a fundraiser, the most important ask you can make of your endorser is time. If an endorser has committed to publicly supporting you, push them on the amount of time they are willing to commit to your effort.
“Hopefully, they’ll commit time for statewide tours or campaigns or make fundraising calls on your behalf,” says Nevins, emphasizing the importance of making that ask right up front. “Don’t just show up at a press conference to announce the endorsement.”
Kapolczynski warns candidates to act quickly when asking for those time-related favors. Requesting TV or radio appearances, while completely reasonable, requires a decent chunk of your endorser’s time, so don’t take their schedule for granted. Gary Nordlinger, president of consulting firm Nordlinger Associates, says the amount of time an endorser gives to be an active supporter is crucial in a world of unenthusiastic endorsers.
“There’s a real difference between saying, ‘I support this person’ and actively acting on that person’s behalf,” Nordlinger says. Don’t underestimate the impact a driven endorser may have on your behalf. “[Active endorsers] make you feel good about the decisions you’re making about voting.”
While it’s more than fair to ask for money, outreach and time from most endorsers, it’s also important to recognize that not all endorsers are equal. Celebrities, for example, will be hesitant to participate in some public events, Kapolczynski warns, and their endorsements may very well be a double-edged sword.
It could be the same with requesting your endorser at a news conference. If they’re not media savvy, or aren’t fully committed to making a strong endorsement of your campaign, the best option may be nothing more than a press release. There’s nothing worse than a news conference trumpeting a major campaign endorsement that turns into a story about a lukewarm embrace of your candidate from the endorser.
While your campaign can’t anticipate every possible distraction, don’t automatically assume that an endorsement event will be a walk in the park. Ask yourself how the supporter will handle speaking in public and answering questions at an endorsement event for your candidate. And don’t let the endorser come unprepared. No matter how important your endorser may be, if it’s your campaign putting together the event, your staff should run the show.
“I think any endorser offering support probably expects to be asked for certain things,” Nevins says. “And probably, an endorser respects a candidate who has a wish list.”