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The legend of the unruly candidate and the scourge of his or her spouse is widely discussed among consultants and managers. We’ve all seen our shares of backstage tantrums; I’ve chronicled my share. But practitioners have their own failings when fostering client relationships.
In the heat of the campaign things can be said with the best of intentions but still have a negative effect. With that in mind, here are five things consultants and campaign managers should never say to a candidate.
1. You can’t take that position.
While it might be tempting to pressure a candidate to take a policy position that is more in line with the district or will garner him certain endorsements, ultimately it’s the candidate’s name on the ballot, not ours.
As managers and consultants, it’s our job to alert a candidate to the possible ramifications of taking a risky policy position and help him figure out the best way to communicate about it.
At times those conversations might lead to a candidate changing their mind and at times they might not. But voters elect people for their judgment and it’s not the place of the consulting team to forbid the candidate from taking a stance or to tell the candidate what to believe.
2. Don’t listen to [other team member].
Consultants and campaign managers will sometimes disagree amongst themselves and with each other. Candidates pay consultants in part to get different points of view and we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t disagree sometimes.
It’s great when everyone can get on the same page before presenting to the candidate but when you must disagree about strategy it’s best to do so respectfully. While it’s perfectly acceptable to say “Rachel thinks we should do X. I think we should do Y and here are the pros and cons.”
“Rachel doesn’t know what she’s talking about” is never a good look. Moreover, going behind your colleagues’ backs only puts a target on yours and makes you and your advice harder to trust.
3. Your friend or family member is annoying.
It’s incredibly irritating when a random member of the candidate’s personal circle thinks they know better than the professionals and even more irritating when the candidate is inclined to listen to him because “he has a feel for this kind of stuff.”
Consultants and managers are totally within their rights to tell a candidate that their niece is not the appropriate person to run the campaign’s Twitter account or that it’s not productive for their best friend to be on weekly consultant calls. But those points should never include ad hominem attacks.
Even if you have a super close relationship with your candidate these people were with her before you and will be with her after you. Better to find a more appropriate role for the candidate’s friends and family who are excited to help (like precinct captains, surrogates, or a fundraising committee) and to get your candidate come to realize that their family’s most important role on the campaign is as a support system.
4. You don’t need to know that.
Some candidates get overwhelmed by too much information, while others want to be in the weeds on everything. It can feel like a waste of time to have to explain every little detail to a candidate especially when you know your team is handling it. But it’s helpful in the long run to make sure your candidate feels equipped with all the information he or she needs to go out there and do his thing.
Moreover, just because a candidate feels he or she deserves to be briefed doesn’t mean they want or need to be involved. The trick is to put systems in place to keep them informed so that they don’t get distracted from their candidate duties (cough, cough call time) looking for the information.
For example, if a candidate is worried about field numbers or how a certain event is going it helps to send around a daily email with updated numbers so that he knows to expect the update and it isn’t gnawing at him in the back of his head.
5. That’s below my pay grade
In most cases, you shouldn’t be walking a candidate’s dogs or picking up her dry cleaning on the regular. But when it comes to campaign-related work, no matter how senior your position, if you’re in the office it will ingratiate you to both candidates and campaign staff alike if you are willing to stuff a few envelopes while you chat.
Obviously time is our most precious resource and it doesn’t make sense for a consultant or campaign manager to spend hers door-knocking everyday. But showing you’re willing to go the extra mile early in the campaign when you’re understaffed, when most of the big decision-making boats have been pushed out already, makes candidates feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. As as a bonus, it also makes staff feel appreciated and excited to be working with you.
Nancy Leeds is an experienced political operative and manager located in Southern California. She is the founder and author of the popular blog CampaignSick where she discusses best practices in voting rights and campaign management.