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New Year’s resolutions come and go, and most don’t stick. We’ve all seen the uptick of individuals who start going to the gym after the first of the year. Then watched as they fade out within a couple of weeks, leaving the machines open again.
A similar phenomenon happens on campaigns.
As managers and consultants our goal is to run a lean campaign without waste. But how many of us stay committed to that idea? A variety of studies say that it takes anywhere from 15 days to 200-plus to form a habit. Well, indeed, most of us don’t have 200-plus days to develop a habit on a campaign — even 15 days can be a lifetime.
So how does a campaign get lean and stay lean for 2018? Here are some ways to turn the resolutions into reality.
Who is in your backyard?
With the rise of outside PACs, groups, and organizations there are plenty of folks in your backyard. For example, the Congressional Leadership Fund (CLF) is already out in many congressional districts knocking doors. Once you have an understanding of what outside groups will be involved, figure out what they’ll do.
The goal here is to avoid any duplicative efforts. All campaigns have finite resources including time and money. When you’re allocating those resources, it’s crucial to know what other efforts are being taken on your behalf or against you. That information will help guide your decisions in terms allocating resources to mail, field, research, digital, or television.
Now, coordination between a super PAC and a campaign is illegal. But there are ways to find out the intent, and even communicate between organizations while following the law.
First, if you’re not a declared candidate than you aren't barred from communicating with a super PAC or any organization. This was the song and dance we saw from Jeb Bush for many months during the 2016 presidential Republican primary. Jeb was able to raise millions for the super PAC that would aid his future candidacy, but he was just exploring a run for office. He was not a declared candidate. Once a candidate declares his or her intent to run then that's when coordination is prohibited.
When a candidate declares his or her candidacy, it's still possible to openly communicate a message, and find the intent of a super PAC. How do you think super PAC’s get video footage of the candidate for their own commercials while not coordinating? Well, the campaign puts the B-roll footage on a public forum, like YouTube or Vimeo. Since the footage is out publicly, the super PAC can use the footage for any purpose.
The Carly Fiorina campaign would publicly post her schedule. That would allow the super PAC supporting the campaign to show up before the campaign and conduct the appropriate grassroots activities that would ultimately benefit the campaign. There was no secret or illegal coordination.
There are a number of ways to find intent, research, and communicate without violating the rule of law. In no way am I advocating to break the law. The FEC is no joke, and many operatives have seen fellow colleagues find themselves in trouble. It's imperative to know the law and follow it. At the same time, knowing the law will allow for creativity an innovation to benefit your cause.
Focus on what you’re doing well.
There’s an old Greek parable between a fox an a hedgehog. The fox would use a variety of strategies to catch the hedgehog. The fox knew many things like pouncing, playing dead, and stealth. But the hedgehog new one thing perfectly: How to defend itself. In the end, the fox never catches the hedgehog.
The lesson here is that campaigns often try to achieve too much. A campaign can be complex, chaotic, and seem like there’s never enough time to get everything done. When this happens nothing actually gets done. Or if work does get done, it’s often sub-par.
Simplify your campaign. It’s better to excel at one or two goals than to have 15 goals and be subpar at all of them. At the beginning of your campaign look for traps to avoid and set up your internal or external procedures/systems accordingly.
But once the campaign is rolling there can often be a mission creep. As the campaign evolves staff comes and go, objectives can change, and new systems added can result in a complex web.
This is when staying committed to your New Year’s resolution is essential. Keep evaluating if the campaign has become more like the fox or the hedgehog. Does the campaign have a lot of complexity, and isn’t excelling at its goals? Or has the campaign remained like the hedgehog. Simplifying the campaign’s goal’s and tactics, and keeping the campaign focused on an overall vision.
Incentivize the win and keep staff costs low.
High monthly overhead cost for any organization, especially a campaign, can be devastating. In the 2016 Republican presidential primary, we saw a mad scramble to hire the best talent possible. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker was a leader in hiring amazing talent, but that came at an incredible financial cost. Ultimately, leading to him exiting the primaries because his campaign mostly ran out of money.
Clearly, every campaign wants the best and brightest. But every campaign can't afford an $8,000-$10,000 monthly campaign manager. When hiring staff look for individuals you can afford, and who will also get the job done. The structuring of contracts can be helpful here.
I recommend paying the campaign staff at a lower monthly retainer and than offer a higher win bonus. This allows two things. First, with the lower monthly retainer the campaign now has more money to spend on direct voter contact. Second, the higher win bonus incentives the staff to work harder to win.
Lastly, monthly subscriptions for data, email systems, fundraising tools, along with many others can be a massive weight on a down-ballot campaign’s budget. Look for ways to share the cost with other local friendly campaigns.
Spencer Sullivan is the founder and CEO of Lean Campaign Strategies, a consulting firm that works with campaigns, corporations, nonprofits, and associations all over the country.