The seven components of winning an election

Writing your campaign plan: the seven components of winning an election

Ron Faucheux

Your campaign plan is your roadmap to victory. It is the starting point. Writing a comprehensive plan forces campaign managers and strategists to think through their options. It imposes a sense of order on a process that otherwise can be chaotic and totally inefficient.

A political campaign should not be merely a series of events and activities haphazardly sequenced and arbitrarily timed. It should be rolled out with clear purpose as part of a logical plan.

Over the years, political campaigns have become increasingly professional, specialized and complex operations. You should no more attempt to launch a campaign without a clear, written plan than you would launch construction of an office building without architectural and engineering plans.

Approaching the complications of most campaigns is a daunting task for candidates, managers and staff. To do it, you have to break the whole operation down into separate, understandable, manageable components. As the old saying goes; you eat an elephant, no matter how large, one piece at a time.

A good campaign plan for any political race–large or small–needs to incorporate the following components.

1. Strategy Strategy is how you position your candidacy and allocate your resources to maximize your strengths and minimize your weaknesses. It is a concept. It is a way to win.

No one can determine the right strategy for any campaign–political or military–without knowing the political context, the players, the issues, the terrain and the resources available. These factors make each campaign unique. One size does not fit all. Unfortunately, there are no magic wands and no certain results in this business.

Your campaign strategy plan needs to address the following questions:

1. What is your message?

The essence of political strategy is to concentrate your greatest strength against the point of your opponent’s greatest weakness. This is done through positioning, which is the development and delivery of messages that present voters with a choice based on candidate differences that are clear, believable and connected to reality.

Campaign messages may be based on (a) the candidate’s personal strengths and weaknesses (i.e., experience, competence, independence, integrity, compassion, stability, preparation, etc.); (b) ideological and partisan differences (liberal versus conservative, moderate versus extreme, inconsistent versus consistent, pragmatic versus purist, etc.); or (c) the situational context (change versus status quo, right track versus wrong track, reform versus the old way, etc.); or (d) a combination of any of the above.

2. How will you roll out your message?

Because a campaign message positions your candidacy relative to your opposition, it will often include positive components (about your candidacy) and negative or comparative components (about your opposition). Consequently, campaigns need to plan the sequence by which they will roll out the positive components (including credibility-building and inoculation points) and negative components (including contrast and attack points) of their messages.

3. How will you time your campaign activities and when will you expend your resources?

Timing calls are the toughest decisions your campaign will have to make.

While your opposition is rapidly depleting their resources and taking risks, will you move slowly but surely with activities timed to peak on Election Day? Or will you open your campaign big and loud, then coast for a while with a low level of activity, and close big and loud? Will you try to catch your opponent asleep and drop all your bombs at the end when it’s too late for the opposition to mobilize and respond in a timely fashion? Or will you hold your fire so that you deploy your resources at the moment of maximum efficiency and effectiveness?

4. How much of your resources will you allocate to persuading undecided voters versus mobilizing your base of existing supporters?

There are only two kinds of campaign activity: Persuasion or mobilization. You’re either persuading people to vote for you or you’re organizing and mobilizing those who already support your cause.

Most campaigns either start with a voter base or they go about creating a voter base from scratch. Then, they identify undecided or “swing” voters and try to persuade them to join their team. On Election Day, your entire base, including the voters persuaded and identified along the way, are mobilized to turn out and vote.

5. Are there any strategic opportunities you can exploit or barriers you need to overcome?

Is there a trap you can set for your opposition by getting them into a position they cannot escape? Can you bait your opposition to do something (go on TV, discuss an issue, spend money, etc.) that will cause unintentional, inadvertent harm to them? Should you inoculate yourself against potential weaknesses before they register in the public mind? Can you benefit from a technological advantage? Can you build a firewall of impenetrable support? Can you stay above the fray while your opponents are fighting one another? Can you divide and conquer your rivals?

2. Budget Your campaign budget should be in two parts: a line item listing of how much money you will spend by category; and a timeline indicating when you will spend what. It’s important to know when you will need money so you can structure a realistic fund-raising plan. Before you prepare your budget, you need to do the following:

(a) Realistically estimate how much money you will be able to raise.

(b) Have your message, message sequence, timing and intensity, and persuasion/mobilization strategies already worked out. Your budget will flow from these strategies, not the other way around.

3. Fund raising The finance plan and strategy need to be given as much attention as your political plan and strategy. How will you go about identifying and cultivating money sources in a comprehensive way? How much time will the candidate spend on raising money? How will you use direct mail, telephones, the Internet and ticketed events? Who will be on the fund-raising committee and what will be their goals? Will you hire full-time fund-raising staff and/or part-time fund-raising consultants? How will the database of prospective givers be set up?

4. Targeting Elections are won by building coalitions of voter groups that make political sense given a specific campaign message, strategy and context. In a campaign, you go where the votes are. More precisely, you go after the votes you need to win, the ones that are most readily available to you, and you use messages with each group that touch these voters most deeply.

Targeting is the method a campaign uses to determine where it’s going to concentrate direct contact resources (i.e., mailings, telephone calling, door-to-door canvassing, yard sign efforts, candidate campaigning, neighborhood parties, Election Day turnout operations). Most campaigns have a limited amount of time, money and volunteers. So they need to make sure that when the trigger is pulled on a campaign activity–whether it’s a mailing, a round of persuasion calling or a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) door hanger effort–they reach the right voters with the right messages.

5. Paid Media This section describes what advertising tools your campaign will employ, how and when. Will you use television ads? Radio ads? Newspaper ads? Billboards? The Internet?

The media plan should tie together the issue points you develop as part of your strategy together with budgeted activities to fire these targeted messages (through direct mail, phone canvasses, radio ads, cable programs, Web sites, etc.).

6. Earned Media This section of your campaign plan presents how you will seek press coverage for your campaign and what strategies and messages you will employ through the news media. It should also discuss newspaper endorsements and proactive press events that can be coordinated with paid ad efforts. For example, you may want to combine regional TV news, radio talk show and newspaper interviews along with a bus caravan that’s been reinforced by paid radio and newspaper ads.

7. Organization Your organization should be as simple and realistic as possible. Your organizational chart should include:

* Professional consultants.

There are three functions in campaigns that should be handled by professionals: Research, communications, and planning and strategy. They each require technical expertise that most candidates do not possess.

1. Research. Typically, the most important research function–public opinion surveying–is handled by a polling firm. When you hire a pollster, make sure you get a firm that has a solid track record in competitive political campaigns. Don’t trust this function to an inexperienced graduate student or college professor who wants to use you as a guinea pig to break into the business.

In larger races, you will also need to hire issue and opposition research personnel. This research, together with survey data, provides the information on which to base your substantive messages.

2. Communications (paid and earned media). Your media consultant serves as your advertising and public relations agency. Though capabilities vary, most good consultants provide strategy advice as well as produce and place ads. Some are highly experienced in politics and will assume the role of chief strategist.

Media consultants with limited political experience, such as a local advertising or PR agency that makes ads primarily for grocery stores and car dealers, should be limited to technical or creative tasks such as designing logos and signs or taping and editing TV spots. It’s better to hire a media consultant with a strong political background.

The communications function includes paid media (TV, radio, billboard, newspaper and Internet advertising) and earned media (press relations). In smaller races, media consultants may also serve as de facto press secretaries. In larger campaigns, a full-time press secretary should be employed.

3. Planning and strategy. General consultants or campaign managers are often hired to serve as chief strategists, spinners and planners. They may be experienced pros who have advised campaigns across the nation or they may be local operatives with deep knowledge of the local terrain. Availability and budget will determine who you hire and what role they will play. In many races, the pollster, media consultant or the campaign manager will assume the strategy function, eliminating the need for a separate general consultant.

In addition to general consultants, pollsters and media consultants, specialized consultants may also be needed for:

* Fund raising (writing a plan, soliciting political action committees, organizing events).

* Direct mail (writing copy, designing the pieces, overseeing the print production process, quality control, coordinating postal regulations, handling the mail drop).

* Telephone contact (hiring professional phone centers to make persuasive calls, recruitment calls, voter identification calls and GOTV calls).

* Web sites (design and maintenance of your Internet presence).

* Database management (setting up the hardware and software needed to keep track of voters, volunteers, contributors and correspondence).

Remember this distinction: Consultants work for multiple clients and devote only a portion of their time to your campaign. They’re paid fees, retainers or commissions. Full-time campaign staff–salaried or volunteer–have only one campaign to focus on.

* Candidate Personal Staff.

The includes a personal assistant, scheduler and at least one person to handle the candidate’s correspondence and thank-you letters.

* Administrative.

1. Campaign manager. This is the person who runs the entire campaign operation, activates strategy, oversees staff and coordinates consultants.

2. Volunteer program coordinators. These staffers paid or unpaid who organize door-to-door canvassing, phones, voter registration, absentee ballots, early voting efforts, postcard and letter writing, coffee parties, signs, rallies, GOTV operations, poll workers and Election Day legal teams.

3. Field staff and grass-roots organization. These staffers organize political support among groups and by regions, communities and localities throughout the electorate.

4. Advance and travel coordination. In a large district, statewide and national races, there is a need for staffers to handle travel arrangements and to assist local supporters in sponsoring events upon the candidate’s arrival.

5. Database management. If the campaign is large enough, you may need full-time staff to handle this function. If not, a part-time paid or volunteer consultant will do.

6. Press secretary. This person helps schedule media interviews, travels with the candidate, writes press releases, negotiates debate formats and rules, serves as the contact for reporters, sets up meetings with newspaper editorial boards, gives briefings and may even speak for the candidate under certain circumstances.

7. Communications director. This staffer oversees the entire press/media/advertising operation and its coordination; also serves as “spin doctor” and “message enforcer.”

8. Accounting / compliance / legal. This group handles check writing, bank deposits, completing financial disclosure forms and filing legal documents, etc.

9. Coalition outreach. This section works with supporters in established organizations that may include labor, teachers, business people, gun owners, bankers, home builders, insurance agents, national and local party committees, public employee associations, ethnic organizations, church assemblies, service clubs and women’s groups.

10. Fund-raising. A finance director who manages the entire fund-raising operation, fund-raising consultants, the candidate’s solicitations, events and mass operations involving direct mail response mechanisms and Internet contribution fulfillment; he or she also coordinates with volunteer finance committee leadership.

Copyright[c] 2004 by Ron Faucheux. This article was adapted and excerpted from Ron Faucheux’s book, “Winning Elections: Political Campaign Management, Strategy & Tactics,” published by M. Evans & Co.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Campaigns & Elections, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group