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Friday, February 25, 2011

Toxic People in Politics: How to interact with them

Toxic People in Politics: How to interact with them

In any area, any state and any group of people, there will always be the outlier. The person who is seen as the most notorious, the troublemaker, the miscreant. As an entrant into the political workforce, a business defined by perception and expectations, it’s dangerous to be that person but also dangerous even to be associated with these people.

You don’t want to be known as the eccentric oddity, and don’t want to be known as their ‘good friend’ either.

It would be a mistake to write these people off, however, and also a mistake to assume that all eccentric people are notorious and thus to be avoided. The challenge is how to properly diagnose this status within a social group and also how to properly interact with them.

They’re often easy to spot, just listen. Is everyone complaining about one person? Is everyone telling you to avoid one person or people from one organization? There are the popular kids in politics, as in high school, and there are the weirdos. The archetypes don’t change that much.

The key to interacting well with them is to keep your meetings discreet, and to keep your relationship with them about achieving results.

Politics is political not just in the event everyone is focused on: elections, but also in how the social environment operates. Political people are political even in their social arrangements. You don’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, the type of person to only work with the mainline groups. But you also don’t want to be tainted by association with people who come with too much baggage.

Most people learn the lesson about toxic people, topics and organizations in a very simple and direct way: they avoid controversy. It’s relentlessly drilled into our heads to be plain. The cliché “the tallest trees get cut first” comes to mind.

But what can you realistically get from people who are controversial? Motivated volunteers, lists of passionate donors, expertise on how to do media events that get noticed, among other valuable skills, lists and contacts.

If you’re working on a campaign or for an organization, keep an open mind about these groups and try to find opportunities for win-win, things that will quietly benefit both organizations. Since so many are avoiding the controversialists, you can be the only one to get the benefit.

As well, gauge your own level of toxicity within a group: are your emails being returned? Do you really know what people are saying behind your back? Do people return your calls or want to work with you? It’s important to have a good read on your status and situation. You can best do this by pressuring friends to give you honest criticism, and take it in stride. It’s hard to keep everyone happy.

A good friend once said that you aren’t a leader unless you have opposition, and people are actually following you. So, remember there will always be naysayers. But you want to shed the status of being someone with whom it’s not worth working with because of the baggage.

If you find yourself in this spot, or perhaps most likely you inadvertently find that you’re working for a toxic organization, there are curative solutions for you as well.

First, embrace your opponents. Go to events hosted by those who dislike you, be friendly, be social. Act as if nothing is wrong. At first people will think you’re nuts, or very spiteful, but that will quickly fade. In time, they’ll see you as distinct from the organization, they’ll say “Jane is great, but boy is she working for the wrong place.”

And this is good because you want to distinguish yourself, it helps your personal political capital to do this. But you are paid to represent a client, and your goal shouldn’t be to only benefit yourself, help make your organization less controversial or at least more friendly in your natural coalitions.

Donations are an easy way out, or cosponsorships with the other organizations. They might refuse this at first, but most places are so desperate for cash that the money will heal many wounds quickly. If you don’t have cash, then help out in your free time. Help set up an event or just be seen helping other organizations, be a servant. Even if you just help promote the events of your detractors, it will cause your opponents to rethink their hardened hearts about you.

Finally, remember that time heals all wounds. Creating distance from past sleights or past disagreements can cause tensions to ease. Your goal should always be to advance the cause, help the organization and benefit the either votes or dollars of your candidate or organization. If you keep focused on the positives, the negatives will, in time, naturally fade. With some wise action in the meantime, you can help accelerate that process and keep focused on winning.

In summary:
1. Identify the controversial people around you
2. Find professional ways to work with them
3. Diagnose yourself
4. Embrace and help your opponents
5. Donate money or work if you can
6. Let time fix most of the problem

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

From a reader: "Is it true that vendors are as bad as you say in the book?"

Short answer: sometimes.

A "vendor" is a term for any organization or entity, sometimes just one person, who 'consults' to the campaign or your political organization for a fee.

There's nothing wrong with people who get paid, most of the best people are worth their fees.  But some vendors, especially ones who provide a consistent material product like a mail house that does mail, gets too tempted to always suggest doing whatever benefits them the most.

So a mailhouse always thinks you should do mail.  A direct mail writer always thinks you should write new direct mail.  A guy running a telemarketing shop always thinks you should do more phones, and so on.

Some of these vendor relationships can be hidden, as well.  It's always surprising to hear that many campaign managers and candidates are unaware that most consultants that refer a specific vendor get a 15% kickback for making that connection.  So, a specific consultant becomes a virtual sales agent for his preferred vendors, who raise the fees on unsuspecting campaign managers and candidates.

This might not sound like a lot of money, but when you're making a large media purchase it can easily add thousands of dollars to the cost.  Doing it yourself and building your own relationships with vendors directly can help cut these costs, but knowing that many of these people are ballooning their costs demonstrates their real agenda to you: to get paid.

I've even seen one consultant who tried to advertise that his vendors were 15% cheaper than anyone else, meaning of course that he was willing to do away with his kickback in order to get the client in the door.  It may have been a generous offer all things considered, but it's still a process that milks the campaign out of funds and directs them to ineffective tactics because it benefits a select few consultants and vendors who happen to control the tactics.

It's wrong, and realizing those very strong material interests by vendors and consultants, even if you can't do anything about it, allows for you to weigh their advice properly in context and consider their strong biases.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Should I ask to read the campaign plan?

Should I ask to read the campaign plan?


Some people learn that there is a campaign plan and feel that reading it will give them a "better idea" or "better overall feel" for what they should be doing.

The right thing to do is always what your direct report, aka 'boss', says you should be doing.

Typically the campaign manager, senior consultant or some higher-up writes the campaign plan.  Some are very short, some are very long.  There are entire classes and workshops offered by universities and outside campaign-oriented non-profits to teach you how to write a good one.

Most do two important things: they demonstrate familiarity with the district and overall infrastructure needs for the campaign.  The second thing they do is focus on the comparative advantage the campaign is looking to exploit in the election, what they think will get them to success.

Many of these plans, as well, become distant memories when the campaign starts and the daily grind of persuading voters, building a voter file and raising money overtakes the best laid plans.

Asking to read it, then, can seem too invasive and somewhat suspicious.  Each one is the inner thinking and assessment of the candidate and the campaign manager.  It’s not really your place to ask for it.  The better question is to ask where you think the greatest need on the campaign is and what you can do to help serve that need.  Perhaps its voter identification and turnout in a specific precinct, or its reinforcing one key idea about the candidate.  It's often just as simple as whatever action will bring in more voters into your get-out-the-vote file, and what will bring in more campaign donations.

Find out what concerns the manager and the candidate the most by talking to your boss, and work on that zealously.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

"How do I distinguish myself to get hired?"

The easiest answer is to become an expert in a field always in demand.

Campaigns always need two things: votes and money.

It's similar to the business world that depends on customers and sales.  You want to be an expert on an area that brings in more votes or more money, or ideally both.

The two most valid questions, then, is how to figure out what really brings in votes and money, and how can one start getting experience doing that from scratch?

It's unfortunately way too easy to rationalize any action as somehow tangentially bringing in new voters.  Anyone can argue that something 'brings in new voters' - but what campaigns and organizations really mean by saying that is that they want more people in their file, more people in their database.  The key is finding out the people who share the values of the campaign or organization and getting those names.

Perhaps it's by canvassing and collecting names at a local church.  Maybe it means tracking who attends a specific type of event in your community.  There are endless ways to identify potential supporters.  Start by opening your own free spreadsheet in Google documents.

Your challenge is to take action and find out the most effective way to do that.  The most basic way is to go door-to-door with a simple questionnaire and keep a database of the results.  That may not be time-effective for you though.  You want to take action that builds a list of new supporters.

Survey your friends and people in your social circle.  Identify which groups and campaigns those people should be involved with.  Do you have an uncle who owns a lot of guns?  Maybe he should be an NRA member.  Is your aunt a fan of well-written liberal feature stories?  Perhaps she should subscribe to Mother Jones.

The key is to build your own list of your social contacts, and try to plug them into the right campaigns and political organizations that reflect their values.  This is the same methods and tactics used by campaigns, identifying potential voters and tracking their principles, often called 'issue preferences' instead.

For the money and fundraising, you want to identify tactics that bring in new funds.  There is a science behind this, as well.  Every non-profit, all two million of them, raise funds in one way or another.  They identify potential donors, solicit them, and develop them as donors.  There are many tactics to do each step, and developing your own skill set to show mastery and experience taking those actions will make you valuable anywhere.

It's not hard to find a local non-profit in need of more funds.  Start raising money for them.  You don't need their permission, though it's generally wise to do so.  Find out what objections people typically raise to donating, find ways to overcome those objections.  Take notice of the patterns of people's giving - many people like to donate in different amounts at different times of the month and year.  Start becoming an expert.

And read good materials focused on these topics.  Andrew Olson runs a blog on fundraising on the right, and here discusses novel ways to acquire new donors.  This is an easy and simple way to become an expert: read what they're writing.

In time you'll see the patterns, and be able to raise funds more effectively.  This will give you a track record, which when you interview for a campaign or political organization you can mention... a proven track-record for fundraising.

You learn by reading, and you get experience by acting.  Both are at your fingertips and simply waiting for you to act.

Learn these skills and more, by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.