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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Four things about political writing you should know

If you're a recent college grad, no doubt you're skilled in the art of big words and long sentences to fill the required 20 pages in a humanities course.  You know how to fill space and how to connect with the professor.  But if you start on a campaign, or in an organization, you aren't writing for a professor.

Do you realize what a liability academic writing styles are in politics?  You need to switch gears fast, and write for an entirely different audience.

Four things you really need to know from the start:
1. Always keep it simple.
2. Folksy always beats clever.
3. Always stay on the offense.
4. Repeat, don't reword.

You always want to keep it simple because even those in your target audience with graduate degrees, who read Utne for fun and laugh at obscure math jokes, work a long, hard day and don't want to be confused when they read something political.  They want it simple because the rest of their working life is already complex.  They want it simple because they just sat through two needless hours at the DMV office.  They want it simple because they want a leader who will deliver results with no-nonsense and not try to use his salesmanship to trick them into voting.

Simple always wins.  Always keep. it simple

Folksy always beats clever writing as well.  At first it may feel like you're writing for your grandfather and not your roommate, but let's remember that your grandfather's generation votes with three to four times the intensity of younger people.  So in many cases you are writing for your grandfather.  But you also want to portray a certain literary humility with people, and not come across as a trickster or as too clever for your own good.  Folksy is the nice guy you know down the street, and clever is the guy who always cheated you out of first place in school.

Yes, I'm being clever here by adding in many folksy sayings into my paragraph about being folksy instead of clever.  Notice how you don't like my cleverness?  That's how people feel when they read yours.

Folksy always beats clever.

Always stay on the offense.  The guy who defends his position has something to defend.  If you're being attacked, attack back.  Point out how desperate the other guy is for making his attack.  Point out that these attacks only come because your candidate or organization is doing well.  Too many writers feel compelled to defend, and not be aggressive.  The only question is the degree of moral indignation you should express, not whether you should take a defensive posture or not defend at all.

Many campaigns have lost because they never figured out they needed to attack.  Many more have lost because once attacked, they defended themselves into a defeat.  You only prevail intellectually and rhetorically by giving people strong reasons to support you, and strong reasons not to support the other guy.

You can't do that by always writing in a passive, non-confrontational way. Don't be afraid to show passion and get aggressive.  People want a leader.

Lastly, repeat, don't reword.  It gets tempting to avoid repetition to reword or consult the thesaurus to give a new spin on a phrase or word.  But you're not writing to win literary awards.  You're writing to make an impression, persuade and activate people.  You should learn from David Ogilvy the advertising maven, and less from the literary giants.  You want to repeat your words, ideas and phrases so as to cement the idea in people's minds, to cut through the many distractions to your message.

Repeat your key ideas, words and phrases to get them across to people.  Don't rely on the idea getting across, because it can get lost in the noise.

Repeat your key ideas, words and phrases to get them across to people.

These four things can set you apart, and orient your writing in a way that sets you ahead.  Write for the right audience: those whom your campaign or organization is trying to persuade, and you'll do well.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

From a reader: "Should I disclose my outside group affiliations to a hiring manager?"

This one is dicey.

You don't want to be dishonest, but you don't want to give them reasons to hire the plain vanilla candidate who isn't you.

If you've been involved with non-controversial groups, put those on your resume and don't worry about disclosing those.  Groups that are more controversial, though, call for more discretion.

You shouldn't hide anything from your manager.  Let me make that clear.  But you also aren't obligated to offer negative or damaging information either.

Ask yourself this one question, and answer it fairly: "will my name become a major liability for the campaign?" - if it is, then disclose the issue.  If not, don't.  If you're having a hard time determining if it's a major issue, ask an aunt or uncle who can give you sound advice.

Most of the time it's not a big deal and shouldn't be disclosed.

If you once worked for NARAL and now want to work for a pro-life campaign, that's something to disclose. If you were a member of the left-wing bookclub in college that had members who liked Marx, it's not.

What's tough about determining this is that it really depends on what's truly newsworthy.  Newsworthy items that are going to become a campaign or organizational liability later are something that you might as well disclose now, because when it comes up it'll be very bad later.  It'll look like you hid the information.

So, in the interview stage, only disclose very major concerns.  Later on, be discrete and don't give your boss needless heartburn.

And remember that the most important question is whether you're a hard-working employee.

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

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Fundraising for Organizations, the biggest mistake?

Guidestar is a service that provides information on non-profits and is a very useful guide to other organizations.  Lesser-known than their primary function is their emails and other sources useful to organizations.  One is an email digest that gives thoughts and tips on fundraising and organization-building.

The most recent one asks what the biggest mistake in fundraising is, and the answer is not paying enough attention to the children of donors.

It's a good article, an excerpt from How to Connect with Donors and Double the Money You Raise, and great advice for anyone doing organizational fundraising.  It's also a good email service to be signed up with.  You can sign up for their newsletters here.

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

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Article: 22 secrets an HR professional won't tell you

This list of 22 tips from HR professionals seems very judgmental, nasty and just overall mean.  Which is a good indication that it's often spot on.  These professionals, whose job is to make an informed, wise decision about hiring, use these shortcuts and judge many books by their cover.  In a political environment and hiring situation, you are dealing with people who are often more judgmental, even nastier and can stereotype just as much.

It's tough, very tough, to clear these hurdles.  But it is possible.  Knowing how people are going to judge you, and being prepared for it, is always better than ignorance.  Some of these things are tips we've already discussed in the book, such as #5: keep your email address professional.  We also discussed #13, about being overweight, and how that can unfortunately negatively affect your hiring opportunities.

It's a challenge to work on yourself, get into a culture of self-improvement, and become the best person you can become.  It's not easy, but knowing how you'll be assessed is the first step to the kind of self-improvement key to getting the maximum number of job offers, and being able to land the political job you want.

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

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pitfalls of young campaign workers: overpromising

When you're new, it's very easy to get overextended.  You want to say yes to your new boss, every project is fun and exciting in its own new way, and you see the potential to get noticed and promoted with every new project.

The problem is that you can easily become a jack of all trades and master at none.

You want to have an expertise, a focus and a single thing that you are known as the preeminent expert on.  That skill might be graphic design, it might be writing direct mail letters, it might be that you're the only one who knows how to make the copier work.  Whatever it is, it's your unique skill.  You want it to be value-added and always in need.

So, take the projects that count.  Work on things that help augment that niche, and don't stop to do every project that comes your way.  Use discretion.  Do what your boss needs, but when projects are optional, opt to focus on doing one project excellently rather than doing three poorly.

The trade-off is that you don't want to use this as an excuse to be lazy.  Instead of working on three and doing them poorly, don't then just work on one and do it poorly.  Be excellent.  Strive to constantly improve and be better.  If you host an event that raises $1000 for your campaign, try to raise $1100 at the next one.  Keep improving and be great, not just good.

Accepting too many projects and being constantly swamped with work doesn't make you look like an overachiever, it makes you look like a chump.  It makes you the dumping ground for projects no one else wants.  Be excellent at something and you'll work less and get noticed more, that's what you want.

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

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The risks and rewards of "dirty tricks"

Dirty tricks get a bad name.  They get associated with anything that fails and doesn't work, and when they work well they're called "wise strategy" instead.  On a campaign, in the heat of the moment, one can rationalize a wide variety of nefarious deeds.  Be warned that anything that poses as fake voters, that tries to register fake candidates, or tries to affect the total votes by going after the vote counts is almost invariably a bad idea and likely illegal.  These former Dems were busted in Michigan trying to make a fake tea party and register fake tea party candidates.  It's easy to be a critic and say how stupid this was, but feeling the pressures of politics it can be rationalized.  It won't sound crazy when you feel you need a big win or a radical tactic in order to prevail.  And when these things come up, not only in addition to a simple risks vs. rewards analysis, know that any monkey-business involving voters is going to go wrong, become a legal case, and not be worth it.

If you or your campaign wants to do something unique, make it a new way to register voters, to turn out voters, or to broadcast your message to the community.  Don't make your actions focused on faking voters or candidates, make it the positive, motivated promotion of your candidate, cause or organization.  That's the right place to focus your creativity.  And the right way to avoid jailtime.

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

From a reader: "Should I buy things for the campaign?"

No.  And it's wrong that they've asked you to do so.

Many upstart campaigns breach this etiquette often.  It's frustrating to hear.

Also realize that your chances of getting reimbursed go exponentially down with time.  You want to get paid back for that right away.  You're probably being paid peanuts anyway, so asking you to pick up the costs of office supplies, or a banner, or a print run, or gas, or whatever is bad policy.

Sometimes there's no other option, you don't have petty cash or the campaign credit card, so you're left covering the expense.  But get it paid back immediately.

If you get pushed off or told to do it later, submit the reimbursement asap anyway and make a copy yourself.  Don't let time go by.

Also, and I hate to sound paranoid, but I had a senior level Vice President at a political organization who would only partially reimburse expense requests and not mention that he deducted half.  Few noticed, and the ones who did were often too intimidated to question it.  Keep track of your reimbursements and make sure you're receiving the full amount returned to you, in a timely fashion.

Most places, after you leave or are separated from the campaign or organization, will also decline to honor your reimbursements.  It's unpleasant, but it's common.

As I type this, I have over $400 owed to me by a very close friend who runs a group, clearly has the money to pay me, but my reimbursement is the least of his priorities.  I have to write it off, but I'm never floating him again.  Even your friends can screw you on expenses in politics, don't make the mistake of floating them in the first place and make the principals pay for their own activities.

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

Friday, March 11, 2011

From a reader: "Do I need to move to DC to work in politics?"

No.  It's one of the biggest misconceptions about political jobs, that they're all in DC.

DC is an entirely political town.  It's the Hollywood of politics.  There are more political jobs in DC on a per capita basis than any other, but DC is driven by elections, and elections happen nationwide.  DC may set policies and write laws, but those policies and laws are implemented and enacted nationwide.

There are plenty of political jobs around you wherever you're at.  They just don't say "this is a political job" in the description.

If you want to live, breath and eat politics, DC is the place to do that.  You'll be surrounded by people who are wonks, and who discuss policy over a casual dinner.  But discussions with wonks isn't really what politics is about.  Politics isn't about being a nerd.

Politics is about the use of power.  Some misuse it, some use it to help people, but it's always about power.

If you care about an issue, you'll have a hard time making DC change to your line of thinking.  You'll have a very hard time making a difference.  If you want to change the country, and you care about electing good people to office and changing laws, changing policies and working to help people, DC is the wrong place to do that.

It's a hard city to resist though, so go if you want to, but it also might mean working entry-level jobs for a while until you rise through the ranks and proverbially "pay your dues."  Don't think moving to DC means anyone will want you to write policy papers and write speeches for Senators right away.  It doesn't work that way.

The truth is that the nation outside DC is where change can really be made, and Washington is where political beasts can get a job to satiate their hunger.  My advice would be to aim higher than just employment, to have higher aspirations than just working in politics generally, to make a career in politics about your first principles and core issues, rather than mere employment.

If you want a career in politics, you can find it anywhere, you don't have to move to DC. You can find very meaningful work, that does great things, outside of DC more easily than inside the beltway.

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

Monday, March 7, 2011

Organizing tips: New Organizing Institute

The word "organizing" is almost as overused as the word "activist" in political circles.  Any kind of proverbial outreach is "organizing" and any political action is "activism" to most groups.  One group, politically on the left, gives practical and sensible advice on the patient art of organizing.  You can sign up for their emails here.

Reading their skills trains you to focus your efforts to grow lists, build relationships and focus your energy on opportunities that arise, instead of always just working yourself to the bone.  The New Organizing Institute emails can help you become a better-trained political operative, on either side of the political aisle.

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

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Response from a reader: "But how do I get started?"

It can be overwhelming to get started on your job in politics process, it can be frustrating, it seems daunting.

It's not.  Tens of thousands of other people have done it and succeeded, you will too.

Let's get started right now.  Make a checklist with seven things on it.

1. Assess your situation
-Where is the nearest competitive political race?
-Are you in a hotbed of politics or do you need to hunt down a good race?

2. Get a resume together
-Is it tailored to political jobs?
-Does it highlight your skills?
-Have you had professionals review it and give feedback?

3. Figure out what you want to do
-Are there jobs you haven't thought about? (there are)
-What are you really passionate about?
-What do you really not want to do?
-Are you willing to stuff envelopes for a year in order to do the job you really want?
-Can you afford low-pay to get promoted and noticed faster?

4. Make a spreadsheet of your existing contacts
-Go to lunch with your contacts, ask them for tips, advice and new contacts
-Go to events to meet new people, make a calendar to track what's going on

5. Develop a skill
-Choose a skill in demand
-Get specific, become an expert
-Read everything you can

6. Take action, get out there, create a winning track record
-Find a group that needs help
-Work for free if you have to

7. Buy the book and read it in 10 days straight.
-Read 15 pages a night
-Use the lessons in the book to make a plan
-List out your biggest dangers in the job process
-Use it to get a job and be working within politics in a month

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

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

"If I'm in college, should I try to be the head of my college partisan group?"

It's always a positive thing to demonstrate leadership qualities and skills.  You'll never be thought less of if you were leading your campus group.

But it's not necessary either.

The critical component in these groups are the ease with which you meet other people in the area.  The people in your campus partisan group will be running campaigns and involved with politics in your area.  You want to be there because it's frankly just so easy to make political connections and networks that will be of enormous benefit later.

As well, as I discuss in the book, student government elections, as petty as they may seem at times, are wonderful test runs for real political elections.  It all depends on voter contact, good lists and good turnout.  It's hard to teach and learn these things in the abstract, but if you get involved in low-level campaigns, you're learning all the same skills to be used later.

So, getting involved with these groups is always a wise decision.  If you can't lead it, or don't have the time, it's certainly not fatal to your future political career.  But if you can swing it, you should get involved and try to lead it, demonstrate your ambition and hard work in elections, even for a campus political group like the College Democrats or College Republicans.

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