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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Political Writing: Avoiding the wrong militaristic tone

In almost every political job, there's a lot of writing. You write memos, you write reports, you write direct mail, you write to constituents. You write all the time.

One characteristic of new political activists is their enthusiasm, which is always a good thing. Sometimes that enthusiasm, however, can come off the wrong way.

Campaigns use a variety of loaded and charged rhetoric. It is all-too-common to hear many militaristic metaphors and language on both sides. Republicans and Democrats love to talk as if they are at war with one another, that the future of the Republic is at stake, that many will be homeless and die if the other side wins.

Such a tone often has the positive effect of energizing the base, it is the proverbial "red meat" thrown to the hungry partisans. But it's wrong, and it's ultimately counterproductive.

Your temptation to use military language feels good in the moment but is something you'll later regret. Your writing will have the feel of unjustified enthusiasm, of mindless zealotry. Whether you are writing an internal memo or a direct mail letter to recruit new donors and supporters, the military metaphors are not appropriate.
It's understandable that you might feel this way about the race
you're involved with for state representative, but to everyone else it just
seems unhinged and a bit crazy. Instead of writing like you're General Patton,
talk and write in politics like a normal person.
After the shooting of Congressman Giffords in January 2011, many people said they wanted a calmer tone in politics. As well, many media outlets scoured mailings and websites for examples of bad tone choice, of being unnecessarily aggressive. You can avoid this problem by being a great writer in the first place, by avoiding such negative tones.

Let me give you an anecdote. Earlier in my political career, I made this mistake. I was making a proposal to a major donor to fund a serious project, for a minimum of a quarter-million dollars a year. In the middle of our meeting he said he noticed once or twice the use of such language and wondered, as a veteran himself, if any of us had served. You can likely imagine our collective groan as we had to admit that none of us had.

It was inappropriate and foolish to include such language. We looked like chumps for using it. We could have written the same material as serious adults, as mature political operators, and never worried. That mistake was small but significant.

Avoid the use of militaristic metaphors, language and tone in your writing and you'll always be better off.

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Choosing Media Spotlights: Focus on Credibility

The credibility of protesters in front of the media can become a large problem in any political organization. Whom you choose to put in front of the camera can hurt you if the person lacks seriousness or credibility.

This recent protester, at the Wall Street protests, has been thoroughly deconstructed by the legal blog Above the Law. The protester claimed his parents' home was being taken by the bank. It isn't. He omitted to mention it was a half million dollar home with a small amount left on the mortgage, he's attending a very expensive private law school and also lacks a certain amount of populist appeal considering how over-educated his parents appear to be.

So, it's then easy to say as observers that the organizers should have vetted these people better. But practically, that's impossible. Here's why:

1) They might have, and the protester, Stephens, lied.
2) Stephens likely lacked the introspection to realize how this would appear later, he thought it was an outrage
3) Stephens may not have known the truth of his parents' financial/foreclosure situation
4) Stephens may have exaggerated thinking he'd never get caught

The temptation to make one's personal situation relevant in the political moment is enormous. When the cameras are right there, no one wants to say "well, everything's going well for me, but I hear it's bad for others..." So, they embellish a little bit.

As a campaign or a political organization, this is enormously hard to screen for, leading up to a media event like this you're consumed with a thousand other logistical things like transportation and recruitment, legal issues, protest signs, the list is endless.

So how do you control for this? How do you solve this problem?

First, you designate people who should talk to the media. Not just your own company men either, but people who appear grassroots, who have an authentic appeal.
Second, to the extent you can, screen those people. Make them look normal. Make them sound normal. Help coach them to give solid, brief, simple soundbites.
Third, you make the credibility problem known to this small group of elite protesters, the media contacts. Tell them that their stories can be checked by bloggers, that hyperbole will hurt your cause, that lying won't help anything.
Four, pray they didn't lie to you and make you look like a fool.

You can't control for every problem, and this is one that a few small steps can help decrease your risks, but nothing can eliminate it. It's part of the unpredictable nature of things that sometimes you have to kiss the dice and let it roll.

Your best bet when scheduling any kind of media event, though, is to control who is designated to speak with the media, and coach them to give serious credible soundbites.

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

Saturday, September 24, 2011

How can I make some money as a vendor of my own?

When you're starting out, you're poor. Even when you're working in politics for a few years, you're likely still poor. It becomes natural to think, "how can I ever make some real money doing this?"

And the natural thought that comes to everyone is, "I know, I'll be a consultant!"

Campaign consultancy is a nebulous term. It encompasses a college student who volunteers and says he's a consultant to lie on his resume a bit. It means former beltway chiefs of staff who run their incumbent's campaign at night from a campaign laptop at home in Alexandria, it means a company that puts a million pieces of mail out every month. Being a consultant is not a path to financial success. It's an almost meaningless title.

If you want to make some side money, there are certain skills that are always in demand and you might be able to do them for campaigns and non-profits, but they are rarely fun. You could 1) stuff envelopes, 2) run a call center, 3) design literature, mail and brochures, 4) write articles, 5) update websites. These are all real, tangible, serious things that every organization needs.

Many people try to become a consultant offering "wild ideas" and projects and plans. These people are not consultants, they're eccentric volunteers. Good consultants who earn enough to pay their bills help campaigns and organizations do something for a lower cost. It's also horribly cliche to be a "new media" or "social media" consultant. An extra 5,000 facebook friends or 500 more tweets will not bring in more donations, voters or other things that a political organization needs.

Don't try to con an organization or campaign into paying you for doing nothing. You want to be value-added. Even if you were hired for a while as a 'new media' consultant for a campaign, you'd likely be dropped as soon as a tech-savvy volunteer came along to displace you. It's a waste of their time, and yours. You will get paid, and find regular work, doing the hard and unpleasant work no one else wants to do.

Approach a separate campaign or organization and offer to do something they need for less. Offer your skill, service and labor for a cheaper cost, and build a client base. By working hard and consistently delivering results, you'll find a revenue stream eventually. From experience, I would also say that about 15-20% of clients who approach you will actually stick with you, but the ones who do will be loyal and regular customers. That's what you want: to work hard and get a decent pay.

One last word of advice, if you are hired somewhere full-time, don't do side consulting work during the daytime. That's very bad form. In fact, it's a good way to get fired. You don't need to disclose all of your other business relationships to your employer, but it's not a bad idea. And be aware that you obviously can't well serve competing campaigns or competing interest groups, that's always a bad idea.

Offer a real service, build a client base, and always be the best.

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

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Anecdote: How a crazy spouse can kill a candidate's career

Last month, this New Jersey State Assemblyman abruptly resigned when it came out that his wife had sent a racially-insensitive email to a competitor.

It's perhaps a little drastic to resign in such a fashion, but it goes to show that the political winds can change unexpectedly. Seemingly safe seats can become competitive. Politicians who seem invulnerable can have crazy things like this happen. Also, candidate spouses, who are often taken for granted, frustrated, unable to deal with the campaign stress like their spouse, can sometimes react and cause problems.

Candidate spouses can be a real problem if you handle them the wrong way. In the book, I talk about common problems with spouses. One is that they can override your decisions on the campaign very easily, and can cause real headaches between you and the candidate.

You think you run the campaign, the spouse knows that they can run your candidate though.

Avoid these problems by reading the book. Buy it here, now.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Campaigns are a major industry: by the numbers

Notice a few things about this graph from the New York Times: 1) it's only federal money, 2) it's only tracking direct expenses on a campaign and not the impact of c3's, 3) it doesn't count the media.

No doubt about it, politics is a major American industry. And "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" can help you get ahead in this major industry.

the original article:

Learn the skills to start in this industry by buying the book "Getting a Job in Politics, and Keeping it" by Ben Wetmore, right away.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Upstart campaign strategies: one big pitfall for write-in campaigns

In the book, Getting a Job in Politics, one of the pieces of advice I offer is that you should consider running for an office, or getting a friend to run for office, and use that experience as a very practical and dramatic way to learn the process of campaigns.

One lesson that you don't need to learn the hard way is that write-in campaigns are almost always impossible to win. And you should always be campaigning to win, not to "make a statement" or to just "offer an alternative" -- you should always be working to win.

Many jurisdictions have what are known as a list of certified write-in candidates. This means that, prior to the  election, no votes will be counted unless they are from a pre-approved list. I remember being shocked when I learned of this, and likely you are too, it strikes you as amazingly anti-democratic and... well un-American in some way. Every person's vote is supposed to be counted, every one person is supposed to get one vote.

If you are trying to run a write-in race, for any office, you may be doomed to defeat if you aren't on that certified list. If you are going to run a write-in candidacy, make sure you have it in writing from your elections board that you are either on the certified list of write-in candidates or you aren't required to be on such a list.

Write-in races are extremely difficult to win. In very rare instances has such a person won office, and usually that person was very well-known beforehand, such as Senator Lisa Murkowski from Alaska in 2010. Your best bet is to avoid the hassle and be the official candidate of one of the parties, or to be listed officially on the ballot.

If you do run a write-in race, though, make sure you are on the list of votes they'll count. If you lose a race because you didn't fill out a minor form like that, you'd lose an enormous amount of credibility.

If you run a write-in race, check to see if you are required to be on a list of certified write-in candidates.

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

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Employment, offer letters and contracts on campaigns

Working on a campaign is exciting, but lining up the job is difficult.

Being at the stage where you're *almost* hired is also frustrating.

Many start-up campaigns don't operate like a seasoned business or corporation. They don't have contracts, non-disclosure agreements and similar paperwork. Many don't even have consistent and regular payroll for paid employees. So you have to play it by ear.

One thing that you should always insist on, especially for paid positions, is a formal offer letter and employment contract. You might think that it's pushy to demand one, and it is, don't be a jerk about it. Many times, campaigns won't have this written up, and since it's low-priority to them, it'll delay your start date or make them reconsider hiring you in the first place.

So make it yourself. If you find out that "we don't do employment contracts" or some other similar response from the campaign, just politely write one up for them to sign. Clarify a few key items: 1) who you report to, 2) what your primary responsibilities will be and minimum work hours will be, 3) is there any compensation, and if so, how much and how often you'll be paid, 4) when your planned end-date is (usually election day); 5) what your title on the campaign will be.

It's essential to get these items in writing. Don't start on a campaign if you don't at least have these things written out in an email. It's also important to have this document signed by either the candidate or campaign manager, or both. You want someone who has the authority to make these kind of binding commitments on the campaign.

This document can save you in many ways later. It can save you from the candidate saying "I never approved this person" or the finance committee saying "we never approved their pay" or any sort of other misunderstanding. You can start on a strong footing and with confidence if you have these details firmed up when you start.

Ask for an offer letter and employment contract, and if they don't have one ready, prepare it yourself. You'll be glad you did.

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

Monday, September 5, 2011

The skill that always gets noticed, and is always the most valuable...

Is fundraising. Having someone who can bring in more money is always a plus, you are always an added value. Fundraising professionally is different from raising money through a candy drive, or running a Salvation Army bucket over the Christmas season. But if you've done those things, you've done the hardest part: putting yourself in front of other people and asking for something... being a salesman.

Demonstrated success with fundraising is easy to track by dollar amounts. If you've raised 100k for a project, that's an important thing to add in your cover letter and resume. But if you haven't raised a large sum, you can still set yourself apart by focusing on the level of interaction with the public and potential donors. Even something as simple as retail is valuable because it shows you can constantly interact with people and not be intimidated.

All the other things are skills you can learn. You can become a great fundraiser by reading a dozen of the best books if you can handle the sales aspect, if you can handle the pressure of interacting with people.

If you want to set yourself apart, don't list a dozen clubs and associations you were involved with in college, show them that you have sales skills, show the hiring manager that you can deal with people and make a sale, persuade a voter and charm a donor to bring in funds. You likely already have the skill and the credibility you need, you just aren't seeing it or appreciating it.

If you have demonstrated success with fundraising, always list it. If you don't have big dollar amounts, though, you can still list similar experiences and bring attention to your ability to deal with people.

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