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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Do your own polls

This works if you are:
1- a poor campaign
2- with a good number of dedicated volunteers
3- and you have a phone bank set up

Polls aren't that complicated. They're 500 people giving an answer, somewhat at random.

You should already have the required data to do this: a list of all the likely voters in your precinct or district. Hopefully you have phone numbers for many of these people.

Take that list and randomize the order. Assume that you're going to get, at most, a 33-50% response rate when you call, meaning you'll need to call 1000-1500 phone numbers.

Write up a simple script for your team to call. If you can get a dozen people together to make calls, they each need to do about 130 phone calls each. Have a way for them to record the responses and how people feel.

100 phone calls, if properly motivated, should take 2-3 hours to make. Buy the crew a few pizzas for their trouble.

Take the response sheets, tally them up, and you have your own poll ready for release.

Don't cook the books and try to improve your campaign's situation by altering the results. If you're behind, it means you need to work hard to catch up. If you're ahead, it means you need to work hard to stay ahead and you have the momentum. The result is the same either way: you need to keep working hard to win.

You can do your own polling and save the money on a cheap campaign by utilizing volunteers to run your own polling firm. The results won't be seen as reliable or legit as Zogby or Gallup, but you don't have the cash to hire those guys anyway. A good poll can be run for very cheap, very quickly, with much of the equipment and materials you already have.

Happy Birthday Jack Kennedy!

Jack Kennedy would have been 95 today. Born in 1917 in Brookline, Massachusetts.


Thursday, May 24, 2012

Be friends with vendors, but don't use your friends as vendors

When you get into a position where you can funnel money to friends, it becomes increasingly tempting to do so.

You have a big mailing you have to get out, and you know a friend with a printer. You need a website, and your college roommate can do it. You are in a political organization that needs a database, and your friend at a past workplace can set it up and run it.

Seems like a good idea at the time, solve a problem by directing business to your friends, but in practice it's almost always a disaster.

First off, your friends won't appreciate the help as much as you think. Often they get resentful that your friendship is now including their work.
Second, your friends will try to leverage their friendship with you to get paid better, deliver low-quality work, or otherwise cheat the system.
Third, you can't fire your friends without also losing your friendship.
Fourth, when other people find out you are friends, it creates the appearance of impropriety. It becomes "oh, I know how Bill got that job, he just happened to know Sam."
Fifth, your vendor as friend gets to hear too much internal information about their contract. You tell them something from an internal discussion, and they all the sudden blur the line between vendor, staff member and friend. It gets to be a mess controlling the right amount of information for people to have.

It's always a bad idea to use your friend as a vendor. You think you're helping them out, but you really aren't. You're setting up a disaster in your relationship with them. And you make yourself look bad when other people find out.

A fellow I used to work with had a friend from college who was a voice professional. Let's call them John and Frank. John created all these excuses to use Frank's talents, but Frank wasn't very good at what he did. In fact, he sounded terrible. So all these projects where it wasn't necessary to have a voiceover or these sorts of voice talents, Frank was used and paid handsomely. Meanwhile, John was cutting corners to pay Frank by not paying other people. It created a huge mess. The fiasco set John back in his career by several months if not by a year as he had to recoup and rebuild relationships. John thought it was a nice thing to do, to help Frank by throwing him some business. But when you try to turn your friends into vendors, you ask for trouble.

It's smart to be friends with vendors, with people who already have an established business. You want to get to know them better, and have them want to help you meet your needs. Working with people whose paychecks aren't reliant on the contract they got from you as a close friend makes a world of difference.

This advice also applies double when it comes to using family members as vendors. Just don't do it.

Using your friend as a vendor will always come back to hurt you. Being friends with your vendors is always a smart thing to do. Keep the two separate and don't try to funnel funds to friends and you'll be professional, and always appear so.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Help those who want it, leave those that don't

Almost every campaign needs fundraising help, and every single non-profit needs assistance. They need volunteers to do work, they need new ideas, they need new contacts. Politics is about connecting with people, thus every organization needs more.

And yet, many campaigns and organizations will resist help, they will distrust and dislike new ideas. You'll propose wise reforms, and they'll give tired excuses.

You get involved to fix things, and your good work is prevented by the old guard of mediocrity.

If you encounter consistent and regular stubborn opposition in a campaign or organization, don't throw your pearls before swine, just move on. There are other places for your good work and for your good ideas.

Give any place at least three months. See if you can fix things. See if your ideas and work is taken seriously. If after that time it isn't, then make a plan to move on.

The only thing you can't fix in a campaign or political organization is a bad attitude. As a newcomer, as an outsider, it's tough enough to make meaningful and powerful changes. If they refuse and resist, it's likely not worth the effort.

This is also a good place to remind you to always keep your resume current. You never know when you'll need it.

Help those who want it, and if your good works are being unappreciated in a campaign or political organization, make a plan to move to a workplace that will appreciate it.

Monday, May 14, 2012

How your consultant is trying to screw your campaign

Many vendors pull the trick of telling you "I can get media rates 15% cheaper than anyone else."

They say this in order to get you to pay them more on a monthly retainer. This trick is simply them foregoing their kickback from the media companies.

You see, what they aren't telling you is that it's standard practice to kickback 15% of all media buys back to the vendors.

When a high-paid consultant tells you to spend 100k on a media buy? He's pocketing 15k right off the top.

Often this little trick extends to even mailings and phone calls. Spending 50k on a mailing to the whole district? Yep, your consultant just pocketed nearly 8k for doing nothing extra.

You're paying the consultant a monthly retainer, and they're making money on the backend by driving your business to their friends, to their preferred vendors.

And sure, not all consultants are like this. But like they say, the 99% of consultants give the other 1% a bad name.

This trick helps a few elite consultants make enough money so that they can survive between election cycles. And it drives up campaign costs considerably. It happens at the local level, and even happens at the national level.

Joe Trippi was caught in 2004 getting so greedy that, even as he was a paid staffer, he was not only getting this kickback, he was driving the media buys on the Howard Dean campaign back to his own media company. The news stories about this seem to have gone down the memory hole, but it was reported at the time.

Trippi was making money three-ways on one media buy. As a paid consultant, getting the 15% kickback, and driving the business to a media company he owned. Brilliant for Trippi, bad for Howard Dean donors.

So, sometimes a vendor will throw away their kickback in order to get you to value their services more. But make no mistake, they're making enormous profits somewhere. Your consultant is choosing pricey vendors, and looks at your campaign like a vulture views a dying pig, eyeballing the places where they can carve off as much fat as possible.

You'll often hear a consultant try to win you over by promising "I can get rates 15% cheaper than anyone else" which means that they're temporarily foregoing their kickback. It sounds generous when you don't know any better.

I've told this to two different campaigns where I was working at the top levels. I explained it in patient detail and in both cases, the candidate refused to believe me. They told me that that might happen elsewhere but wasn't true here. They said they had known these consultants for a long time and that, surely, this was not the case.

Both later realized that their consultants had, in fact, been trying to screw them all along. In one case, a professional political consulting company was giving "free service" to the candidate, but demanding that he do millions of dollars in advertising that would have been wasted. They would have made up their "free service" to him by pocketing the 15% on that media buy. Beware of free gifts from consultants, it just means they've figured out how to get you to pay for their steak dinners some other way.

Beware the consultants who advise you to do expensive things relying on the 15% kickback they'll receive from taking the action. Be alert to when the consultants are trying to win you over by promising "cheap media rates" when they're just momentarily foregoing their kickback so they can profit elsewhere.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

When to reply to blog attacks: Always

Always reply to blog attacks.

A generation ago, the thinking was that you don't want to 'dignify' an attack by replying.

In the modern age of blogs, twitter and instant communication, you have to control gossip as soon as possible.

Don't let your campaign or political organization get caught making late replies to things you read on blogs. Anonymous blogs are often seen by candidates as unworthy of replying.

That's an attitude that will kill your campaign.

Reply on their blog. Post things on your site that debunks their claims. You never want to repeat their charge, insinuation or allegation, but post things that disprove their claims.

The reason you never repeat their allegation is that you don't want to reinforce the idea in people's head that it's true. If your opponent says your campaign is funded by the Mafia, you don't want to say, "my opponent says I'm funded by the Mafia, but I'm not" because you just spent most of your time repeating what the opposition said. The undecided voters just heard "here's a guy funded by the Mafia trying to lie to me about why he's not."

Don't repeat their allegation. But reply to and show their accusation to be false.

Whatever they claim, make sure to rebut it. Make sure you engage their argument. Don't try to hide or spin things, there are too many blogger Woodward and Bernsteins who will try to debunk and tear apart your attempt to hide or tear apart your spin. Be truthful and engage their arguments right away.

I was speaking with an elected office holder a few months ago who said she never wanted to reply to anonymous bloggers because it made them feel relevant. I tried to tell her that if she's reading their blogs and repeating their gossip, they're relevant. And, they're relevant to the hundreds of other people repeating their gossip. You have to actively disprove negative claims. If your candidate is accused of a DUI from 1999, get the sheriff to write a letter saying there's no DUI on their record and post it on your website. Give ammunition to your defenders to prove the anonymous bloggers false.

You can't let your campaign get derailed by gossip.

It's frustrating to do so, it feels like you're sinking to their level. But you don't want to give them an inch to define your candidate. You don't want your campaign saddled with the false statements of anonymous bloggers.

When you run into an allegation, address it. Reply on their site, and take active steps to debunk the claim on your own while being careful to never restate their allegation.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Campaign Insurance: Smart or Scam?

For a major campaign, your policy might be $5-8,000. For a smaller campaign, plan on a policy that is at least $1,000.

These are major numbers when you're starting out, and a significant expense when you consider how many campaigns are decided by razor-thin margins. When that happens you'd take a lawsuit or two in exchange for an additional 100 votes.

Campaign insurance is best for established campaigns that can easily afford it, for incumbents who are coasting to easy re-election. For upstart campaigns, grassroots efforts and the like, it's often just a scam preying on your fears of litigation, lawsuits and liabilities.

Many campaigns get sued, but many of them are "judgment proof" in that the campaign has no assets to recover from.

If you want peace of mind from liabilities, get the insurance. If you look objectively at the situation though, I think you'll see that 'campaign insurance' is more of a scam than a smart investment.