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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

There are no t-shirt revolutions

Politics lends itself to eccentric people giving odd ideas.

A surprisingly common idea is to make a line of t-shirts which say some profound message.

This phenomenon is the belief that if only people heard one idea, they would vote differently and live differently. It's an enormously foolish idea. In the 2008 Presidential campaign, very foolish Ron Paul supporters funded a blimp to fly around with Ron Paul's name on it. The idea was that just by seeing Paul's name, people would vote for him.


You will often hear ideas like this. "Just make a t-shirt that says this, and the election is won" or "let's make a bunch of t-shirts that say X, and things will change!" -- it's the naive optimism that things and people change on the spot, their long-held beliefs are changed due to one billboard, one message, one soundbite.

When you hear ideas or plans like this, be polite and pleasant but don't spend your time on them. These people mean well, but these schemes are always prone to failure. Often people are reluctant to put their own money into such schemes, they always want someone else to do it. They have this kernel of an idea and then want others to work on it, finance it, and push it.

Sometimes the idea is to produce one pamphlet or book and circulate it to the masses. Sometimes it's the idea that just one picture or movie is the answer to all the problems in the world.

Rarely are ideas this moving, meaningful or profound. Said another way, ideas rarely have consequences, actions have consequences. Instead of $1,000 spent on 100 t-shirts, you could pay 10 volunteers $10 an hour for 10 hours to door-knock for a local candidate or campaign. You could pay an intern to work for a month or six weeks working to promote a group's ideas. There are much better ways to spend political money than t-shirts, and much better ways to reach the people with profound ideas than having a custom-made shirt.

There are no t-shirt revolutions.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

If you're quitting, don't make a political statement

There are many great jobs in politics.

However, there are many very difficult and tough ones as well. There are bad bosses who treat you horribly. There are jobs where your day to day work is so boring you can't wait for the end of the day.

And when you decide to leave, resist the temptation to give the "this is what I was thinking all along" speech, or worse yet, do something that is the performance-art equivalent.

I recently heard of a fellow who was the driver for a statewide official, and was treated horribly. The verbal abuse got to such a level that the driver threw the keys into the glovebox and walked off the job, leaving the official stuck at the event.

It's very understandable, but think about what happened next: the boss found out, but a colleague was forced to coordinate driving out there and fixing the situation. The act of walking off didn't just affect the politician, it affected many staff members as well who were significantly inconvenienced.

After doing something like that, you become hated by the staff. It's a messy situation. You don't gain anything from it, and you lose those relationships and connections, you poison the workplace well you want to have later.

The right way to leave a job is to tell a small lie and say you had a wonderful time there, thank them for the opportunity, and leave with class. No one can judge you for doing that, no one can hold it against you if it just doesn't work out. Avoid the temptation to let your pride do or say something that is going to hurt you years later.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Protip: Go to events and stay late

At any moment, everywhere across the country, a political organization nearby is putting on some event. It might be a banquet, speaker, fundraiser or some sort of event.

For you, as a job-seeker, you're wondering how to get noticed, how to connect with people who can hire you. It's difficult because a million other people are looking for jobs, so many people are willing to work for peanuts, and so many people are already well-connected.

Everyone tells you to "network" and "get noticed" somehow. You can go to a hundred events, though, and never get noticed by the right people. It's very difficult to make a good impression and carry good conversation with random people for hours on end.

So here's what you do instead.

Go to these events and stay to the very end. Wait for them to start cleaning up, and help clean up.

It's a simple thing, a small thing, but it will get noticed. It will set you apart as someone willing to do what it takes to help out. It's amazing how few people will actually help clean up after an event.

Now, you might be thinking that only the interns will be helping clean up, or perhaps a cleaning service. And even if that is true, there will still be a mid-level manager overseeing the cleanup, making sure the bills are paid, and making sure everything is handled. It's hard for alpha types to just walk away from an event and trust that everything is handled correctly.

Your hiring manager is cleaning up the event and overseeing it, and they're frustrated that all their staffers have left. Suddenly you appear out of nowhere and are helping to clean up.

This gives you a chance to introduce yourself, to talk to them, and to get to know the mid-level staffer well. They will likely thank you repeatedly and say to call them anytime you need something. Make sure you get their office number and email, and follow-up asking them to lunch, to ask if they have any advice on how you can get a local position.

If they have an opening, they might offer it to you. At a minimum, they'll make calls to help you get interviewed elsewhere. Your way through the door is by staying behind after an event and helping out.

Networking events can be dead ends, but there are ways to get noticed. Staying behind and cleaning up afterwards is a great one. Do what it takes to get noticed by the right people, by a hiring manager, by cleaning up after political events.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Is this microphone on?

Recently there have been a few episodes where live microphones have caught candidates and politicians saying uncouth things.

Always assume every microphone is live. Also always assume every microphone is not just broadcasting, but recording. Nothing your candidate says through a microphone should be considered private. You should also always assume the microphone is on, and if it's close to your conversation, it's broadcasting.

1. Don't say negative things with specificity in public - instead of "we're going to have to fire Bill today" you can say "that employee separation thing we talked about earlier is happening today"; instead of "boy that reporter Ed Murrow is a real a-hole" you can say, "watch out for the unfair reporting of that partisan hack" - avoid the specificity so that if you're overheard or if your words are broadcast, it's ambiguous enough to avoid problems. Words may never hurt thee, but specific words can kill.
2. If you must have a conversation with someone near a microphone, unplug it. The audio-visual guys might get upset, but take command of your space. A normal microphone can be easily unplugged at its base. Other, smaller ones, often have a button to confirm its off. At a minimum, turn it away from you.

If you're doing advance work for your candidate, part of your responsibility is to protect them from themselves in situations like this. Look for microphones. If there are reporters nearby with audio recorders, make sure your candidate knows that and can see the reporter and the recorder. If you're about to have a conversation, unplug the microphone nearby. Protect your candidate by being aware of your surroundings.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Happy Birthday Herbert Hoover!

Herbert Hoover, born in 1874 in West Branch, Iowa. He would have been 138 years old today.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Never use your own credit card

Never use your own credit card on a campaign or when you work at an organization. It will seem easy or slight, you'll be promised reimbursement, but you'll never get it.

You are likely poorly paid in the first place, your meager salary is not a source of additional revenue for your manager. Don't offer and don't accept charges on your credit for the organization. 

What's difficult is saying 'no' in these circumstances. You might think, "well, it's just this one time" or "well, they've been so nice to me that this isn't that big of a deal" - but it sends a very powerful and permanent signal: you're a source of funds when times are tight.

The two times this problem comes up is when 1) the organization has a cashflow issue or 2) someone forgot their corporate card. In the first problem, you can almost guarantee that you won't see your money reimbursed. In the second instance, it's not your problem. You don't need to make a major issue out of it, you just need to say you don't have the funds this month to cover a purchase, or that you don't put purchases on your card because of other related issues. People might be annoyed, they might not understand in the moment, but it is always the right policy.

A place that expects you to take the charges is a place that doesn't respect you anyway.

I was always bad about turning in my receipts on time to accounting at a previous job. It was part of a dislike of paperwork and bureaucracy that I'm not completely cured of, and it was a bad habit. My mistake and delays caused an accountant, in a fit of pique and beyond her authority, to shut off my company credit card. So here I found myself, at least eight drivable hours away from the office at the end of the workday, as students were arriving from surrounding states, several by plane, to attend a workshop. I was to cover their hotel stay with a block of rooms. It felt like a disaster, and no other staff members could help me, none were answering their phones. This accountant refused to work with me.

The wrong thing would have been to put that on my personal card. The accountant would no doubt have ensured I would later eat that expense. 

So I had to wait, and wait for a staff member to finally call me back. I was sweating bullets hoping that someone would answer their phone, and someone would be able to put the charge on their card. As it happened, it was a real ordeal for them to charge the rooms to the card over the phone, even requiring a signed fax sent immediately to them authorizing the charge.

It would have been much easier to just put this all on my card and not worry about it. But these weren't my expenses, and I shouldn't float thousands of dollars to my employer for a work expense. It sends a signal that you're a chump, not to mention that you're apparently so wealthy that you can afford to do such things.

I couldn't afford it, and likely neither can you. When you're asked to assume charges, refuse. People will get upset with you in the moment, but over the long term, it's always the right decision.

And as I recommended previously, even if you decide to ignore this advice, at least make sure to send in your reimbursements immediately.

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

Thursday, August 2, 2012

10 Most Frequent Interpersonal Mistakes

1. Acting self-important
2. Not returning phone calls
3. Name-dropping until it becomes a joke
4. Thinking you can't learn anything new
5. Being disloyal
6. Being unreliable
7. Assuming that you're irreplaceable
8. Taking one's friends for granted
9. Being inflexible
10. Confusing meetings with work

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