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Friday, December 28, 2012

A campaign-themed tumblr site

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Loyalty in Politics: Stay Loyal but Be Prepared

Unfortunately usually only flows bottom-up and too rarely top-down. Many groups, campaigns and organizations find people very disposable. It's as though they expect the individual to bleed for their ideology, but their

In a way this mirrors general workplace frustrations where the elite management are often at odds with, and acting with a certain immoral outlook upon, the workers. If you are being hired, you are a worker in politics. If you are doing the hiring, you're in management.

And workers can be taken advantage of, and often are, a few horror stories:

1) Not being paid, having the last pay period denied
2) Not honoring invoices or reimbursements
3) Sabotaging future job opportunities or lateral transfers
4) Not having the proper withholdings, so the individual is stuck with a hefty tax bill which the campaign should have paid.

I'm focusing on the financial because it's the most poignant, the one that can translate across ideologies the easiest. These kind of problems are why, in the book, I outline why 1) your negotiating position is never better than when you start, 2) you should always have a personal plan that doesn't include your current outfit, 3) you should bone up on marketable skills to offer elsewhere, 4) always keep your resume updated.

I've known people who lost state party jobs simply because they supported the wrong person in the primary. I've seen people fired because a new manager simply didn't like them. I've seen people fired two weeks before Christmas, multiple times. I've witnessed terminations that were tough, wrong and immoral, but they happen all the time.

And no matter how often this happens, or even happens to you, you should still try to remain loyalty to your employers. It's unfair, but it's a better policy than cynicism. 

And the best thing you can do is simply be prepared. Don't be reliant, be prepared.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Campaigns not designed to win

There are an estimated 500,000 different elected offices across the country.

Most of them have little to no opposition. Even in primaries, often the preferred candidates are identified ahead of time. The political news coverage focuses on the federal races, and the very few that are even considered 'competitive' - so what about races that aren't "competitive" and are more of a long-shot?

They're still worth your time. You'll get the best mainstream experience by working for a competitive race, preferably a federal one. But local campaigns teach you many of the same skills, you absorb many important lessons on a campaign for any race.

Long-shot campaigns come with their own unique challenges though. Often the candidate isn't in the race to win, they're there to make an ideological statement, they're there to set themselves up for another race down the line, some are even running because it's a way for them to feel relevant and important in their community.

Long-shot campaigns are interesting, but you can often avoid the predatory consultants and vendors, because there's rarely any money. You often can't have paid staff on long-shot campaigns. Money is tight, the media ignores you, and it's a tough race. So where's the benefit?

These kind of campaigns force you to focus on connecting with the public and building a voter database of motivated supporters who will vote for your candidate. You learn how to communicate with brief phone calls, with brief flyers. You can't afford mail and graphic designers, so you rely on in-kind donations and worn-out copiers.

You learn how to run and win on the cheap, how to reach people the most efficiently and effectively.

Practically though, there are several major problems and considerations:
1) Win Psychology/Momentum: Positive attitudes count for a lot. When you have a good campaign morale, volunteers enjoy coming, donors feel good about donating. A good psychology can solve a lot of other problems, and can also translate into positive rather than pitying media coverage. But many long-shot campaigns have bad morale. They have cynical people, or they have crazed zealots so far out of the mainstream that they are a drag on enthusiasm. Long-shot campaigns can sometimes be great things where an overlooked candidate gets a chance to get into office through hard work. Other long-shot campaigns are crazy people with crazy ideas who never have a chance. Working for crazies isn't bad, but it's important that they have a win psychology and positive morale. You want a candidate who believes that they have a chance of winning, no matter how remote.
2) Apathetic Candidates: No candidate enjoys fundraising. Some tolerate it better than others, but no one truly enjoys it. An apathetic candidate will have a hard time taking time off work, spending time away from family, to sit in a room and dial for dollars. They'll have a hard time working low-attendance rooms to generate enthusiasm for a campaign that they know is a long-shot.
3) Crazy Ideas/Inexperience: Many of these people have never run a campaign before, and most of them have never won. Their experiences might rely on quirky, quacky and silly ideas: "We need to blitz with more yard signs than ever before!" - or - "We have to buy more billboards than anyone else" - or - "We need to be buying ads on Rush Limbaugh's radio program all the time" -- inexperienced people with authority often abuse it, and try to test out novel new ideas they heard somewhere. Getting dragged into this can be a real debacle. A referendum campaign I worked on spent thousands on an after-election reception for its vendors, but wouldn't spend a dime for voter identification three weeks prior. Campaigns will spend tens of thousands on dead-end amateur TV ads, but won't spend on effective things like lists, voter ID, turnout.
4) Projecting Blame: It's not rare for people to try and blame one person for an entire campaign's defeat. The entire failure of Team Romney was laid at the feet of their pollsters the week after the election. For smaller campaigns, it's easy for bad candidates to say "I had a bad manager" and to even lie and say "they stole" or some other nonsense instead of owning up to their own failures. When these ships sink, the captain is not honorable on many of these campaigns. 

Many of these campaigns can offer lessons that are relevant, vibrant and important for the rest of your career in politics. Many of these campaigns can also tax your savings, ruin your morale and sap your spirit. Some campaigns can do both. But the point is, you want to weigh your options when you're approaching these different types of campaigns. Some people would rather stuff envelopes on a winning mainstream campaign than be a campaign manager on a long-shot campaign. Being acquainted with a winner is sometimes better than being best friends with a loser.

Some long-shot campaigns are great, and you should jump at the opportunity to be a part of their team. Others, however, are thankless, soul-crushing experiences that you should run from. Hopefully this can help you determine where you're at in your career, what's important to you, and how to distinguish between things that will help your career, and those that will largely be a waste of time.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Working Recruitment Tables, Attending Conferences

A good way to meet new people in politics is to run a recruitment table for your campaign or organization at a local conference. These conferences are often day-long affairs, and can really put a cramp in your social life or other plans you may have had.

But they're good to attend, because through it you can meet entirely new people.

And it's important to understand what you're going for:

1) You obviously want to make a good impression
2) You want to get their contact information
3) You want to learn about why they're unique or valuable, what they "do"
4) You want to give your contact information
5) And you want to tell them what you're doing that's unique and valuable

Don't be afraid to go up to people. It's socially awkward, sure, but it's awkward for everyone.

And in keeping with the advice in the book, it's also important for you to have:

1) Plenty of business cards to hand out
2) Your personal 10 second sales pitch thought out

People you meet at events like this can be a potential future campaign to work on, a source of potential donors, and opportunities all around.

I once went to a conference, I was very discouraged and went anyway. I felt like I met no one useful, but one participant, just one, gave me the name of another student in a town in another part of the state. It would have been easy for me to disregard the referral or throw it away. But I followed up on it, and the person they directed me to became a very important contact, became a key volunteer at my job, and also became a great friend.

Around that same time, I went to another conference and made a presentation, again with a certain degree of reluctance. The presentation lead to a great political job offer less than three months later, and I had no way of knowing the connection until they made the offer.

The opportunities at these conferences and events are never immediately obvious. And you want to approach them with your best foot forward. Make sure you have your business cards and that you look sharp. Working thankless tables and attending conferences can pay off unseen dividends over the long term.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Always Return Emails

It is truly stunning to experience the number of people who don't return timely and important emails in politics.

Building relationships with new people is tough, and email is a quick and easy way to do it. But many will fail to reply.

You don't look like a pro when you're impossible to get ahold of, when you fail to reply to a timely request.

It's also true that new people you meet might send out a response that's not tailored to you. Use it as an opportunity to make a personal connection, hit reply anyway. Say thanks for the information. Confirm that you got it. If you have a thought about what they've written, tell them about it. There's more of a problem in not hearing from people than receiving too many responses.

I've been attending political conferences lately and I will send a group email to 50 people who signed up at an event, and no one will reply. I then thought it was the group email, so at the next conference I took the time to write personalized individual emails to each person, another group of 50. I received three replies.

You look like a chump when you don't reply. And whatever social anxiety you might have in replying to an email from several weeks or months ago, suck it up and reply anyway. People are more gratified to hear from you than resentful at the time you took to reply. If you're delinquent on replying to someone, do it anyway. It's easy, it's quick.

Reply to emails or you look like a chump.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Measuring Results on a Campaign: Why it's Important

This article and study measures a very real business-phenomenon: stressing hours over measurable results. And on a campaign, a similar problem exists. People value showing up more than they value your actual production. People who hang around or are always present get more respect than those who show up less, but produce more.

This is why, on any campaign, you should measure the production of whatever someone is supposed to do. If they're making phone calls, you can track phone calls. If they're fundraising, you can track and measure the fundraising. If they're doing voter identification, you can track the number of records in their database. But everything should be tracked. You should also do random checks within their data and results to make sure there isn't cheating or false reports.

That said, there are very real problems with running a campaign like this, where you only look at numbers. You have to keep a big picture. You have to keep it all in perspective. But these numbers can help you identify problems early, and they can help you appreciate and reward those who are producing great things for your campaign or organization even though they might not look like it.

An old boss related a tale to me about starting in my department at a political organization in DC. When he came in, he was told that one guy was awesome, let's call him Tim. And another guy was horrible they said, let's call him Brian. Everyone loved Tim and disliked Brian. Tim showed up on time, went to all the important events, and everyone knew that Tim worked hard long hours and was a friend to everyone. No one saw Brian very often, didn't know what he did, and he always seemed withdrawn. Tim was a team player and Brian wasn't. My old boss, Steve, measured the output before he fired Brian though. He wanted to check before he did.

He was startled to find out that Tim never did his work, passing it along to others. Tim hadn't produced anything in several months. Brian was the most cost-effective member of the department. Brian was carrying the load for the entire department and was never around because he was out doing what his job told him to do. Because Tim was adept at office politics, he seemed like the star. Because Brian was working tirelessly, he never had time for the office happy hour or the other social events.

Steve fired Tim and never looked back. Everyone thought Steve was crazy because Tim was such a star. Steve rewarded and praised Brian, and the department had its most productive and most efficient production in several years.

Measurable results can tell you a lot, and they can break apart the hype. They can help you identify areas of strength and realize areas of weakness. Not just in business, but even on campaigns and in political organizations these business lessons are useful and valuable.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Insides of a Campaign Office

This photo is a little dated, but a good representation of the 'organized chaos' on many competitive campaigns. There are papers, binders and a mess everywhere. There are computers, printers and often out-of-date technology because the campaign will emphasize cheap, donated and free over costly purchases.

Always call volunteer signups within 24 hours

When a new person signs up, they should be contacted within 24 hours.

It's a simple thing. A quick phone call. The signup and join page on your campaign's site should send a cc'd email to your volunteer coordinator, and they should be making these calls.

A quick call that says:
1) Thank you
2) Asking what the volunteer is most interested in doing
3) When they can come in

I recently signed up to help volunteer on a local race for Congress. The candidate has raised 50k to the incumbent's 2 million. Their only option is to run a grassroots campaign. Yet, 72 hours later, I still haven't received a phone call, email or anything.

Always call volunteer signups within 24 hours and get them working on your campaign.