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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Where do campaigns waste the most money?

Without question, campaigns and organizations waste the most money on consultants.

Many would say "media" - but at least the media translates potentially into new voters or new donors, and raises your name identification.

Consultants offer and pitch a variety of often worthless products. It's almost cliche to notice on LinkedIn the number of people who list themselves as "Social Media Consultants" as though Twitter requires specialized paid staff.

Many vendors and firms will also charge an arm and a leg to do very basic things. And a good rule of thumb when it comes to consultants is, if an intern can do it, an intern will be doing it. If you hire a consultant to do "social media" strategy, it means the consultant will pay an intern $8 an hour to write up a three page report, and charge your campaign $1,500 for their expertise.

Consultants: almsot always a total and utter waste.

Vendors are sometimes different, I call "vendors" those who offer a specific product other than their emails and pretty thoughts. Vendors exist for creating tv commercials, for writing and producing direct mail, for creating a website. You pay them for a result.

But even vendors can be quite wasteful. You'll notice many become family affairs, with multiple related people working together. And while some family enterprises are well-run and great, most aren't. Most exist as a subsidy to that particular family, and most of the people are socializing during the day and not working.

Many campaigns will try to steer vendor work to their friends. This is also a mistake, because you always, and I repeat and emphasize always, get substandard work for higher prices.

When the candidate's cousin is making the campaign website, it ends up being six weeks late and costing twice as much.

Also you'll sometimes see family members hired as consultants. This even happened on the Romney campaign, and it's a sign of extreme unprofessionalism, because it forces you as a campaign staffer to be forced to explain to donors and voters why the relatives are on staff and what they're doing. It also complicates recruiting volunteers because now you have to explain why the family gets paid and the volunteers are expected to work for free.

Two other quick sources of expensive and unnecessary campaign expenses are ridiculous office situations, and excessive legal counsel.

I've seen 12 person campaign staffs working out of a 50,000 square foot warehouses. I've seen 5 person political organizations paying exorbitant $4,000 a month office space rent when they could have moved ten miles and paid a fourth as much.

Media is a big expense, and people love to hate on its costs. And I'd agree that it has low returns. People also love to hate on the mail programs, and sure enough, mail does have frustratingly low response rates. But both of those things have positives, they're not total wastes.

Pricey consultants, sloppy vendors, families on staff, excessive legal consultation and silly office space rentals are the source of real campaign waste.

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