Political Consultants in 2018
Political consultants are much maligned but they hold a huge amount of campaign knowledge within their professional ranks. As such they are an important bridge for campaigns from one cycle to the next. A lot can change in the landscape of political campaigns in just two years and consultants are the ones who adapt to this change, making sure campaigns can be relevant on day one. So what specifically are political consultants bringing to the table for you in 2018?
There is no substitute for experience and it is not difficult to vet your political consultant to get someone who has the right mix of experience for you. They have no personal attachment or affiliation with the candidate and this is always a good thing. Being able to view things from an outside point of view is crucial when it comes to campaigning.
You are paying this person for their opinion, not to be your friend. Most first-time candidates employ someone they know as a campaign manager so it is imperative that an outside voice can come in and give the harsh truths. Maybe your look needs to change or your messaging needs to be stronger? Ask any prospective consultants up-front what they think your campaign needs to do. If they don't pull any punches then maybe this is the right person for you.
Political campaign strategy
Strategies to win elections change year-to-year. This year, field operations are big news and most general consultants will be incorporating some form of grassroots campaign strategy into the overall strategy. Social media strategy has been cannibalizing TV for the last decade but this might change depending on how Facebook adapts to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and how its new rules around political advertising effect digital ads. Strategy needs to be matched to the type of race you are running in and the social background. Ask your consultant to give you a detailed outline of how they would see your campaign strategy developing from inception to election day.
Political consultants will have spent the past few election cycles trying out new vendors and technology. Having a technology and vendor map in their head, consultants can save your campaign a huge amount of time contacting and testing data vendors, canvassing apps, phone banking software, and so on. Any aspect that will give you an edge on the opposition should be considered, whether that is new canvassing techniques, acquiring better endorsements, or even enticing an influential running-mate. Most consultants will have a favored vendor and political technology partners that they are comfortable working with. Use this knowledge. Demand to see what vendors the consultant would likely employ and why?
Distributed campaign setup
Most campaigns that require a political consultant will be relatively large in scope with a broad geographic area to cover. This is where many campaigns struggle to be effective as they need to recruit and coordinate 'area captains'. The set-up of a distributed campaign is one that requires experience in developing automated onboarding systems, strong central control, software systems, and tight campaign messaging. Grassroots consultants are great at setting this distributed campaign structure up quickly and getting it to work for you. If this is a need for your campaign, get the consultant to outline how they would address this for you.
Digital spending on political campaigns is notorious for running out of control quickly. Campaigns that take their eye off a digital ad budget can find themselves leaking money very easily. Experienced consultants are great at setting the parameters for digital advertising and they know how to get the best from digital spending. Maybe it will be important to get a good website up first, and then concentrate on social advertising, or maybe you need to prioritize digital spend to get donations through an event that is running? **Ask your consultant for a budget plan for digital spend that includes advertising and vendor subscriptions. **
If there is one thing that campaigns can get catastrophically wrong, it is social media. Consultants can help you decide which social channels to work on, for example, Twitter versus Instagram, and also coach you on how to use each. Different social channels work in different ways so it is good to have some guidelines on how to engage with people on these. Some consultants will offer to manage your social channels completely, leaving you to focus on the campaign itself. It doesn't work for everyone but it might free you up from a potential time-suck activity. Ask your consultant to give you examples of how they used social media on previous campaigns and what their strategy is. Tip: vague answers aren't good.
Consultants are often a great addition to your campaign team, but they are not magicians. If your campaign is running against the tide in your district, a consultant may help, but they can’t change your political environment. If you refuse to help raise money by making calls and one-on-one asks then hiring a fundraising consultant won’t solve your problem. Consultants can be a big help, but only rarely will they be able to solve systemic problems in your campaign.
Ask lots of questions when hiring a consultant, ask to see detailed strategy plans and budgeting, but most of all get a feel for whether the consultant is the right 'fit' for your campaign. 2018 is going to be a really interesting year for campaigns and consultants. Hopefully these tips will help you to get the best from yours.