On Election Night 2016, beneath a glass ceiling, stood a stage constructed in the silhouette of the United States. The symbolism of the glass ceiling, the shape of the stage, even the placement of the podium, had been designed to send a signal to over 300 million Americans as well as the watching world.
After a long, tough presidential campaign, the new president was ready to break the glass ceiling as the first female president and unify our country. The site, which had taken weeks to plan and construct, reflected history in the making.
While campaigns don’t need to go grand for every event, there are key moments (moments that matter) where you don’t get a do-over to create a picture that energizes a crowd, goes viral online and makes headlines.
For a presidential launch, there are no mulligans. There’s also no such thing as a second acceptance or concession speech.
For the moments in between, however, campaign managers and finance directors can take a deep breath. Candidates don’t need to break the bank to achieve iconic images. Smart scheduling and staffing can help a campaign develop its brand identity.
Retail stops, often called OTRs or “off-the-record” stops because they’re unannounced, can offer campaigns an affordable way to achieve memorable moments and create lasting pictures.
A last-minute drop-in to a New Hampshire brewery or an Iowa diner can offer a candidate the opportunity to engage with voters in casual, low-cost settings all while the press stand just steps away capturing the interaction online and on the airwaves.
Early in my advance career, I often traveled with various sized flags in my suitcase. I love flags. America loves flags. Who doesn’t love the American flag! It doesn’t take a 30’ by 60’ U.S. flag rigged off the side of a 20-story building to show your campaign’s patriotism (although, I’m a firm believer that there’s no such thing as too many American flags).
There’s certainly a fine line to walk between a candidate appearing accessible and compromising the candidate’s stately appearance. If your candidate is running for president, it’s important he or she look presidential. Even in the most rural or casual settings, a $40 podium sign from a local union printer can help make the event look professional. On the flip-side, homemade signs that show grassroots support can help make an otherwise sterile space feel energized.
One of the best-kept secrets in presidential politics is that it doesn’t take a six-figure production to ensure your candidate looks good on camera. Good staffing can save heaps of money on production, especially in a crowded presidential primary with limited resources and fundraising dollars.
Smart choices for venue selection can potentially save thousands of dollars. For example, candidates should choose locations for town halls that have built-in staging, lighting, and audio to reduce large venue bills, without sacrificing essential production elements. Local buildings with historical significance, schools, and union halls are always great places to start—and they usually have an American flag or two on hand.
Just think about the iconic images we’ve seen over the years. Two moments that are seared into my memory are: Senator Robert F. Kennedy on a makeshift stage on a front porch in the coalfields of Appalachia seeing firsthand the War on Poverty, and President George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium in the days following the September 11th attacks on our country. With a simple thumbs up, President Bush reassured an entire nation and even the world.
Sometimes all you need is a microphone (and a mult box for good sound), some street lights, as many flags as you can fit in your suitcase, and a determined candidate who can handle the rest.
Greg Hale is a partner at The Markham Group, a premier events firm, which has offices in Washington, D.C., Little Rock, and Los Angeles. He has worked on five presidential campaigns. Most recently, Hale served as the Director of Production for Hillary for America in 2016. Follow him on Twitter at @GregHale1.