Trackers aren’t just following presidential contenders and top congressional candidates anymore. Increasingly even down-ballot campaigns will task an opposition research staffer with tracking an opponent’s public appearances.
While the tactic can at times be controversial, it’s a necessity for modern campaigns of a certain size.
Still, there’s more to tracking than just hitting the record button. An important part of the process is understanding how to effectively capture, edit and release the footage collected from your tracking operation. Here are the six best practices to incorporate when launching your tracking program.
1. Hire the right person
Trackers regularly encounter tense situations with high potential for confrontation. Having someone in the role who can diffuse tension while still accomplishing the task at hand is key. But finding that candidate isn’t an easy task. Acknowledge that not everyone is cut out to be a tracker: It’s the first step to building your operation. The position demands many hours of preparation that can too often lead to no result.
2. Establish rules of engagement
Before your tracker is released into the world, establish clear guidelines to serve as dos and don’ts. In fact, put them on paper. Every cycle brings us a story of a campaign that’s caught flatfooted when a tracker oversteps boundaries. Take the necessary steps to ensure your tracker understands proper decorum, which will allow him or her to accomplish the goal at hand.
3. Invest in tech
Hiring a tracker requires that you carve out a portion of your limited campaign budget. Too often, though, campaigns attempt to save funds by purchasing cheap equipment or video-editing software that makes what would’ve been great footage of your opposition simply unusable. Keep your media consultant sane and purchase a quality HD camera and editing software for your tracking team. It may be a significant early investment of limited campaign funds, but you’ll be validated when you have the crystal clear footage of your opponent’s foot-in-mouth moment.
4. Allocate support
Tracking isn’t a job for just one person. Make sure that your field team or a junior-level communications staffer is sharing some of the planning burden. Better yet, have your field team build in volunteer opportunities to help assist your tracker. These activities could include calls into your opponent’s offices or scanning local news outlets to hear about his or her upcoming events.
5. Find an outlet
Create a micro website or specific pages on social media to post your footage. Footage of your opponent’s no good if it’s confined to a hard drive that lives offline. Posting your raw and edited footage on a public microsite or social media stream will help with distribution. Moreover, direct supporters and local journalist to the site and always maintain fresh content.
6. Anticipate the outcome
Rarely will your tracking operation capture an opponent’s meltdown. YouTube views and Internet meme potential may seem like the goal of a tracking operation, but the reality is much less exciting. Skilled campaigns use tracking footage to build intelligence by collecting information on the opponent’s proposed policies and personal achievements. This information should be used when building your counter points to your opponent’s policy platform or in your paid media program.
JR Starrett is the national advocacy director for Common Sense Media, and a veteran campaign operative.