Rarely are campaigns big enough operations for a strong general consultant and a strong campaign manager to constructively co-exist. Candidates have to compromise and pick one or the other.
In the rare cases when both are hired, it can lead to head butting, turf wars and decision-making paralysis. There are examples of this from the presidential level down to state-based campaigns.
As a result, the hiring of a general consultant or campaign manager is never an easy decision to make. A general consultant brings experience, access to a political network and the gravitas a campaign may need to break away. But a campaign manager brings the daily direction, staff mentorship and attention to detail that’s needed to ensure your operation is moving at peak efficiency.
Both staffing models carry strengths and weaknesses—a few things to consider when making this important hiring decision.
The Strong Campaign Manager
A strong campaign manager can provide your effort with the day-to-day direction, staff mentorship and attitude direction needed to take your campaign to Election Day. But often this means compromising on experience and access to well-established political networks. Know both the strengths and weaknesses of taking this approach.
Pros: A strong manager will provide you with a daily presence that’s singularly focused to your campaign. Building an organization is largely about managing multiple parallel tasks. Attention to fundraising, communications efforts and field programs require daily project-management skills, and a responsibility to raise the funds necessary to communicate the campaign’s vision. If you’re a candidate who struggles with organization or feels you’ll be unable to provide the oversight needed to ensure the business-side of your campaign is well-run, hiring a strong campaign manager will suite your needs.
A strong campaign manager can also be the experienced mentor needed to ensure your eager, young campaign staff develop the professional skill set needed for a winning operation. Campaigns are built on young staff looking to trade a reduced salary for experience. One of the great joys of a campaign is seeing young staff members take on responsibility and ownership of a program.
As a candidate, however, you have to be sure you’re providing a mentor to the inexperienced members of your team. Typically, this role cannot be filled by the candidate alone. A strong manager with multiple cycles of experience in different campaign departments can provide your staff with the necessary mentorship.
Cons: Installing a strong manager can have limitations. Access to the aforementioned donor and influence networks within a state or at the national level, or lack of direct management experience are most often the drawbacks that accompany hiring a strong manager.
The bottom line is that a qualified candidate to be considered a strong manager will have multiple election cycles of experience and should be able to display a competent understanding of all departments.
The Strong General Consultant
Adding a general consultant to your team can be a cost-effective way of adding experience and access to vital donor or influence networks that have the potential to pay dividends. But this approach comes with the sacrifice of having a steady hand in your campaign office all day, every day. Understanding the opportunities and obstacles of this approach is important when incorporating this staffing model.
Pros: An apt adage about the industry is that winning campaigns mitigate mistakes and nothing replaces experience. A well-qualified general consultant will have the experience to help your campaign when times are both good and bad. A general consultant has established themselves and made a career out of the skills needed to push your campaign to victory. They understand the pitfalls that lay ahead and have experience sidestepping the kind of issues that would otherwise derail a novice effort. When staffing for your campaign, there is no replacement for experience.
A qualified general consultant will have existing relationships, both personal and professional, that’ll help your campaign throughout all departments. A general consultant will know the primary funders your campaign should be targeting and the strategies needed to access this select cohort. A large network can also help a candidate avoid duplicating efforts or the unnecessary spending that would otherwise drain your campaign account.
Moreover, a skilled general consultant will have a big-picture understanding of the political landscape. Consultants also understand how to build and maintain an efficient operation that’s strategically sound and focused on dedicating those critical campaign dollars to the areas that’ll show the greatest impact on the electorate.
Cons: A candidate must understand that a general consultant services many clients and will likely not be a daily presence in your campaign office. The responsibility of providing daily guidance to a young staff is, more often than not, outside the scope of most general consultants.
And don’t be upset if a general consultant doesn’t answer your 1 a.m. phone call. That’s a manager’s job.
JR Starrett is the national advocacy director for Common Sense Media, and a veteran campaign operative. Follow JR on twitter @JustinRyanS