Craig “Campaign Doc” Varoga is a longtime Democratic strategist and manager. Questions on strategy, general consulting, or anything campaign-related? Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US and he’ll answer them right here.
Q: I’m thinking about leaving the consulting business, but want to be able to come back if my situation changes. What's the best way to make a graceful exit without burning any bridges?
A: First, tell the truth, whatever it might be. You don’t want to screw up an amicable departure by misleading your clients and making them feel like dupes. Second, ensure clients have time to replace your services, either at the staff level or by hiring a consultant replacement firm. Third, be active during the transition, don’t foolishly head for the doors and never look back. And finally, stay in touch with both the client and the new team, which should be easy if you succeeded in the other tasks. Just don’t second-guess or undermine your successor, since that would put stink in the room.
Q: I won a close race last cycle, but didn't mesh on a personal level with my consulting team. Is it worth making a change to find a better fit, or should I stick with what works?
A: Hmmm. Maybe a targeted renovation would be better than full-blown demolition followed by tedious reconstruction.
Ask yourself: Which consultant was the smartest and most useful, and who was the least valuable? Which team members might be redeemable if you shake up the roles from last cycle? What kind of team do you really need for next time around? Will you need more or less money? Will GOTV be easier or harder? How might different opponents change your goals? How do you build a team to deal with these different political circumstances?
Also, this is important, is your race partisan or nonpartisan? In federal races, rearranging roles might be less of a problem—party consultants are not going to switch sides to the tribalized nature of national politics—than, say, nonpartisan municipal races where a fired strategist may have no choice than to work for your opponent, simply because he or she has bills to pay. And some fired local consultants have been known to recruit opponents to run against ex-clients.
Finally, look in the mirror and ask whether you might have contributed to the disconnect. It might seem shocking to you, but candidate stress is sometimes part of the problem. If it’s a big source of trouble, a brand new team won’t solve a gosh darn thing.
Q: I’m running for a state-level office (with a large budget) and know that 2019-2020 will be a busy period for consultants. Should I look to hire a smaller, local firm, or will national shops still have the bandwidth for my type of race?
A: Repeat after me: First blend, then lead.
Blend: Politics isn’t always an either/or decision, despite what some folks falsely claim (e.g., energize versus expand the base—a false and often self-destructive choice). That’s why it’s always a good idea to blend your team, combining ambitious idealistic newcomers with grizzled veterans, and mixing in experts from other professions on the staff level (mathematicians, marketing professionals, office managers, etc.).
One of the more effective statewide GOTV teams in my experience included half-a-dozen supervisors who were out-of-work realtors. They were great in providing accountability for a plan designed by experienced campaign strategists.
Specifically regarding national versus local: National shops have expertise in the political environment and also, in certain types of races (Senate, governor, attorney general, secretary of state, etc.) so they get the big picture and can save you oodles of time by not over-working easily answered questions. But local consultants “know where the bodies are buried,” understand in-state dynamics, and can help you avoid cookie-cutter messaging.
Lead: Egos, disagreements, and impasses are inevitable with any team. You or your manager need to lead the team, choose the best options after hearing everyone out and find a way to align your programs so that messages and timing are complementary. If you lead, a good team, local or national, will move you that much closer to winning.
Craig Varoga consults on local, state, national and international campaigns and is a regular political analyst in numerous news media. Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US.