Craig “Campaign Doc” 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.
Q: We have a reporter who keeps asking hypothetical questions about policy issues and what happens if we lose. How do we shut him down?
A: I don’t recommend ever “shutting down” reporters. But I am also resolutely averse to going down the rabbit hole of hypotheticals. One pat and pithy response came last year from “tight-lipped” (per the reporter) former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. He replied, “I don’t speculate and I particularly don’t speculate on my actions.”
Q: It’s parade and harvest festival season, which activities should our candidate participate in?
A: Piggyback on pre-existing events like picnics, parades, concerts, barbecues and emphasize visibility: bring banners, rally signs, sound trucks and music. Position volunteer tables outside grocery stores, sporting events, and make sure you have voter registration materials available.
Customize paid communications like digital and radio ads with Labor Day or “end of summer” themes. Make a major economic-policy announcement right before the event so the resulting news coverage runs throughout the weekend. But keep it fun. Don’t be too intrusive or too time-consuming: let the voters enjoy their festivities. And of course, check with and get participation approval from the event’s organizers—you wouldn’t want to be evicted as a self-promoting parasite. That’s just awkward.
Q: We just got a memo from our ad maker regarding our paid communications during the primary that says “the substantive persuasion effects are minimal.” What does that mean?
A: It means either your consultant is admitting his or her ads didn’t work, or he or she is dumping another team member in the grease (not good for team cohesion, unless of course you’re reorganizing). Another possibility is that nobody read the poll before you began advertising or you just wasted a lot of money. It may also be some combination of the above. Tons of luck with the general election, sounds like you’ll need it.
Q: I realize things are ramping up quickly for November, but it would be great to pick your brain about something personal. This is my third campaign and I’m not enjoying it. I’d like to know if you have any thoughts on how to deal with this difficulty. Thanks and look forward to your response.
A: Poor baby, we sympathize, we really do—just not very much. Let’s be clear: Campaigns are exciting, and it’s a profound honor to be part of the American political tradition, no matter how big or small a part we might play. But campaigns, like life, aren’t always fun. That standard is too high for anything that isn’t leisure or play.
We’re reminded of British explorer Ernest Shackleton, who reportedly advertised in 1913 for personnel, describing his Antarctica journey thus: “Small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, safe return doubtful. Honour and recognition in case of success.” Five score and three years later, writers still glorify the trials and victories of that journey.
Bottomline: No pain, no gain. Stay on the job, do your very best and, win or lose, decide after the election what you want to do next—either the same job on a bigger campaign, or a different job altogether. You can try work as a consultant, or just bail on the business altogether. You owe it to yourself, and to your candidate, colleagues, family and funders to not quit.