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 a general consultant who's trying to expand into more technical service lines. Between phones, digital or P2P texting, what's the easiest to learn?
A: Any unique or new channel will take time to learn and fully grasp its capacity and limitations. As Zach Stewart at Blueprint Interactive notes, “Phones and texting may be easier for those with field experience, while digital may be easier for those with a background in targeting or communications experience.”
Many self-service texting platforms make it easy to customize audiences, create scripts and set up sends, hypothetically making them easier to incorporate into a GC’s service.
Stewart, a Democrat, also recommends checking out online publications and sites like Ad Week, which share information on digital trends, what corporate advertisers are doing, and offer webinars and opportunities to hear from industry experts. In addition, Facebook, YouTube and other digital providers sometimes offer trainings on best practices.
Note, however, that general consultants who offer paid communications put themselves in the position of competing with other media consultants – which is fine, but makes it harder to be an honest broker in settling budget disputes.
Q: Vote by mail was expanded in my state for 2020. How much of my budget should I allocate to mail?
A: Rule of Thumb #1: Elections and jurisdictions vary. Municipal contests are different from presidential elections, specials candidates are different from nonpartisan ballot initiatives, and running for a local council race in New York City is different from running for Congress in Montana.
Rule of Thumb #2: Set aside a very high ratio for all paid communications (e.g., three-quarters). If you’re in an expensive TV market and are running an under-funded down-ballot race, a higher proportion of the budget should go to mail. If you’re in a medium-sized market but are well-funded, a higher proportion for TV makes sense.
Rule of Thumb #3: Crunch the numbers and reduce the guesswork on turnout. As Colorado consultant Rick Reiter points out, “Knowing in advance who is going to vote, and where they live, caters more towards direct-mail communication rather than electronic media.”
Conversely, Reiter notes, an election with higher-than-normal turnout could mean that electronic media is more cost-efficient in terms of persuasion targeting high-propensity persuadable voters.
Rule of Thumb #4: Make sure you include enough mail to educate your voters on how to vote-by-mail. Don’t assume that your supporters will get enough instruction from the election authorities.
Q: What do you think are the biggest things to look for this year in polling?
A: Brent Buchanan, CEO and founder of the Republican polling firm, Cygnal, says keep your eye on public emotion (not just opinion): “With crisis after crisis, we need to be paying attention to what voters are feeling, not just thinking. Science tells us humans make decisions using emotions then seek out facts to justify the decision for their logical brain.”
Buchanan advises that candidates and campaigns “pay attention to intention, not just outcome like ‘who will you vote for,’ adding that “large commercial brands have been digging into emotional drivers and behaviors for decades, and it's time for political campaigns to catch up.”
Also pay extra attention to methodology, since sample collection has become more difficult. “Reliance on phone-only surveys with low response rates has decreased the effective sample size,” Buchanan explains. “Multi-mode polling, such as text messages, email, voter-validated online panels, along with live phones, is a must, especially in smaller geographies like state legislative districts.”
Q: I’m trying to launch my own firm, and have had some encouraging meetings, but no one has followed through to sign a contract yet. Should I keep pushing my contacts at other firms for subcontracted work, or try to solicit candidates or groups directly?
A: Subcontracting: ugh, blecch, vomit! If things go wrong, you get blamed. If things go well, you’re stuck at the end of the line, scrambling for credit. All the responsibility and work, but very little (or none) of the authority or glory? The risk/reward ratio doesn’t make any sense if you’re serious about building your own firm.
So yes, go directly to candidates and groups, explain why it makes sense to hire your firm and offer to do a small piece of the overall program if they’re not ready to hire you to do the whole thing. It’s always better to deal directly with the client, rather than get lost behind intermediaries.
Craig Varoga consults on local, state, national and international campaigns and is a regular political analyst for numerous news media. Send questions using LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter @CVaroga or CVaroga@Varoga.US.