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 am running for local office and have engaged a firm that has great connections with leaders in our community. My problem is that they do small things poorly. Their research is sloppy, and the social media posts they've put together for me haven't been at the level I'd like. Is it worth persisting with this firm because of the connections they offer, or will I regret not firing them sooner?
A: You say this firm does the small things poorly, but what about the big things? And are the big things specified as deliverables in their contract – endorsements, fundraising, community outreach, etc.? Will firing them deprive you of money, volunteers and prominent supporters?
Real world: Once, on a campaign that I was managing, we hired a “firm” to help with both outreach and media buys. But the firm was really just one person. And this person’s idea of preparing a media buy was to write it by hand based on calculations derived from a pocket calculator. And that firm/person had been sponsored by a local elected official who was likely to wreak havoc if their person was deep-sixed.
Real solution: I lined up a real media buyer, relieved the old firm/person of this responsibility, expanded his responsibilities for community outreach, didn’t cut his compensation, and made a deal to keep the change confidential if he didn’t blab his dissatisfaction all over headquarters. I wasn’t happy, he wasn’t happy, but it worked, and we won…because we fixed a real problem (an unprofessional media buy) while also keeping their great connections.
Q: Our firm is getting pitches from vendors outside the political industry to form partnerships and sub-contract work. Have you worked with non-political vendors before? Do they work out in the long run?
A: Yes, and non-political vendors’ job performances can land on every possible segment of the continuum, from successful to nightmarish.
Upsides: Vendors outside the industry are not constrained by conventional wisdom and can bring new ideas to old problems. They’re often eager and hungry, and they’re sometimes willing to under-charge in order to prove their capability in a new market.
Downsides: They can be slow and dangerously unfamiliar with the “get it done yesterday” deadlines of campaigns. They can have blind spots regarding the unique laws and ethos of political communications, and they can be inflexible and unable to compromise, which is toxic for team building.
Budget and operations permitting: Consider using a vendor on a test basis (e.g. early, for short duration, and on a limited scope) before risking big money and systemic failure. If it works out, loosen the leash and keep them on board for additional, but not “do or die” projects.
Q: Do you think email/social media fundraising will replace candidate call time? I really hope you say "yes."
A: No, but it is not an either/or choice. You need both.
Online fundraising has been growing in importance, every cycle, since at least 2004. This trend is especially pronounced in presidential, Senate and congressional races and, on the Democratic side, by the tremendous success of ActBlue, which recently announced that small donors gave $420 million using the platform’s technology in the first six months of 2019.
But the big national campaigns represent the greatest segment of these donors – i.e. smaller campaigns (city council, state legislature, etc.) have far fewer online donors.
Point being, the frontrunners in the Democratic presidential primaries may be drinking from a fire hydrant, but first-time candidates for lesser offices are not associated with national issues and get relatively little news coverage. Therefore, they won’t get the same buck for the digital bang. As a colleague recently noted, call time may be annoying, but it pays off because it is more personal, especially in down-ballot races.
If that is not persuasive, imagine that your opponent is raising money using both online communications and personal call time. Do you really want to make yourself less competitive by cavalierly cutting off one of your two fundraising arms?
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.