Today, there are more than five hundred thousand American elected officials, every one of them unique.
But beyond the individual experiences and personalities of the candidates, there are universal similarities when it comes to campaigns. Everyone has the same basic marketing needs and faces the same challenges in addressing them: limited resources, time, and staff.
Increasingly, campaigns are turning toward freelance talent to fill gaps, complete one-off projects, and help bolster staff. Below, I explore what leaders should be thinking about when choosing freelancers to help build and run their political campaigns.
Consider the pros and cons of partisan and nonpartisan talent.
Pete Buttigieg is fighting for the Democratic presidential nomination against people almost twice his age, some of whom have been in elected office since he was a child. No easy feat. Yet it has been his strategy from the beginning not to demand partisan purity and instead position himself as someone who can draw ideas from all sides while building a bipartisan coalition behind his candidacy.
To that end, Mayor Pete has chosen to walk a fine line between embracing Republican voters, eschewing partisanship altogether, and aggressively claiming core Democratic Party policy positions, like healthcare reform. As it turns out, Buttigieg’s bipartisan tightrope act can also be an effective model for campaigns looking to leverage freelance talent for their cause.
It’s not that partisan purity tests aren’t helpful at times. There are occasions when you might want the people on your team to be in philosophical lockstep with the candidate, like when writing speeches, developing policy papers, or even drafting social media copy. In these disciplines, you can’t blame a candidate for wanting genuine enthusiasm to bleed through into the work product. That said, there are also times when partisanship is unhelpful and can actually put a campaign at a disadvantage when hiring.
Does the person who designs your logo, builds your website, or edits your digital ads really need to be aligned with your ideology? Do they need to be political at all? In my opinion, the answer is an emphatic no. By going outside the partisan bunker—and better yet, outside of politics altogether—campaigns have a better chance of finding talented freelancers that complement their tone and design aesthetic, and who can create work that is fresh and engaging. No candidate wants a generic-looking brand that seems like it could belong to anyone, right? So why does it keep happening? I’d argue that the insistence on hiring partisan designers, strictly from within the political industry, is a large part of the reason.
The media landscape in 2020 is more complex than ever. Smart, modern campaigns should be looking for fresh, creative ideas and that means looking outside of politics.
Weigh overall experience versus experience in politics.
As I alluded to above, yes, there are times when you’ll want to hire freelancers who have experience in politics. But in many cases, it’s simply not necessary.
Every political professional should watch this video. It will give any campaign veteran a chuckle, but there’s an important lesson in it too: if you hire people who only do political ads, don’t be surprised when your ad ends up looking like every other political ad from the past 25 years.
No matter what you think of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s politics, her New York City-based congressional campaign can be instructive on this point. When she ran for Congress, she was a 28-year-old waitress from a working-class background with almost no political experience— someone you’d think would never stand a chance against a 10-term incumbent. While there’s no doubt that the core of her campaign was based on ideas, for which she proved to be an unusually gifted messenger, she also had a powerful, silent advantage too: her visual brand.
Unlike most candidates for Congress in 2016, AOC’s website, print materials, and social media content leveraged bright colors and striking fonts, unusual punctuation (Spanish language exclamation points), and most noticeable, a lack of patriotic images and colors palettes.
Had she gone with a traditional political agency or freelancer, you can bet she’d have been advised against this approach. But she chose to buck the trend and worked with non-traditional designers, in an attempt to appeal to nontraditional voters. She knew intuitively that, to attract and mobilize young people, she needed to create a brand identity and visual language that strongly signaled the freshness of her candidacy. Traditional, boring political design themes simply would not do. Now she’s the youngest woman to ever serve in Congress.
Who is right for your freelance workforce?
It’s not something most people think about, but there are many different types of freelancers in the world. Some are considered their own small businesses. They act as consultants and work as lawyers, real estate agents, doctors and more. Other people freelance on the side to supplement their income, picking up photography and videography gigs when they can.
And others still work exclusively online, doing things like graphic design, social media marketing, content writing, web development, and more. The latter often never meet with their clients face-to-face and, instead, work over the internet. It’s up to you to decide what type you need to move your campaign forward.
If you’re looking for someone who can come on-site and work with you in-person a few days per week or month, platform-based freelance talent likely isn’t for you. Either way, it’s important to think carefully about your needs. Only then can you make a decision about what’s best for you and your campaign.
Brent Messenger is Vice President of Public Policy and Community for Fiverr.