Whether your campaign wins or loses, the game is far from over after election night.
Campaign consultants and vendors have plenty of loose strings to tie up before calling it a day, and it’s not always easy to get candidate campaigns to pay all of their bills.
For major national campaigns, it’s relatively common to continue carrying debt for months, if not years, following the end of a race. In many instances, that’s money owed to consultants and other assorted vendors. It wasn’t until 2012 that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign committee fully paid the more than $200,000 the campaign still owed to pollster Mark Penn.
If you own a small or boutique consulting firm, ensuring you get paid in full at the end of a campaign cycle could make or break your business. The best defense in this case is a good offense, according to consultants who have dealt with campaign collection issues. It should start with having a collection plan in place well before Election Day.
“Make sure that you know upfront what you’re doing, and don’t be sending invoices on Election Day,” advises Jessie Bradley, a partner at Hilltop Public Solutions. “[Campaigns have] most likely spent all their money by then.”
It may seem obvious, but all too many firms fail to remind campaigns of unpaid invoices well ahead of Election Day. If they do, it’s more likely the invoices will be paid in a timely fashion. To avoid ending the campaign season with unsettled debt, firms should set out a payment plan with clear expectations from the start.
Chris Cupit, president of Campaign Marketing Solutions, divides clients into two categories. If the client is a new hire, it’s imperative to ask for a payment up front or risk not getting paid in full down the road. While it is possible to be more lenient with reliable clients, it’s still in the firm’s best interest to establish a deadline or payment plan.
“Don’t be too nice to your friends because they can take advantage [of the relationship] and you won’t see those payments for a long time,” says Patrick McGill, a senior strategist at Stones’ Phones.
If your firm is in its first election cycle, don’t take any chances: get your clients to pay upfront. John Balduzzi, who heads the New York-based firm the Balduzzi Group, says the rule should also apply to small boutique firms. His company’s contracts require clients to pay in full before advertisements are sent to TV stations.
“If I didn’t make a client, who is spending $50,000 or $75,000, pay upfront, it would be disastrous for my company if they didn’t pay me back later on,” he says.
Based on his experience, Cupit says campaigns that owe more than $10,000 are the toughest to try to nail down after the fact. If you’re dealing with a client who still owes a large sum, it is likely they’re paying of other firms before they get to yours. The best way to make sure your firm gets the next paycheck is by making yourself visible. Weekly phone calls or emails are two simple ways to keep your company front of mind.
“Remember that you’re competing with others to get paid back first,” McGill says. “Know who in the campaign decides who gets paid next and hound them.”
And make sure to ask the campaign whether the amount that they owe correctly matches up to the expenses in your records, so there are no surprises once the bill finally does get paid. “Campaign budgeting is hard and will get out of hand. If someone does something wrong in the budgeting, then you’ll likely have more debt,” says Bradley said.
If a campaign has yet to send a check your way, even after you have hounded them, you might consider applying pressure by getting creative. In one case, McGill says his company used a robocall to highlight a candidate who wasn’t paying his debts.
“Know your client’s reputation and take matters into your own hands,” he says.
One thing to avoid is bringing the press into it. Consultants warn: Trying to plant a story about a candidate who hasn’t been forthcoming in paying the bills has the potential to jeopardize the firm’s reputation with future clients. The story is likely to point back to someone at your firm.