Scaling an opposition research business has long been a challenge for practitioners in the space, but one firm may have found a solution: training.
Dan Kramer, president of KPA Strategies, said he’s recently recorded Zoom training modules on basic and advanced opposition research to help his shop scale up.
“That is the heart of the biggest challenge in opposition research: scalability,” he told C&E. “Because if you’ve got a small or medium-sized project, one person can do it all. If you’ve got a project with any size, scale or that requires ready updates, a war room-type of situation, or it’s a big campaign, it’s very difficult to have one person do all of that. So training is key.”
Now, KPA Strategies, whose main office is in Sacramento, itself benefits from scale sitting under the umbrella of Core Strategic Group, a one-stop-shop mega firm that includes political and public affairs consultancies. But Kramer noted that it took training and standardization of his firm’s offerings in order to scale up.
“We have routinized our report structure,” he said. “So we’ve gone to a template that makes it easier to read, makes it easier to understand and provides [grammatical] consistency across all of our documentation.”
His shop has also benefited from improvements to database aggregators like LexisNexis and Thomas Reuters’ CLEAR. Kramer said these services are now providing data pulls in real time from all of their public data sources. “Having the tools is great and it really has accelerated the pace, the consolidation and the commoditization of research,” he said.
That’s not to say that the art of research is being lost in the push for standardization. The acute challenge that research firms have is that even with an investment in training, there’s still innate skills that are needed which can’t be taught.
Kramer estimates that he’s trained 22 people in the last three years how to do basic oppo. Of those, three have the “killer research instinct,” he said. “Of the remainder, probably another 10 have the ability to do good work or excellent work with my direct oversight and the rest don’t have the aptitude for it or the interest.” KPA currently has 12 team members working on research projects for the primary season, but notes that number will likely increase as the general election approaches.
Another lingering challenge for researchers is the hangover from covid at public agencies.
“We’re just leaving covid and unfortunately government agencies still haven’t left covid, at least on the West Coast and on the East Coast proper,” he said. “I’m not sure if that’s a trend that’s here to stay or if we’ve just [have] another six-months-to-a-year of a tail on that on document retrieval.”
To mitigate those pandemic-induced delays, Kramer said he’s relied on long-standing relationships he has with document retrieval services. “I have always used document retrieval services, but I’ve honed that list so even though we’ve experienced delays, at least we’re going to the front of the line.”
With that in mind, he’s advising clients and potential clients to invest in research earlier than they normally would have. “Doing things early almost always decreases your cost and increases your advantage,” he said. “You can potentially identify problems and fix them so you don’t have to disclose them.”