How many candidates did you turn down this year?
For the average consultant, the number of times you are forced to say, “Sorry, we’re full for the cycle," to small campaigns is likely growing.
The math tells the story. By one estimate, there are more than 500,000 elected officials in the United States, from president on down to dog catcher. Over a two-year electoral cycle, over a million people may run for office. While this number is constant, the amount spent by these candidates, and the PACs, Super PACs and committees that support them, is rising exponentially.
But take a look at your own Rolodex – has the number of political consultants required to service this growing market expanded? In 1989, an estimated 12,000 people earned a living as political consultants.
By 2005, Dennis Johnson, a Professor at George Washington University, estimated there were about 7,000 political consultants working. This year the American Association of Political Consultants reports having only some 1,350 members.
And the reality is that consultants aren’t just doing political work anymore. If your core business is anything like ours, the demand from the corporate side is likely taking up more and more of your staff time – meaning even less room for smaller political campaigns.
So what’s the answer? More experienced consultants on a firm’s roster? Perhaps.
But another option is providing Do-It-Yourself (DIY) service to smaller campaigns and causes – so these campaigns can have access to the infrastructure and expertise of a consultant without hiring one directly.
Our firm, Storefront Political Media, has launched two such businesses this year. And we are not alone. Our products are designed to offer quality direct mail and digital services to smaller campaigns. And we serviced a number of first-time candidates for offices like school board, city council and even sanitation district members. In other words, campaigns that our core business would have turned down.
Like others in the startup space, our clients helped us discover that the product we designed for small campaigns actually has other uses. It was our early clients who understood that we had created a political Template Management System which is now used by bigger players, like the Oregon House Caucus and the Ohio House Democrats, for incumbent protection and to manage political direct mail for their non-targeted races.
And our some of our fellow consultants are even using white label versions of these products for their own smaller campaigns – so they don’t have to turn them down and can still turn a profit.
Now, the startup costs for creating these products—in terms of the capital and development time—was high. But it was worth it so that we don’t have to turn away ambitious first-time candidates or smaller campaigns, who may not have another consulting option.
Eric Jaye is the founder and president of Storefront Political Media. Bergen Kenny is a senior political strategist at the firm.