Campaigns on the right are outsourcing to firms what previously they would have hired staff to do, which is putting pressure on consultants to expand their offerings. This phenomena is helping fuel the growth of mega-firms: one-stop shops that can run every aspect of a candidate’s race for public office.
While consultants who run smaller shops say they’re still able to pitch business touting their boutique services, the marketplace pressure is expected to grow as staffing remains a challenge.
“I do think a lot of the consolidation that we’re seeing in the industry is partially because of how hard it is [to hire staff],” said Mark Harris, a managing partner at Pennsylvania-based Cold Spark Media. “For me, hiring campaign staff is the single hardest thing that I do every cycle.”
The staffing shortage is a stressor hitting both sides of the industry. But on the right, Harris and other consultants are crediting it with helping fuel firms’ expansion and their consolidation.
“There were not really mega-firms as we think of them today when we started our firm [12 years ago],” Harris said during a panel discussion at last week’s Reed Awards & Conference in Las Vegas. “We just did [general consulting]. Then we added mail, then we added digital. So we’ve grown, but the interesting thing to me is how many clients are coming to us, wanting us to do things that staff used to do on campaigns.”
He added: “Because it’s so hard to hire [staff], basically, a lot of candidates are like, ‘I want a firm that’s going to be able to do all of that.’”
Harris recalled that his firm lost a Senate race pitch last cycle because he wasn’t able to provide all the services that the candidate wanted from his firm. “I was told explicitly that was the reason we lost: we weren’t big enough,” he said. “And we’re 25 people. We’re fairly large for the industry, but not as big as the client wanted.”
Ray Zaborney, a partner at Red Maverick Media, agreed with Harris’ analysis: “We now feel more pressure to be more things on a campaign,” he said. “We’re certainly in acquisition mode to try to continue to grow and build.”
Meanwhile, Ken Mika, CEO of fundraising shop Politicoin, said there are still ways that smaller shops can succeed in this environment without rolling up with or selling to another large firm.
“What I’ve seen this past year is that more people have left those big firms and come to me saying, ‘Well, they’re just not giving us the attention that we need,’” he said. “That’s where my justification comes in that we’re giving you these dedicated people for this one specific thing because of how important it is.”