Vanquished candidates make the best clients, according to a bipartisan group of consultants.
After they lose, said Liz Chadderdon, head of the Chadderdon Group, “then they come back and say, ‘turns out you were right. I want to win this time, tell me what to do.’ It’s fun to watch.”
On the other hand, several consultants said Monday at C&E’s Art of Political Campaigning conference in Washington, having a client who has won without expert help creates its own set of challenges.
“If they won it on drinking beers and pounding signs and going to the Elks club, it’s a lot harder to jump in. They come with all these preconceived notions,” said Paul Bentz, vice president at Arizona-based HighGround Public Affairs.
David Mowery, president of Mowery Consulting Group, likened those preconceived notions to a sloppy, but effective golf swing. “A lot of times you can run a terrible campaign and win,” he said. “But bad habits form. Winning makes you think everything you did was right.”
The consultants offered tips on managing clients’ outsized expectations of “West Wing”-style excitement to handling meddling spouses to overcoming an over-reliance on yard signs .
Chadderdon, who runs a Democratic mail firm, said one of the things she looks for in a client is “at least a willingness to acknowledge that money will be a big part of this race.” She also frequently tamps down clients’ expectations.
“There will not be life-sized posters of yourself hanging in your headquarters,” she tells clients. “In fact, you probably won’t have a headquarters. If you have a headquarters, it will look like the set of ‘Die Hard.’”
Jason Stanford, president of Stanford Caskey, an opposition research firm, warned against giving the candidate’s spouse an official role with the campaign. “Don’t give them an office in the office,” he said. “It’s horrible.”
Still, a candidate’s spouse can be effective at keeping the consulting team in check. “We have to have checks on us because we’re spending unbelievable amounts of money under pressure,” he said.
The panel roundly dismissed the effectiveness of yard signs, calling them nothing but a distraction for candidates and campaigns. Mowery, who has worked with members of both parties, proudly cited a recent mayoral race he ran and won in Alabama.
“We didn’t print a single yard sign,” he said.