During most cycles, organizations fight over hiring the staffers with the best experience. Now, this sought-after experience also comes with liability and risk.
Technology is moving so quickly that a staffer or consultant’s experience can be quickly out of date. While their experience might get them hired by a campaign, applying it could be to its detriment. In many cases, younger staff with fresher skills are passed over during hiring season in favor of this type of experience. The younger group then join upstart campaigns using newer tactics, spending less money, but winning and upsetting the balance of power.
That very real scenario demonstrates why it’s more useful to have a staffer hungry to learn new techniques, intellectually honest enough to test their ideas — not just assume they’re correct — and seriously leverage data, as opposed to trusting their gut instincts.
In fact, digital strategies will often fail, so it’s important to experiment early and often. You don’t want to find out when it’s too late. Small-scale experiments will help with focus and resource allocation to prevent failure.
Campaigns and causes on the national stage can often draw better talent because they often have more resources at their disposal compared to those at state and local levels. But digital and analytics aren’t merely reserved for top-tier presidential candidates. Local efforts, too, can use basic digital and analytics tools to gain an edge. At whatever level you’re running, it’s important to form a recruiting team to go and out find the best talent.
As a team scales, don’t rely on inbound leads and hiring out of desperation to ensure rapid growth. Build a network of potential candidates who represent the best and brightest. Top talent is typically in a position they already enjoy and won’t leave at the drop of a hat. But as an effort builds momentum and public visibility grows, it’ll become easier to get the best minds in the field. Create a recruiting roadmap with milestones and key hires as guideposts.
In order to utilize digital tools and analytics in an impactful way, advocacy organizations need to pay technical staffers competitive salaries: good talent isn’t cheap. An effective digital budget for a large statewide starts at $5 million and requires a 10-20 person digital team.
Campaigns and groups also need to create a cultural atmosphere conducive for digital people by ensuring the digital organization is a direct report or a senior-level report within the organization. The department should also be scaled up quickly, with delineated ownership and well-understood, well-followed workflow.
While hiring leading experts may be impossible, don’t hamstring your internal staff by relegating them to serve as “code-monkeys” for external experts. Look for young and hungry talent.
Adopting a culture of experimentation with a cohort of smarter and more capable technologists — the DNA of a startup — will often lead to surprisingly good results. Building an effective organization is about creating an all-star team, not a team of all-stars.
Aaron is a co-founder of Lincoln Labs; Reed Galen is a Republican political consultant. Follow them on Twitter @reedgalen and @aginnt. The full text of the Lincoln Labs white paper on digital campaigning is available here.