In pitch meetings with potential candidates, I often get told why they need a “local guy” to run their down-ballot races. It doesn’t usually foretell signing a new client.
Still, that misconception couldn’t be further from the truth. Our firm, which has a national focus, has run several local races in areas far from our Los Angeles headquarters where our candidates swept to victory—despite going head-to-head with an opponent’s local consultant. Our clients won because we brought more discipline, and an overall better messaging approach to the campaigns.
The next time you hear from a prospective client about the need to hire a local guy, use my point-by-point rebuttal.
11. National consultants are out of touch.
It’s quite the opposite. We make our living day in and day out measuring the pulse of different electoral jurisdictions. A consultant who has just worked on races in Dallas may not see a trend that is sweeping its way to Texas from California. Whereas a national consultant could spot it, test it in a poll and decide to include it in mailers to voters. Meanwhile, the opponent continues to talk about the same issues cycle in and cycle out that no longer matter to the voters.
10. You’re too expensive. A buddy of mine is willing to give me a good deal.
We’ve noticed that local consultants often end up being more expensive than national level consultants. That’s because national consultants are juggling numerous races and don’t depend on one or two campaigns to bank roll our businesses.
National consultants are well paid, yes. But there’s a reason for that – we’re in demand because we bring a lot to the table. A good national-level consultant will only work with a campaign if he’s a benefit to the candidate’s victory, not the other way around. Moreover, national consultants will often work within the budget of a down-ballot campaign. At the end of the day, we understand that running a campaign’s coffers dry prematurely won’t help the campaign win.
9. My (insert hometown) is different than any other place in the country.
No, it’s not. Your hometown may have a local issue du jour that needs to be addressed, but the fact remains that voters in Miami want similar promises from their county supervisor as voters in Scottsdale do—more jobs, safer streets, better education. As national consultants, we know the messages that work. We also know not to trust our guts and instead rely on polling to make strategic messaging decisions.
Often times, local consultants copy and paste messaging and strategies they’ve used previously just because it’s worked in the past. National consultants won’t make the same assumption. Shayna Englin, a friend of mine from Mercury Public Affairs, wisely quipped: “I’m going with what my gut says, and my gut says to trust our poll.”
8. That may have worked there, but it won’t work here.
Believe me, we’ve seen it all: bad messages, creative messages, best and worst practices, new, cutting-edge technologies. We know what works and what doesn’t. Only consultants with national experience can bring this to the table. Running solely local races can be limiting because you’re not exposed to best practices from around the country. National consultants have that expertise.
7. I want to hire someone I’ve known for years and trust with my wallet.
Trust is important. Speaking truthfully and honestly with your candidate is important, but rarely is that candor delivered by old friends. As national consultants, we routinely have to deliver tough love to our clients. During those conversations, it helps not to have a long-standing friendship hindering the dialogue. Candidates need to hear the truth, not a sugar-coated version. Local consultants have to worry about seeing the candidate at the grocery store and neighborhood BBQs after the election—we don’t. This enables us to give the unvarnished truth that a candidate may not always want to hear but needs to.
6. But so-and-so knows how to produce television ads and mailers.
Mail-by-template is the biggest mistake we see local consultants make. They often cannot afford to have a graphic designer on staff to make unique and custom pieces that deliver clear and crisp messages. In tough, close races, design-by-template won’t work when you must cut through the clutter. Same applies to television. It’s important to bring best practices to TV ads, and not just on production. The buying side is also critical. Technology is rapidly changing and having a buyer and media firm who can bring with them the latest and greatest may make the difference between winning and losing.
5. We don’t need that much experience. This is just a local race.
Every race is challenging and needs best practices from their consultants. Dialing a race in won’t cut it in a competitive environment.
4. I don’t want a big, hot-shot personality barking orders to me and my staff.
Do some national consultants have big personalities? Sure. But the majority of them are professionals who’ve mastered the art of viewing races dispassionately and communicating a message that moves the electorate in a short period of time into their clients’ corners.
3. I’m not running for president so I’ve assembled a team of volunteers who’ll work harder than any paid consultant.
When it comes to volunteers, you get what you pay for. It doesn’t matter whether you’re running for president or dog catcher, your team needs to be led by experienced consultants or staffers. Volunteers often bring passion, but are easily misguided, distracted and prone to mistakes. Don’t let a volunteer lead your campaign team.
2. I’m hiring local consultant X because he’s the guy (or gal) around here.
There’s always a local consultant who’s the guy (or gal) in a certain locale, only because national level consultants haven’t ever been brought in. With our tools for social media engagement, polling and message delivery, we often can run circles around this type of consultant.
1. But (insert candidate X) has just hired a local consultant. I need to match him.
Not true. In fact, if your opponent hires the local go-to consultant, it could be a golden opportunity to bring in a seasoned, national pro.
Are there bad national consultants? Sure, just like in most professions. But on the whole, assembling a team with national experience far outweighs any perceived benefits of a solely local consultant. As a candidate, if you're serious about winning a down-ballot office, it’s best to go national.
John Thomas is the founder and CEO of Thomas Partners Strategies.