Here’s a tale of two campaign launches. One is the story of a frenetic, dysfunctional organization with no chain of command. There are multiple decision makers that act in conflicting ways and there’s no sense of cohesion among the staff.
As the campaign gets rolling, routine tasks are performed in different ways every time. Personnel and vendors come and go without accountability. Ultimately, the campaign spends itself into debt and eventually dies off.
The other type of campaign is productive and organized. There’s a clear chain of command with designated decision makers. The operation and messaging of the campaign are consistent. There’s a sense of cohesion among the staff. Operational tasks are done efficiently and with consistency. Personnel and vendors come and go in an orderly way. The campaign stays within budget and remains vibrant through Election Day.
When stories are written about these two types of campaigns, it’s the dysfunctional one that makes headlines. But those post-mortems rarely highlight how actions taken or not taken in the first weeks of the campaign led to that dysfunction. That’s because the most important aspects of a campaign’s launch usually go unnoticed.
No matter the campaign’s size or phase, like a house, the foundation and structure must be solid and put in place quickly before you pick out the drapes. In the electoral world, the foundation translates into the organizational structure, processes and a well-maintained budget.
Campaigns need a clear chain of command. Every employee and consultant on a campaign needs to know exactly what their job is and to whom they report. When everyone has a clear job, wires won’t be crossed in a quagmire of jump balls and duplicative and conflicting action. Roles and responsibilities will expand and sometimes change as the campaign grows and additional staff are added—but no matter the change, there needs to be clarity. Results can be measured and staff members truly held accountable for results.
Once an organizational structure is created, each head of a department needs to ensure that there’s a proper process in place for their core responsibilities. Process may change over time as circumstances require, but one shouldn’t delay putting one in place.
Among other things, processes will ensure that everything the campaign does is legal, within budget, properly documented, and approved by all relevant staff. If staff members cannot articulate how their jobs fit into the campaign’s process, then they probably don’t understand their job well enough. When a campaign begins to scale and staff members need to delegate more responsibilities down the chain of command, a clearly defined process saves current staff members training time and alleviates managers from unnecessary anxiety.
Finally, it’s very important for campaigns to create a well-planned budget. It’s conventional wisdom that money is the lifeblood of politics. Well, budgeting is the lifeblood of a campaign’s execution. It’ll drive decisions about everything — office space, personnel, placed media and strategy. The budget needs to be created at the beginning and constantly revised and updated to reflect real-time reality.
A real-time budget isn’t easy to maintain. The campaign is constantly raising money from a plethora of sources and constantly spending money. A campaign must capture all this data and update its budget frequently for the review of decision makers. A campaign without a budget could end up crippled and without the resources to advertise in the crucial final weeks of the election.
A proper structural foundation, while boring and unglamorous, will help a campaign’s strategy flourish. A weak foundation will only draw attention away from the candidate and the candidate’s message. Forget the drapes for now. Focus on the bricks and mortar.
Brad Crate is the founder and president of Red Curve Solutions.