Historically, and this is especially true in the Republican world, grassroots operations—who’s running them, staffing them, and how much money is allocated to them—are decisions made much later in the game than other aspects of the campaign.
Selecting a fundraiser, polling team, media firm and allocating lots of early money to them tends to come first—something campaigns need to rethink if they’re serious about building a strong ground game.
Things are changing, so we’ve compiled the top 5 reasons why you should consider onboarding your grassroots talent earlier. Much like the growth of digital as an early component of every campaign’s budget, door-to-door is getting more attention because it’s a difference-maker in big races.
1. First, It’s Focus
Why are campaigns investing so much in analytics? It’s all about creating organization-wide focus on voters who are most likely to consider “a candidate like ours.” And nothing powers great analytics, both on the initial data collection side and subsequent rounds of fine-tuning (or “evolutions” as they are called), better than your grassroots door-to-door and phone teams.
Early conversations with voters performed by highly trained, embedded field operatives generate accurate data and allow campaigns to rest easy knowing their models are on target. This takes time and planning to execute. Just ask the Cruz campaign how long they’ve worked on their program!
2. The Right People
Great people are the difference between winning and losing campaigns or making a profit and going bankrupt in business. Business author Jim Collins pounded this home in his book Good to Great when he coined the phrase “getting the right people on the bus.”
There’s some great math around the benefits of leaders pro-actively choosing team members versus having to take the best of the rest.
Hiring your field team or a specialist firm, like Stampede Consulting, early ensures that you’ll get the best of the labor pool. You’ll get difference-makers—people who make life easier for campaign managers. Just ask the folks running statewide grassroots in Iowa right now if they wished they had had the luxury of hiring early? Because now they can’t hire at all.
3. Dynamic Feedback Loop
In the new world of business, getting your product to market fast is key and getting constant feedback from the consumer is the difference between winning and losing. A highly dynamic and iterative process has replaced the old world of one-time “bursts” of market research and all-or-nothing, fingers-crossed product rollouts. The highest profile successes in American business lately, firms like Airbnb, rely on MVPs (minimum viable products), instant feedback from the field, and lots of pivots as they perfect their offering and achieve organizational flow.
Campaigns have a lot in common with start-ups and the lessons apply. Early grassroots, staffed by the right people allows the strategist to understand how voters are reacting to the product and its position in the market place. It also allows you to “fail small.” Because it’s better to fail at a door with one voter than to crash and burn on broadcast TV or at a debate. For more on this read Lean Start-Up by Eric Ries.
4. Relationships Take Time
Building relationships takes time. Longer than ever, in fact. The latest studies from the big online dating sites indicate that couples are dating somewhere between 2.8 and 3.6 years before getting married.
Campaigns can’t really expect voters to (politically) marry their candidates after a single conversation that might last between 2.8 and 3.6 minutes, can they? And while a great piece of mail and some creative TV ads can accelerate the courtship somewhat, the gap between 2.8 minutes and 2.8 years is a big one that can best be closed by investing in early, one-on-one relationship marketing.
This year’s election is going to be incredibly complex for voters and whether you’re an R or a D it’s going to be about building relationships, based on trust, that enable campaigns to persuade voters to join the cause. That means embedded ground game, trained relationship managers, and lots and lots of time.
5. Connect the Virtual and Brick & Mortar Worlds
This is the ultimate goal, right? Knitting together a voter’s online persona with the voter file and their real world identity. This is the true mother lode of politics and you can only get so far without an active ground game that is connecting more dots for you.
Even more exciting, early conversations with high Klout score opinion drivers held in the “real world” can create real bonds that will pay off later in the virtual world. And active ground game teams are empowering digital firms with the most authentic and engaging social media content imaginable. Canvassers are acting like a Google street view for politics.
But it’s all got to happen early! Recruiting, training, deploying, and leading the best people takes time to orchestrate. To get the most benefit, strategists and campaign managers will need to start thinking and budgeting for grassroots right from the beginning.