A friend and I were having one of our frequent politically-based philosophical discussions when he asked, “How would a first-time candidate – or even one who’s lost a campaign or two – know how to hire
the kind of campaign manager that would likely lead to a win.”
That was such a great question, it required a full week’s worth of thought before I managed to come up with a good answer. The hitch in my equation giddy-up was, how do you quantify the unquantifiable? While the fundamentals haven’t changed since Cicero wrote those letters to his little brother, each and every campaign is truly a different proposition.
Some campaign managers may be prefect for some situations, but they fall completely flat in others. So, here’s what I came up with:
1. The best campaign managers are apolitical
That doesn’t mean they’re the human equivalent of Switzerland! It does mean they won’t limit their client list to a particular party or a specific political ideology.
Of course, there are limits to this theory. Forward Communication might have difficulty representing an ultra-conservative candidate, while some campaign managers might find progressive messaging so problematic that a political partnership would never work out.
But we have worked for both very liberal and very conservative candidates, because it keeps good campaign managers on their toes. If you spend too much time with the same crowd, considering how the political playing field constantly changes, your mindset can atrophy to the point where you’re no longer serving your clients’ best interest.
Case in point. Speaker Michael Madigan and his crack Illinois Central Democratic campaign team is the only group that strikes fear into Forward Communication’s heart. But even he can’t win in predominantly Republican districts because he relies on the same formula he’s used for 30 long years.
It gets Democrats elected in friendly and balanced districts, but since they haven’t caught up with a far more fluid Illinois electorate and the latest statistical voter tools, they’ve never risen to the top of their game when the district doesn’t favor a Democratic candidate.
“We do it this way because we’ve always done it this way,” isn’t always the best campaign strategy. Like DNA, every race is different, and the best campaign managers always take that nuance into account. It’s what wins close races.
My point is, look for a campaign manager who doesn’t always hang with the same posse.
2. The best campaign managers work with winners
That doesn’t mean limiting themselves to slam dunk candidates – there aren’t enough of them out there. And there’s always a value in running a race to get your name out there and set yourself up for the next one.
By “winner” I mean a candidate who actually has a shot at winning an election, in great part, because they have the mindset of a winner. Here’s my favorite example from my impending “So You Wanna Win a Local Election” book.
George Pradel was the Mayor of Naperville, Illinois, for 20 years. Despite presiding over a 50 percent population increase, which should’ve shifted the political winds. But George, a former Officer Friendly, dispensed with challengers like the rest of us brush away mosquitoes.
You see, he’d spent so much time with those Naperville school children turned voters that no candidate could overcome the positive “impressions” George’s visits generated. Add the fact he’d shake your hand in the grocery store to his capacity to avoid political mistakes and George was unbeatable.
Thus, if a candidate tried to hire Forward Communication to run against George, no matter what kind of money was involved, the answer would’ve been no. The best campaign managers work for clients who have a statistical shot at winning, and if they can’t provide the candidate with that statistical path, they shouldn’t hire them!
The second half of our “winners” equation means having a winner’s mindset. That means:
- An ego that can be regularly reined in
- The capacity to listen
- The capacity to ignore the choir
- The capacity to withstand political attacks with confidence and grace
- The capacity to understand that what you don’t do is more important that what you do
- The capacity to connect with voters
- The capacity to withstand the campaign grind with a smile
- A work ethic that means they’ll answer the call for that final sprint to the finish
We’re not talking about perfection, but if the candidate doesn’t possess a minimum of those traits, the campaign will rapidly descend into the kind of chaos that leads to recriminations and bad feelings on both sides.
And nobody needs that.
In part two, we’ll continue with our how to hire the best campaign manager theme by covering the ability to frame and reframe a message and predict and prevent electoral problems before they occur.