How to Run an Effective Political Campaign – a Synopsis for the Aspiring Candidate


by James D. Roumeliotis

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A political campaign can be an exciting and challenging experience especially with the great deal of circumstances that will transpire between the start of the campaign until Election Day.  Whether a person is running as an independent, an active member or leader of a party, to be effective requires the same skill set similar to running a business. Disregard how the public service sector operates since it’s bureaucratic and a process driven entity.

The difference between winning and losing is what goes-on inside the campaign.

Decision: Why run in the first place?

No one runs for office alone. There is a heavy reliance on the people around the aspiring candidate. With that in mind, the first thing a prospective candidate usually does is to host a small gathering in his/her home to pitch the idea and see what kind of support might be available. If the support is sufficient and we presume that the candidate has a clean background and credibility intact, the ultimate decision then rests with that person as to whether or not he/she should make the commitment to run for office. One needs to carefully weigh the pros and cons since a campaign is very time consuming and constantly drains one’s energy. Compensation, if an incentive, should not be the main cause. Privileges, networking and serving local constituents can be very beneficial, as well as satisfying. Part of or an additional reason to seek office can be the dissatisfaction for the way the public sector is run and/or passionate about certain issues.

Support from the candidate’s family is imperative as long hours and a volatile schedule will most certainly be expected. Equally important is to obtain assurances from a group of potential supporters who can add credibility to the campaign and spread the word to their sphere of influence.

Being organized, energetic, articulate, versatile, patient, perseverant, tenacious, consistent, well informed and persuasive are important characteristics the candidate should possess. The list may seem like a tall order; however, members of his/her competent team can compensate for any deficits/weak points.

Research: Knowledge is an asset – particularly when applied

For starters, it is important to first know the issues involved in the office sought. By identifying the specific needs of the community or beyond the candidate wishes to serve, this person will put himself/herself in a position to do the maximum for his/her potential political constituency.

Depending on how involved the candidate is with issues of public policy, the research process can vary. Regardless, of the sources and methods one will use at his/her disposal to gather factual information, the person must have a very good command of all the important issues he/she will be facing and managing.

Organization & Coordination: Key elements and structure of the campaign

Like every project and endeavor, the key to a successful campaign is good planning. This can be done before or after establishing a campaign team, although it is often helpful to have input from the campaign team during the planning stages. It helps to ensure that all members of the team are on the same page throughout the campaign. The more comprehensive the plan, the fewer decisions will have to be made in the heat of the moment and the team will have a greater capacity to adapt and respond throughout the campaign period.

One of the most significant factors in the success of any political campaign is the number, quality and commitment of volunteers used to guide, implement and promote the campaign. Volunteers have many roles to play, and getting the right person to fill each of these roles is essential to success. The number of volunteers needed in a campaign will depend on factors such as the size and scope of the campaign, the number of staff and the recommendations of the campaign advisors/consultants. Once all the volunteers are in place, the next task is to keep them interested and involved in the campaign. They need to believe in the mission of the organization. Without this belief and passion for what the organization is doing, it will be hard to keep volunteers motivated.

Another valuable campaign and planning tool is to create an information database. This should contain names, phone numbers and e-mails of potential supporters who say they will support the candidate or work for him/her during the campaign and to contact them for their unequivocal support. It is important to follow through with anyone who offers to contribute their time to the campaign. The campaigner can stay in touch with those in the campaign database via e-mail. On the day of the election, it will be useful to contact all of the identified supporters and ensure that they will be heading to the polling station.

A time-line is also one of the best planning tools. It is a chronological list of tasks, events, interviews, deadlines and other events of importance which details what must be done throughout the campaign period. This helps ensure that nothing is overlooked.

Platform & self branding/image: Creating a distinct identity

There are candidates seeking office due to strong feelings on a single or several issues. However, if the voters don’t share the candidate’s strong feeling, the candidate needs to determine if he/she is comfortable focusing on other issues. Likewise, decisions need to be made about comfort levels with negative messages including advertising.  Will the campaign refer to their opponent(s) in any way?  If so, what issues are fair play? When such questions are answered, can the campaign put together a realistic strategy?

A candidate should make promises he/she believes in, take a stand on issues, but does not promise that position will be implemented. Moreover, this person should promise to stand up for certain projects not the outcome, do as much research as possible into every issue and promise being made. Most importantly, emphasis should be a value-based platform rather than a specific promise regarding an issue.

Branding is the promise that the campaign is making. It is demonstrated by the campaign logo, slogan, website, brochures, and direct mail campaigns. Further, it is demonstrated by the way a candidate’s staff answers the phones and the manner in which the candidate conducts himself/herself during public events. It is infused into all actions and interactions. For an effective marketing approach, a candidate should focus on being distinctive. Self-branding with  strong yet meaningful taglines and a logo ought to be considered that people can relate. In addition, it boasts a recall factor. Clear, succinct and consistent messaging must printed on all of the campaign literature. This can be accomplished by seeking professional help for graphics and signage.

Along with branding the personal name, a candidate’s differentiation can also be branded.Herewith, messages that are developed should immediately communicate why the campaigner is a better choice than the incumbent and other opponents, if any.

Fundraising activity: Creating a realistic campaign budget

Once a candidate knows the circumstances of the constituency he/she wishes to lead, that person will want to arrange for a funding scheme. Where funding for the average local campaign likely require very little monetary resources, for many, campaigns for higher office such as big city mayor positions, money will be key to success. It’s a good idea to consider  local businessmen, investors and party committee members; people who are likely to hold the same views as the candidate often find it a good investment to back like-minded political candidates. Of course, it is important to note that rules and laws apply to campaign fund-raising. Prior to any attempt to fund- raising for the campaign, rules, regulations and policies relating to this activity should be verified and adhered to.

Modern campaign tools

Without going into much detail, an effective campaigner, along with his/her team, realizes that all resources at the candidate’s disposal should be exploited for maximum results. These tools include marketing material, publicity/the media, campaign software to remain organized and create a database, as well as making the most use of the internet such as a website, blogs, e-mail and other sites that will add exposure and interaction with the constituents.

Canvassing: Bringing the message door-to-door whilst selling oneself

A staple of local elections in particular, door-to-door campaigning is a great way to meet people and to introduce one’s candidacy. Demonstrating willingness to hear voters out, canvassing is a very effective and proven method of ensuring success on Election Day. It is most effective when utilized by small groups and doesn’t have to be considered a chore but rather a fun and social event. Asking influential and supportive residents to tag along will be beneficial given that they will be construed as an endorsement of the candidate. If no one is home, a door hanger or postcard should be left with a “Sorry I Missed You” message along with a reminder of the election date. Either way, the candidate’s mark should be left behind.

Dealing with the Media: Preparation eliminates the element of surprise

There is usually adequate media coverage during municipal elections. It may be that reporters will want to conduct an interview at least once throughout the campaign. A candidate should not get intimidated by reporters other than get used to them. Naturally, though, they need information from candidates to produce their stories as much as the candidate should embrace media coverage to project his/her image and inform voters about his/her platform. It is a mutually beneficial relationship. That said, one must be careful about what is said to reporters and, as much as possible, ascertain what will be asked in advance of an interview. Answering reporters’ questions with short and concise answers is a useful strategy that helps one to avoid having his/her words misconstrued or taken out of context. Role playing in advance with someone who will ask impromptu type yet anticipated questions is a great idea – provided that speaking notes and draft responses to such questions are prepared in advance. Public speaking skills should be practiced – speaking simply, factually and in an articulate manner.

Seeking endorsements is imperative with the aim of exploiting political capital. But just as effective, are the endorsements of current elected officials, plus the local chamber of commerce. Gaining this public backing will maintain the candidate’s campaign on track and show the voters that important, politically involved people trust his/her motives.

If an aspiring elected official wants to run a political campaign, applying these strategies can increase the likelihood of success. Whether running for a local school board position, mayor or for higher office, there are certain tactics that will help, regardless of the context of the race. Exploiting all means at one’s disposal offers the best chance at competing in the tough yet ultimately rewarding world of politics.

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James may be available for hire as a campaign manager or adviser for a reasonable fee.  E-mail: jdr@affluencemarketing.ca

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “How to Run an Effective Political Campaign – a Synopsis for the Aspiring Candidate

  1. Rhonda Massad

    Thanks for the great news letter on campaigns. I am running for council in my area and enjoyed your tips.

  2. Very interesting, what about rural area campaign?

    • For rural campaigns you apply similar approaches. However, the relationships are more personable due to a much smaller population – reaching very specific audiences through radio and the internet. Many rural campaigns find local small-town radio stations an attractive option.

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