ANNOUNCING YOUR CANDIDACY:
Some tips for announcing your candidacy.
1. Try to choose a date when news may be low.
You don’t want to compete with a local festival or fair, the arrival of some dignitary, a holiday. Weekdays are better than weekends
2. Don’t announce before you have your campaign plan and budget in place.
You should have at least an outline of how you plan to reach your 50% plus one vote and also how much money you will need to reach that goal.
3. Test your theme and message before you announce.
Why are you running for this office? What are the important issues in your campaign?
4. Selecting a location to announce is important.
It should relate to your message and be relevant to your constituency. (I.e. a toxic dump, the Board of Elections, a local school, city hall, a bus stop, train station, shopping mall, housing development, etc.); This is a major photo opportunity for your campaign. Choose the background carefully.
5. Call a press conference to announce.
You want to get as much coverage to your event as possible.
6. Be on time. You do not want negative press.
7. Have your own photographer.
If the press doesn’t show, you can provide a press release and a photo to the media.
8. Prepare a press kit.
The easier you make it for journalists, the better your chance for coverage. Call the press and remind them of the announcement.
9. Make sure you have many supporters present when you make your announcement.
You want to create excitement and enthusiasm about your campaign.
10. Be certain to inform the power base of your announcement
The power base includes: the party, major local organizations, associations, clubs… You want your announcement to be an event. You don’t want to anger or step on the toes of potential supporters. People in your power base don’t want to read about your candidacy in the newspapers. Even if they don’t come, they want to be informed of the event prior to its occurrence.
Your Election Campaign Announcement
Most people think that every political campaign begins with an announcement of candidacy. In fact you have a lot of work to do before you call that press conference to announce that you are running for office. You should have a basic campaign structure, a campaign treasurer, a campaign website (if you are going for a national office) that is ready to go live and some volunteers signed up. You also need to be prepared with some answers on the issues. However, today let’s just talk a bit about the announcement event.
Is the media interested?
Assuming you are running for an office where there is a reasonable level of interest, it makes sense to invite all the media including print, television, radio and the Internet based media. However, if you are in an extremely low profile race like an LC I or for sub county council, you may want to simply send out a press release. The media outlets that are interested in giving you more than a paragraph will give you a call and you should have answers ready, but there is no need in wasting your time with a media event if the press isn’t going to be there.
Getting your supporters prepared
First off, don’t go to the announcement alone or with just your spouse and campaign manager. Line up at least 50-100 supporters to join you. Tell them to be on their best behavior. They won’t like some of the questions the press asks, but you really don’t want to give the press a story about your volunteers and what they said and did. You want to keep the coverage focused on your campaign.
Waving campaign signs and cheering you is great. Anything negative is not so good. Also, the press is likely to ask a few of your volunteers some questions. Be sure to give your supporters a few talking points in advance of the event.
If your old grade school teacher is there and wants to say how she always thought you were a great kid, that’s fine. However, if your old high school buddies want to share stories about how you used to go out in the middle of the night and pull pranks for kicks, that’s not helpful. Give people some guidance in advance as to what sort of talk is beneficial and what isn’t.
Prepare a short speech
Second, have a good, short speech. Make the case for your candidacy in ten minutes or less. If you can keep the speech to five minutes that’s even better; a short speech will focus the coverage on your key points. You can hand out some additional information such as a biography and some details on your positions on the issues. However, keep in mind that the more material you give reporters, the more likely they are to find an angle for their stories that you won’t like. And, it’s good to have someone introduce you, but avoid people who are likely to go on and on or tell jokes that might backfire.
Prepare for questions
Third, prepare for likely questions. For example, shortly before one of my candidates made his announcement a book came out by a former insider that criticized a President of his party. That could have created an awkward moment. There was a very good chance the press would ask about it because it was a hot issue and they like awkward moments. We told the candidate to get the book and give it a quick read. Then, if he was asked about it, we suggested that he just mention that he had read the book and that it didn’t seem all that bad. We were almost certain that none of the reporters would have actually read the book so they would realize that they might look foolish debating the content with someone who actually had read it. That’s exactly what happened. There was one question and no follow up. It didn’t make any of the press stories.
Explain why you are running
Fourth, be able to clearly explain why you are running. Sen. Ted Kennedy rather famously didn’t have a clear answer to the question of why he was running for Presidency in an early interview. Many commentators believe that one question seriously hampered his campaign. People really want to know your motivation for running. It can be an issue or issues. It can be about integrity. It can be about improving management. The key thing is that there has to be some reason why people should support you.
Hold a practice press conference
Fifth, hold a practice press conference. Most local candidates have never been in front of a group of reporters. Get some politically savvy friends and supporters and tell them to act like reporters. You want them to be tough on you. An experienced campaign manager and (if you have one) campaign press person should be especially good at playing reporter. Try to have this rehearsal at least a few days before the actual announcement to give you time to get up to speed on issues you may not have been prepared to deal with.
Should you have multiple press conferences around your constituency?
Statewide candidates almost always make a barnstorming tour to announce their candidacy. If you have a large and diverse constituency with supporters in all areas, it may make sense for you to do the same. However, unless you are prepared to put together a first class event with sign waving supporters everywhere you go, I’d suggest that you would be better off having one really top notch announcement. Don’t spread your resources too thin. You can always schedule events in those other areas later when you have a particular issue or endorsement you want to highlight. Also, you should always be prepared for telephone interviews that day with reporters who can’t make it to your event. It doesn’t matter how many places you go, some reporters will want to cover the announcement from their offices.
What if it is a really bad news day?
I know of at least one candidate who planned to announce his candidacy at events all over his district on a day a very, very major news event happened. He decided to tough it out and to continue on with the events. I think that was a mistake because he got very little publicity and some people even considered having a press event on the day of a major tragedy to be in bad taste. If some huge news event happens the day you plan to announce, you may have a tough call to make. However, my advice is to just re-schedule. The press and your supporters (at least most of them) will understand.
Hiring a Campaign Consultant
The process of hiring a campaign consultant is somewhat unique because the potential employee is usually far more experienced with the campaign process than the employer/candidate is. Experienced consultants have to pitch their services many times a year, while the campaign may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the candidate.
Consultants offer a range of services at a variety of prices so you need to cover a number of compensation and management issues. Here are some questions you should ask any consultant you want to hire. I’ve also added some notes about the questions.
1. What is your background and experience?
Just let the consultant talk. Any consultant should have a pitch ready and you want to hear it before you start asking questions.
2. What campaigns have you run?
Don’t be overly impressed with big name campaigns. A consultant who has run campaigns for presidents probably won’t be directing your campaign for town council. Most likely, he will sign you up and you will be assigned to a low-level staffer. In the unlikely event that he really is personally running minor league campaigns, something may have gone seriously wrong with his business or he may have just decided to run lower pressure campaigns closer to home. You need to find out the reason.
3. What specific role did you play on each campaign?
This one needs to be asked because a lot of people who have experience in other facets of campaign work are trying to transition into consulting. You may be able to get a good deal with someone who is moving into the consulting field after working in other capacities on campaigns, but you should probably pay less than you would for a more experienced consultant.
4. What campaign did you learn the most from?
If he just turns to bragging about his victories, ask specifically what he has learned from losing campaigns.
5. How much do you charge and what services will I receive?
Who will be performing the services, you or a member of your staff? How much of your time/your staff’s time can I expect to have on a weekly or monthly basis during the campaign? Do you charge variable hourly rates for different staff members or will I be paying a flat fee for the campaign?
6. What happens to advertising commissions?
Many media and outdoor advertising companies offer commissions to advertising agencies that bring them business. The commissions are usually based on the cost of the advertising purchased. In some cases, media companies will mark up the price of the advertising to add the commission. In others, the commission is a portion of the regular cost of the advertising. The consultant has the option of counting the agency commissions against the cost of your contract with his firm. However, in many cases, you will be paying the consultant a set fee and his firm will be making additional money from commissions. There is nothing inherently wrong with the consultant being paid this way, but he should be up-front with you about the fact that he is receiving payment in addition to the fees you are paying directly to him.
One other concern you should have on this topic is that not all advertising is commissionable. If your consultant is making additional money from the commissions, he may be tempted to focus more spending on the type of advertising that pays the best commissions rather than the ads that will be most effective for your campaign. You need to discuss this issue with him.
7. What if I want to fire you?
In some cases candidates and consultants just don’t get along. In other cases, the consultant may do something that embarrasses the campaign. And, sometimes the campaign just needs a fall guy. You need to address what happens if the consultant is terminated under each of these circumstances.
8. What do you know about my district/community?
This is a very important aspect to the success of a political campaign. Campaign needs to be led by someone who knows the constituency and knows a good section of influential people in the area. If the consultant doesn’t seem to know much, ask what he plans to do to get educated about your district. If he bluffs badly, be careful. He may also be bluffing about things you don’t know much about.
9. What kind of campaign plan would you anticipate using in a district like this one? What size budget do you think I will need to implement your plan?
Take notes during the discussion and review key points with any consultant you are considering hiring. Be sure that any final agreement is in writing.