In general, when thinking about political campaigns, people are mainly thinking about the general election. The public usually has high awareness of the strategies attached to winning the general election, such as persuading swing voters or running large-scale partisan turnout...
The first day of any job can be stressful. But in a high-pressure political campaign? The stress will be much more intense. There’s a lot at stake, and sometimes things come at you fast. Whether you’re a first-time candidate, a seasoned campaign manager, or a field organizer with aspirations, it’s time to get to work.
You Got the Job. Now What?
A campaign is like a small business: most team members have more than just one job. A manager might also be the spokesperson, while the field director might help staff fundraising events. Identify your specific responsibilities and how you’ll complete them in the time you have—being mindful, of course, not to let the pursuit of perfection completely derail you. Most honest mistakes are forgivable.
To understand your role, work with campaign leadership to identify clearly defined goals. If you’re in leadership, determine what roles you want staff to play. Well-defined roles are great, but be prepared to make changes and be flexible as needed. Obviously, good communication will be essential as well.
Campaign jobs also evolve. Look for opportunities to help others complete tasks that interest you. But first, make sure you’re doing your own job. If you’re a regional field director, for example, your job is to manage field organizers—not to do their job for them. You only have so much time to get your own work done, so use your time efficiently regardless of your role.
Identify What the Job Entails and How You’ll Get It Done
In any campaign job, there’s simply no way to anticipate the variety of tasks that need to be done. For instance, on a small state legislative or city council campaign with only a manager, a field director, and maybe a finance director, earned media could also fall to the manager.
Start with the job description. With that, you can then figure out tasks and priorities. If everything makes sense and you’ve got enough time to do your job, that’s great! If something’s unclear or doesn’t make sense, ask for clarification.
Your list of responsibilities will also undoubtedly grow as the campaign progresses. Embrace it. That’s exactly how you gain experience.
Assess Your Operation
Take inventory of your resources, both those you have and those you don’t. Time is your most precious resource, of course, so don’t waste it.
In terms of human capital, every campaign is different. But in every campaign, everyone brings something different to the table. Your finance director might have an extensive digital fundraising background. But if you have a candidate with an extensive rolodex, prioritize call time and in-person meetings. If your candidate is terrible on the phones, invest time putting together a group of folks to help fundraise.
Going beyond those two broader resources, you’ll have a lot to inventory. Here’s a category-based list to get you started by asking the right questions:
- Who’s on staff? Which consultants are under contract?
- What conversations have occurred? Who’s been helping the candidate so far?
- How much money is in the bank? Who’s keeping the books?
- Are we operating off a budget? Does the finance plan meet our goal?
- Who’s maintaining the candidate’s personal schedule? Master calendar?
- Do I have access to a voter file? What information is in it?
- Does the campaign have a list of volunteers? How have we been recruiting?
- Who are our targeted voters? How are we prioritizing and engaging them?
- Has the campaign been in touch with the local/state parties and allied organizations?
- Is there room in the budget for equipment? Will we have a paid canvassing program?
- Has the candidate engaged her/his personal network? What else is out there?
- How are we prospecting for new donors? Who’s doing donor research?
- Is our call time program efficient? How can we get more dials?
- Does the finance plan meet the budget? Is there a path to more campaign cash?
- How are we managing our digital fundraising? Are we growing our lists?
- What media can we generate? What issues matter to our targeted voters?
- Which reporters are covering our race? Are there additional outlets to contact?
- Who’s endorsed our campaign? Would any of them be good surrogates?
- Have we asked our volunteers to write letters to the editor? Blog posts?
- How well does the candidate handle herself/himself in an interview? In a debate?
As you can see, you’ve got a lot to address! Tackle it faster and better with a to-do list.
Write an Initial To-Do List
Listing your priorities in a “to-do” list allows you to think through what needs doing, how to do it, and how long you’ll have. Most campaigns wouldn’t function without everyone having a clear idea of what needs to be accomplished. Whether you’re responsible for filing the initial paperwork for the campaign or for turning out voters on Election Day, draft a to-do list. Then stick to it!
Your biggest obstacle will be staying focused when you’re bombarded with what seems like a million tasks. To avoid chaos, implement a structure that will keep you moving forward, account for surprises and help you consistently make smart decisions. Visualize what you want to do, and then establish processes that will help you get there.
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.” Using this Eisenhower Principle can help you maintain your organization and prioritize your workload. Working to generate earned media where there are daily deadlines and the window to be a part of the story is small? This principle will be essential to your success.
For your first day, you’ll want to keep it simple but meaningful. Identify your responsibilities, both large and small, and inventory the resources you can access. Familiarize yourself with your new co-workers and your work environment. Give yourself some space. But through all of that, remember, you’re now officially on the clock, so you’ll be expected to perform.
Campaigns are fast-paced environments where your success depends on knowing where you fit in and how to get the work done. The best way to figure that out? Jump headfirst into the tasks at hand.
On your first day, spend a little time understanding what the job really is and what it could be. Spend time with your supervisor or candidate to get a sense of what they’re looking for. Next, take stock of your resources, and ask yourself fundamental questions to assess the operation. And finally, write down a plan in the form of a to-do list to track your progress and devise how to use your time most efficiently.
Following these simple steps will help you become an effective member of the team and, hopefully, help you succeed in the fast-paced world of political campaigns.