Political ads can make or break your campaign. Good or bad, campaign advertising gets you, the candidate, in front of voters, furthering brand awareness and encouraging voters to engage emotionally with you and your candidate platform. But how do you...
This is the complete guide to building a winning staff for your political campaign
Table of Contents
Once you’ve decided to run for office (be it a local office or a national one), you may start to think a ton of time and effort goes into staffing and running your campaign—and you’d be correct! Over the last 20 years, political campaigns have professionalized and created roles that have become careers in their own right to support the ever-growing grassroots campaigns and activism across the country. This chapter will cover how to start a political campaign team from the ground up. From this guide, you’ll learn about political campaign organizational structures, the different types of political campaign jobs, and political campaign staff salaries. You’ll also learn how to manage your team and the hiring processes.
Building a Campaign Staff
Having now decided to run for office, you’ll need to consider what staff is needed to support your campaign. But you’ll also need to decide which of those staff are must- have roles and which are a nice-to-have option. You likely can’t fill every staff role on your wishlist. In rare cases, candidates can find a way to fill all campaign positions, especially when running for a local or smaller office. But campaigns in such a position are becoming an exception to the rule rather than norm. Set your expectations accordingly.
To keep unnecessary costs at a minimum, ask yourself what tasks need to be covered by an additional staff member. For example, can your campaign manager handle political relationships for your campaign? Do you need to hire a communications director if your campaign manager can write press releases and handle the occasional call from reporters? You don’t want to make one of the biggest regrets of first-time candidates: hiring a bloated staff only to realize you can’t afford a mail or Get Out The Vote (GOTV) program in October when it matters.
Once you’ve figured out your baseline needs, the interview and hiring process begins. The first step in recruiting staff is to reach out to your local or state parties, any campaign committee, or campaign consultants that may be supporting your run to see if they can generate leads for you to interview. Multiple job boards and listservs also exist, and these are monitored by political campaign staffers across the country. Here are a couple of examples: JobsThatAreLeft and GAIN POWER.
Start by first hiring a campaign manager and finance director to get your campaign off the ground. After securing a campaign manager, delegate hiring and staff decisions to them as they’ll be directly managing new hires.
The Political Campaign Organizational Structure [with a chart]
When sketching out the structure of your staff, consider the type of race you’re running and the resources you’ll need for your paid media and GOTV program. Staff costs should rarely exceed 10% of your overall budget.
Most campaigns below the U.S. Senate level rarely need more than a campaign manager, finance director, field director (with 2–3 field organizers), and a part-time treasurer. Believe it or not, all pieces of the campaign can fit under these staff roles.
For a visual of this simple staffing hierarchy, see the example of a top-tier congressional campaign’s staffing chart below:
Different Types of Political Campaign Positions
Let’s start with the most important political campaign roles that you should consider based on the race you’re running. Below is a breakdown of each main role.
Finding and hiring a campaign manager will typically be one of your earliest (but may or may not be your first hire) and most important campaign decisions. So what does a political campaign manager do?
Your campaign manager will have many responsibilities, including managing the rest of your staff, making strategic decisions, working with consultants, overseeing day-to-day operations and the campaign budget, and most importantly, keeping you organized. In smaller races, campaign managers can fill the gaps for other departments, such as fundraising, communications, and field.
Finding the right person may take a few interviews, and that’s okay. It’s vitally important to balance how your personalities mix with their ability to oversee the campaign as a whole. You especially want to avoid the two most common mistakes made by candidates. The first is hiring someone you could get a beer (or seltzer) with, only to realize they can’t handle the strategic and day-to-day operations. The second is hiring someone with fantastic managerial and political skills, only to later discover that the two of you can’t stand to be in the same room. Both mistakes lead to disaster.
Campaign managers are a smart hire for nearly all races where your fundraising target is more than $100,000.
Hiring a finance director may be one of the first roles you fill (even before your campaign manager) as they fundraise the money needed to afford all aspects of your campaign. Finance directors are responsible for creating your finance plan, researching donor history, managing your donors, organizing and running fundraising events, and fundraising call time.
Finance directors are an especially smart hire for races where you plan to run an intentional fundraising program. But if you’re running in a local or state legislative race, you’ll likely hire a finance consultant to fill this role.
Hiring a field director comes later in your campaign, typically about 6–9 months before your election day. Field directors manage the voter contact, volunteer recruitment, and GOTV program of your campaign. If you’re running a larger campaign, your field director will manage field organizers who work with volunteers and interns to conduct the voter contact program. If you’re in a smaller race, your field director may be the sole field staffer who directly manages campaign volunteers and engages in canvassing and phone banking on a day-to-day basis.
Field directors are a smart hire if you’re running in mid-level to larger races (e.g., congressional, statewide, and larger state legislative races) where it becomes unreasonable to use your time or your campaign manager’s time for assisting volunteers with jobs like door knocking.
Your campaign treasurer may have many duties but is mainly responsible for keeping your campaign in compliance with campaign finance laws. Treasurers are often part-time or even volunteer positions. Sometimes state legislative caucuses or state parties can recommend candidates to fill the position.
Positions You May Need to Fill in Special Circumstances:
Hiring a political director makes sense when your campaign must invest a significant amount of energy engaging in political outreach by working with stakeholders or other elected officials in and around your district. An example is if you’re campaigning in a primary where you’re chasing endorsements from local stakeholders or districts with a deep community focus, such as strong church-going populations or areas full of small businesses. Very few general election campaigns require a political director as the party faithful will usually line up behind the nominee. If you do need to fill this position, the role of political director isn’t always necessary for the duration of the election cycle. After you pass the primary, the time you need to invest in political outreach usually decreases and can be covered by the campaign manager or field director.
Political directors are generally a smart hire for primary congressional, statewide, or larger city campaigns. You can always make a political director a part-time employee. If you’re running a larger and well-resourced statewide campaign (e.g., U.S. senate or gubernatorial), political directors make sense for both your primary and general election campaigns.
Most races below the U.S. senate, gubernatorial, or large mayoral level rarely need to hire a full-time communications director as there’s not enough work to justify the expense. Campaign managers or consultants can fill in for communications needs at almost all campaign levels.
Consider hiring a communications director if your race requires significant communication with the press or has been nationalized (think special elections for congress, larger mayoral campaigns, U.S. senate, or gubernatorial campaigns). Once your race has advanced past the primary, you’re likely to receive communications support from your state legislative caucus, state party, national committee, or other organizations supporting your run.
Campaign Staff Salaries
While salaries vary from state to state and cycle to cycle, the table below is a general guide based on industry payroll averages.
Organization of a Campaign
The finance department’s main job is raising the money necessary to fund your campaign. Responsibilities include keeping you, as the candidate, on pace with fundraising targets, ensure you’re up to date on all important donor information, managing all fundraising events, preparing for fundraising call time, and drafting and executing your campaign finance plan.
Field and Analytics
Your field department is in charge of direct voter contact—door knocking, phonebanking, texting, registering voters, and sometimes working with consultants to guide mail programs. Field is often the largest staffed department of any campaign and is composed of directors, regional directors, organizers, interns, and volunteers. Field can also be responsible for analytics and reporting based on support IDs (i.e., positive or negative responses your campaign collects from voters). In recent years, political campaigns and big data have created sophisticated modeling that will allow your campaign to identify likely Democratic voters.
A communications department is in charge of handling all campaign messaging, interacting with the press on behalf of your campaign, writing press releases, preparing you for candidate interviews, monitoring media for relevant coverage, and generating earned media. Communications staff varies widely from campaign to campaign based on needs. Generally, the department is run by a communications director who may manage a supporting team, including a press secretary or press assistants.
Political staff work across all departments, engaging and managing relationships with key stakeholders or elected officials to enhance the external impression of your campaign. Political staff will routinely field inquiries and actively work with established community leaders to inform them of campaign activities or updates. During your primary campaign, the political department will play a significant role in securing endorsements.
One of the newest additions to political campaigning is the digital department, which can mean different things depending on its focus. Digital departments may cover anything from choosing the website builder with which you’ll build your campaign website to running social media accounts, managing and increasing digital organizing assets, purchasing digital advertising and running persuasion efforts, and executing your campaign’s email and online fundraising program.
In many cases, digital seeks to support or amplify other departments’ work by furthering the reach of traditional campaigning. For example, digital organizing can help bring in additional or previously inaccessible volunteer leads for the field department, as well as help with online fundraising. In contrast, digital social media efforts can amplify an earned media story the communications department placed to increase awareness in the district and among other reporters.
For your own campaign, consider hiring a digital director if you’ve already covered all the basics (finance, field, communications, and political) and can afford the addition of a new staff member while keeping your total staff cost below 10% of your overall campaign budget. The digital director should have a clear path to enhancing other departments’ work, thereby returning more value to your campaign than the hire’s cost.
Digital campaigning has taken on increased importance as the political world navigates running for office during the COVID-19 global pandemic. 2020 has forced political campaigns to find creative ways to reach voters and build capacity to achieve traditional goals, such as making direct voter contacts, recruiting and managing volunteers, and creating visibility.
Political Campaign Consultants
What Are Campaign Consultants?
Campaign consultants or consulting firms are paid advisors who support campaign strategy and provide services like creating and buying television and digital ads, or even fundraising. Consultants generally specialize in a facet of campaigning and provide expert guidance supported by their industry experience.
To your campaign, consultants should bring knowledge, skills, or relationships not currently covered by existing full-time staff. While consultants specialize, it’s customary for them to also be available for general campaign advice. Your campaign isn’t only hiring a media consultant to create and place television spots. You’re also benefiting from consultants’ years of experience in running campaigns. For example, career consultants will have a working knowledge of the political interests of many different groups which may help to secure endorsements or donors.
What Types of Consultants Exist?
Finance consultants help you with fundraising by filling a finance director’s role or giving you access to new donor prospects through any consultant’s existing network. Finance consultants can be placed on a retainer or earn a commission based on the amount they fundraise—or both. Finance consultants can also replace the need for a full-time finance director, depending on the race in which you’re running.
Digital fundraising consultants or firms will help your campaign raise low-dollar donations online and through email. Recently, email or grassroots fundraising has become a larger part of how campaigns fundraise as small-dollar donors have become more active. Email lists have also been heavily curated, sold, or swapped across the country, expanding the reach of campaign fundraising.
Digital fundraising ultimately helps your campaign bring in money that would not otherwise be available and diversifies a donor base by drastically reducing the average donation and increasing the number of unique individual donors, often used as a sign of campaign strength. Essentially, digital fundraising is crowdfunding for a political campaign. But if you want to tap into this fundraising base, your campaign must run a sophisticated and intentional email program, which is often taxing to pull off in-house.
Digital firms grow your list, generate emails, and sequence email sends to maximize grassroots donations to your campaign. Be aware, however, that email programs usually only bring in a thousand or so dollars a month—unless you’re AOC—so you’re still going to also need a robust call-time program. Digital fundraising consultants usually work on retainers and give you forecasts for monthly campaign fundraising hauls.
Compliance consultants ensure your campaign keeps its fundraising compliant with relevant campaign finance laws. Compliance firms will handle reporting to the FEC or the state or local equivalent. Given the complexity of the required reporting, many campaigns hire financial compliance consultants. The complexity is often too complicated for any campaign manager or employee who does not specialize in political campaign compliance. For more information about campaign compliance consultants see Chapter 6: Campaign Finance Law.
Media consultants are marketing specialists who handle creating and placing television spots, as well as creating video assets that can be used in digital and email marketing and voter outreach/GOTV efforts, on behalf of your campaign. Below is a three-part breakdown of how media consultants go about the creation and placement of video assets and TV spots for your campaign.
Shooting the video
Media consultants work with the campaign (and other consultants) to conceptualize, direct, and shoot television spots and video assets for the campaign. The video assets created during the shoot may also end up in digital ads placed by a digital consultant.
Your mail consultant should also be looped into any video shoots to ensure your campaign’s mail messaging matches your television and digital media. Campaigns are all about message repetition, and this focus should include visual messaging. Video shoots are some of the most intense times for a campaign manager. They require cross-department and -consultant collaboration. That can involve sourcing locations, rounding up supporters to interact with you during the shoots, finding exciting and compelling sites linked to the consultants’ vision while matching poll-tested narratives, and finally, ensuring everything aligns with your personality and stamina.
A successful video shoot can make or break your campaign as the assets you’re creating will likely be the main thing voters see or interact with from your campaign. Not to mention, campaigns spend upward of 70% of money raised on marketing ads or mail that uses the content created during video shoots.
In short, most of the work of a campaign—all the time invested by staff and you as the candidate—is to support the content created in the video shoot.
Creating the TV or digital spot
After completing a video shoot, your media consultant will use the hours and hours of footage to edit into a long-form (around 90 seconds), a 15- and 30-second television or digital spot, and a 6-second version (those ads you watch before watching a YouTube video). The editing process is also crucial to the quality of your final videos. The campaign manager should set expectations with consultants and candidates to ensure everyone agrees on how many edits you expect before arriving at a final form of each version of your video. Keep in mind that additional edits cost money and staff time, so establish an agreement on additional edits to avoid getting stuck with an unexpected bill.
Placing the buy
Once your spots have been created, it’s time to place the buy, for which your media consultant will work with television providers to purchase the television inventory. Your consultant will consider district bleed (how much of the buy is in your district), the gross rating points (how many times someone sees your spot over time), and what type of television you’re buying (broadcast versus cable).
While these details may seem complicated, that’s exactly why you hired media consultants. Work with them to find the best fit for your district and campaign. Keep in mind, however, that media consultants will earn a commission on whatever ads are placed—sometimes up to 15% of the total television inventory bought by your campaign.
Digital persuasion consultants are in charge of creating digital ad assets and buying ad space across a wide range of digital or social media platforms. Digital assets can range from static or dynamic display to carousels or videos (pre-roll, mid-roll, interruptible, non-interruptible). The visual assets should mirror your television spot and mail program as closely as possible to increase the burn-in and recall for each voter who views your paid communications. Significant overlap will exist among who you target with digital, television, and mail paid media marketing. Digital consultants earn a commission on the inventory they buy for your campaign (anywhere from 8%–12%).
Direct mail consultants create the direct mail pieces sent out by your campaign to targeted voters. Mail is one of the most targeted versions of paid communications because it can precisely select—on an individual level—the addresses and voters who receive the mail. Consultants will work with your campaign manager and other consultants to determine who to target and the number of pieces to send. Direct mail consultants are also responsible for conceptualizing, designing, printing, and mailing each piece of mail. Like a media consultant, direct mail consultants organize a mail shoot with a photographer to capture stills that can then be used to create mail pieces that include poll-tested themes.
What do direct mail consultants do that I can’t?
While the act of sending mail seems simple, an extraordinary amount of work goes into the process, from mocking up the mailer to ultimately hitting voters’ mailboxes. Mail consultants have enormous expertise in creating compelling and persuasive mail pieces, working with other consultants to layer their paid communications into a larger cohesive whole, understanding polls, running a mail house, printing (sometimes) millions of mail pieces, and sending them to voters.
Why do I need to send direct mail?
As one of the main bedrocks of how people receive information, direct mail is an invaluable method to reach voters when you’re running a persuasion-based paid media campaign. Also, as mentioned before, mail is incredibly targeted as you choose who receives the mail on a person-level basis—whereas television indiscriminately blankets an entire media market as that’s the only way to buy ad space.
How does mail fit into my media mix?
When sending direct mail to voters, consider how many pieces you need to send and the universe of voters you’re targeting. It’s not uncommon to send more than 10 flights during a paid media campaign. Mail serves as a mechanism for voters to recall high-impact television or digital ads but also acts as a powerful, persuasive device in its own right. Each mail piece will be different and tell a cumulative story that builds on itself with each new piece. When direct mail flights are done right, the same visuals will be present in both mail, video, and digital assets—which collectively amplify the impact of all paid media by working in concert. Establishing a cohesive brand for your campaign builds trust among potential voters.
Direct mail photoshoots
The photoshoots for direct mail campaigns will be similar to the work and preparation needed for video shoots. Both types of shoots are usually done at the same time to ensure consistency in your campaign branding across all ads. Your campaign may still sometimes hold separate shoots for some of the mail pieces—for instance, if a particular theme is only needed for a mail piece and not the video spot. When creating mail pieces, your direct mail consultant may ask you for old photos to pair with stills captured during the shoot.
What do pollsters do?
Pollsters are a type of campaign consultant responsible for deciding if you need to poll, conducting the poll, analyzing the data, and advising your campaign and consultant team on what campaign strategies are likely to work based on the polling results.
Polling data is collected through surveys and questionnaires that pollsters create. They use statistical analysis to create a data-driven story about the opinions or voting preferences of an area or group.
How many polls do I need?
The number and type of polls your campaign needs depends on the specifics of the race (see also Chapter 2: Primary vs. General Election). Most races below the congressional level require minimal, if any, polling. A larger organization or committee, like a state legislative caucus, will often conduct a poll to infer general winning messages and issues to use for their competitive candidates in races at the state and local levels.
What is a benchmark?
If you need to poll at all (see above), the key poll type for most campaigns is a benchmark to test messaging. A benchmark will allow you to set your narrative and understand which voting blocs and demographics you need to focus on as part of your path to victory. As a candidate, you can learn what your strengths and weaknesses are based on the poll results. Conducting a benchmark poll before announcing your candidacy can also inform your decision on whether to even run in the first place.
Benchmarks may be a good idea for some state legislative races and for most statewide and competitive congressional campaigns.
What are trackers?
Some campaigns will run a tracking poll to test how their advertising is changing voter opinions over time. Trackers can help your campaign gauge whether your messaging or campaign activities work—in other words, trackers can help you know when it’s time to change your strategy. However, like all polls, trackers are costly, so your campaign funds are often better spent on paid media or voter contact efforts. If a tracker won’t help you make a crucial decision or fundraise more than it costs to run the poll, there’s no benefit to gaining insight on the competitiveness of your campaign messaging, aside from peace of mind.
When should I poll?
Conduct polls around milestones or events. Right before or when announcing your run for office, you can run a baseline poll to get an idea of your strengths and weaknesses as a candidate. That information will help with setting up your campaign strategy. Consider running a tracking poll after some of your paid media has run or after a critical endorsement. Benchmarks can also be helpful after clearing the primary when you’re gearing up to establish your campaign’s general election messaging and targeting.
Your campaign should only poll when there’s a clear reason to do so and when you can use the results to get more votes.
Some campaigns hire field consultants to run some or all of their field program. Often referred to as “paid canvass” venders, field consultants generally focus on the door-to-door aspect of your political campaign. These consultants can drastically increase the reach of your campaign in areas where volunteer pools are small or where the outreach is too complicated to be replicated consistently by volunteer efforts.
If you’re running a smaller state or local race, the cost of hiring a field consultant to run a paid canvass is likely outside your campaign budget. Such consultants are, however, usually paid for by state legislative caucuses or party committees like the DCCC and run in support of a candidate campaign through a coordinated campaign effort. It’s also common for primary campaigns to run paid canvasses in areas where volunteer interest is low.
How Do I Hire Consultants?
The process of finding and hiring political consultants is very similar to the steps when hiring a campaign manager. After identifying a need to hire a consultant, start by first asking your existing network for recommendations. Barring a few circumstances, consultants will not come to find you after you put your I-need-a-consultant bat signal into the air—you need to reach out proactively.
Once you’ve narrowed down your search to a handful of consulting firms, reach out to send them an RFP (Request for Proposal). Set up interviews and compare firms against each other to make sure you’re finding the consulting team that best fits your needs. Ask for references and a win-loss record. Just remember that consultants come in all shapes and sizes, as does their work quality. Make sure to do your due diligence.
Do I Need Consultants?
Whether or not you need consultants depends on many variables, including the type of race you’re running, what gaps you need filled, and most of all, your campaign budget. The most common reason a campaign hires a consultant is for paid communications (television, direct mail, digital advertising, etc.). Consulting firms come in all shapes and sizes, and while the prestigious consultant you see on CNN may be the perfect fit for competitive U.S. senate races, there are hundreds of other consultants that can do the same thing for down-ticket races with a smaller price tag. Chances are your campaign can find the right firm for whatever level of campaign you’re running.
Consultants bring expertise and focus on the bigger picture to help build the most effective and persuasive campaign that’s implemented by the campaign manager. If you’re planning to run an advertising campaign, chances are you will need a paid media consultant to help create your advertisements and place the buys—same with direct mail. If you’re having issues raising money, it may make sense to bring on a fundraising consultant. The reasons to hire a consultant could go on and on, but the most critical question to ask yourself is whether your campaign has the budget to hire a specific consultant or enough money to run television ads, a full mail program, or a sophisticated digital persuasion campaign.
There are countless stories of state, local, and even congressional campaigns overloading with consultants only to realize that they don’t have the budget to do the things the consultants can help execute. Don’t let your campaign fall into that trap.
How Much Should I Pay?
What you end up paying consultants depends on your race and the consultants you hire. Some work on retainers, while others earn a commission on the percentages of the ad inventory they place—some earn in both ways. Make sure you negotiate a fair compensation structure. Most political consulting firms will have transparent and consistent pricing, but others will take opportunities where they see them. Consultants are generally compensated in two major ways: by commission and retainer.
Be aware that when video assets are created by one consultant and used by another, your campaign manager is responsible for negotiating an agreement between both consultants on payment structures and percentages gained from the video assets to avoid any headaches down the road.
In this next section, you can see payment structures and typical rates broken down into a chart by consultant type.
Some consultants will negotiate a retainer for their services, such as when providing an email fundraiser or when a digital firm produces social media assets.
Most consultants will negotiate their compensation in commissions or percentages on the inventory they buy for your campaign. For instance, media consultants earn a commission, rather than retainer/salary, based on the television they buy for the campaign.
On top of the consultant fees, be aware of a number of pass-through costs that your campaign pays out to the firm. Pass-through costs are usually paid upfront unless you have negotiated different terms.
Things like video shoots, photoshoots, and the required equipment or travel to pull off the shoots are examples of hidden costs a campaign should budget for when negotiating with consulting firms.
Political Consultants Salaries
What Can Only Political Consultants Do?
Think of campaign consultants as experts who are primarily concerned with the bigger picture, while less experienced full-time staff handle the day-to-day. Consultants lend their years of experience in the campaign world to advise on significant campaign issues and leave the full-time team to execute on the decision. Consultants will also produce campaign spots, full mail programs, and other assets that require highly specialized knowledge to complete.
How Do I Hold My Consultants Accountable?
Generally speaking, consultants have multiple clients (sometimes more than 10), and each campaign is in an environment where they are competing for the benefits that come with consultants’ expertise. Remember, campaigns often compensate consultants through commissions based on placed media buys. If a campaign looks like it won’t make a sizable purchase, the firm may pay less attention to that campaign. That said, if a consultant agrees to a deliverable, they should complete it regardless of their payment structure.
Campaign managers should also touch base with consultants at least once a week to ensure the campaign’s needs are consistently being met. Usually, a campaign manager will run a weekly call with all the consultants, and often the candidate, to discuss updates on the status of each consultant’s project and how the campaign as a whole is doing (see this section on how to run a consultant call).
Are Consultants Full-Time Staff?
No, consultants should not be considered staff unless the campaign has negotiated an agreement or hired a general consultant who may sometimes act as the de facto campaign manager or senior advisor. Whether that’s applicable depends on the race. Still, even in the case of a general consultant or finance consultant on retainer, they will rarely work hours approaching full time and are even more rarely involved in the day-to-day of managing the campaign. Even finance consultants who replace a full-time finance director are likely only to work part-time.
Will I Meet My Consultants In-Person?
While campaign consultants usually work remotely, there are a few instances where it may make sense to schedule an in-person meeting with the full team. It’s customary to hold a campaign retreat to set and review the campaign plan for fundraising, messaging, paid communications, and your media mix. Video and mail shoots are also an excellent opportunity for media, mail, and other consultants to collaborate in person while shooting. Such collaboration helps ensure your assets and narratives all sync in the final production.
How a campaign sets up its internal communication has the potential to make or break a competitive campaign. Political campaigns host some of the fastest-paced work environments imaginable as staff races toward election day trying to do everything humanly possible to secure a win. Proper communication is therefore paramount to ensuring nothing is missed or left behind.
As an organization, your campaign will collectively work on dozens of top-priority missives at once. It’s exceedingly easy to forget or overlook a crucial detail only for it to blow up in your face when it matters. For example, say your communications department released the endorsement of a high-profile elected official, only to find out the endorser actually supports the opponent and that your campaign’s mistake was because of a typo in an email from the political department. These instances happen more than you would think—and they’re almost always the result of poor organizational communication.
This section will thus cover how to set up the proper communication channels within your organization to ensure your campaign runs in lockstep and avoids simple but often critical mistakes.
What Sort of Meetings Should a Campaign Have, and What Do I Cover?
To understand what sort of meetings your campaign team needs ask yourself what the purpose of a meeting is? The answer may seem obvious, but think back to a previous job—what amount of time did you spend in meetings, and what did you get in return? How many meetings did you zone out during because of a poorly organized agenda? How many meetings did you say nothing because you didn’t need to be there in the first place? How many times did you wish you were back at your desk because you had 100 different items on your to-do list that were a higher priority? Probably a lot.
Meetings should work toward a common goal to solve a problem or answer important questions that only the people in the room can answer or contribute. In practice, this means breaking down silos, keeping managers abreast of salient details or progress on specific tasks, and even understanding the emotional well-being of your staff. There are countless reasons to schedule and hold a meeting. Let’s jump into some of the most common reasons for campaign meetings.
If your campaign has hired consultants that specialize in supporting strategies (i.e., media, mail, pollster, digital, etc.), you should communicate with your team at least weekly to ensure the following:
- Your campaign stays at the top of their minds as most consultants will have other clients.
- Siloed work remains at an absolute minimum level.
- That your consultant team is current on any campaign activities or milestones.
Your political consultants probably do not live in the same city or state as your campaign. It’s also rare for a consultant to meet in person with other team members outside of consultant or all-staff retreats where you set the general framework for your race. Using a consultant call to ensure their work harmonizes with the rest of your team is key to keeping your broader messaging aligned.
When you don’t actively ensure that the framework is being maintained, it’s easy for your team to work on a media plan that doesn’t match your mail or digital program or vice versa. Proper consultant management is what ultimately gives your various consultants a clear picture of how you want your campaign advertising to work. Otherwise, you could end up with inconsistent, non-cohesive messaging and branding. Successful campaigns require effective message repetition, so your mail, television, and digital should be in lockstep using the same message and assets.
It’s also your campaign manager’s responsibility to ensure all consultants know their counterparts’ work. That ensures everything looks like it came from the same team when the time comes to deploy your media mix, rather than it seeming like a disjointed jumble. Use your consultant calls to reinforce the game plan, and intentionally ask your consultants to weigh in on each other’s work as it relates to the work of others on the team. While this may feel uncomfortable at first (as a significant expertise imbalance exists between a campaign manager and a consultant), it pays off in droves when the team works together in unison to produce the best product when it counts.
Lastly, your consultants should be kept up to date on any new developments or progress toward milestones—such as quarterly fundraising totals, new hires, endorsements, reporter inquiries, or potential shifts in strategy. Your campaign hires consultants for their expertise in a specific field. However, they almost all have decades of experience running campaigns, and their insight can prove invaluable. No matter what you’re dealing with, there’s a better chance than not that consultants have been there and solved a similar issue. New details may also help them update or adjust their work product to better fit your campaign. For that reason, share important information—the good and the bad.
Consultant calls will usually be run by your campaign manager and most commonly attended by your media, mail, digital, and polling consultants. As a candidate, you’ll also regularly listen in in order to stay abreast of the strategy and ask the occasional question, but you shouldn’t actively run the meeting. You don’t usually have the same expertise or knowledge of the day-to-day as your campaign manager because it’s not your role in the campaign. Other stakeholders may be present too. For instance, it’s common practice for a supporting committee (e.g., DCCC, DSCC) or endorsed organizations (e.g., Latino Victory Fund) to join consultant calls. However, your campaign should think through carefully who you include, and then only include those with something to add to the meeting.
Morning meetings are a great way to ensure your team is on the same page before starting the day. Use these meetings to update your campaign staff on new developments relevant to the team, follow up on outstanding action items, discuss daily priorities, identify potential problems to nip in the bud, evaluate opportunities for cross-departmental collaboration, and establish time-bound action items. This meeting should last around 30 minutes but can be shorter if the full time is not needed. Whoever is running the meeting should take great pains to discuss things relevant to the entire group rather than spending most of the session going over something that could be dealt with by one or two staffers. Time is of the essence.
Nightly stand-ups close out the day by checking on the progress of any major imperatives and identifying any areas of concern to prioritize for the future. Your campaign manager or departmental directors run this meeting, which should last between 15–30 minutes unless there’s something that can’t wait. Broader issues can wait until the morning meeting or a one-on-one meeting if it’s something that can be handled directly with a staff member.
Departmental deep dives
Depending on your campaign and staff size, setting up a weekly deep dive with each department familiarizes the campaign manager with its needs and priorities. Staff will often not bring up department-specific issues or updates in larger meeting settings if those issues don’t apply to the group. Reserving an hour each week to delve into a department helps keep the campaign manager updated on the department’s inner workings and mitigates surprises or unrealistic expectations down the road.
Weekly one-on-one meetings with campaign staff
Like departmental deep dives, all managers should set up an intentional time to meet with their employees to discuss their well-being, productivity, challenges, and areas where they could use support or extra resources. For campaigns where department heads represent the entire department, weekly one-on-ones and departmental deep dives can be combined with this type of meeting.
Field staff meetings: Morning and nightly stand-up
Field directors and managers should run field-specific morning meetings and nightly check-out calls that run parallel to director-level morning meetings and nightly stand-ups. Field programs must hold morning and nightly meetings as the department’s work is based on weekly goals and managed based on metrics. Since a field department often contacts thousands of voters in a week, the department needs to track percentages to goals by day and compare the results against the expected capacity for the duration of the goal week to ensure they are on track.
Morning and nightly calls create a culture of accountability and allow the field director or supporting managing staff to diagnose issues or redirect resources to ensure goal achievement.
Who Runs and Joins Each Meeting?
The table below summarizes who should run and join each meeting discussed above with how often each meeting should occur.
What do campaign managers do after the election?
Managing a campaign is always going to be a temporary job because all campaigns end. However, there is always another campaign to run and many campaign managers either work in consulting firms or function like freelance contractors. If you’re planning on managing campaigns as a career, you’ll need to have a solid network of industry peers to help you find the next race. If you’re planning to consult you’ll also need a network of candidates to bring on as clients. Keep in mind that some campaigns can last a couple of years, meaning that you could be working on the next campaign long before the election year.
- How do I build a political campaign organizational structure?
The structure of your campaign organization will depend on the size of your campaign, the competitiveness of your race, and what stage of the election cycle you’re in. A low-competition run for local office will require less staff than a more competitive national race. Assess the needs of your campaign. What are your fundraising goals? How will your staff scale as you move from the primary to general election? If you’re running a large campaign, you’ll want a team of political consultants in addition to a campaign manager and a team of field staff to manage voter outreach. If your campaign is smaller, you may still want a campaign manager and a financial consultant to ensure things run smoothly and that your campaign stays in compliance with campaign finance laws.
- How many political consultants do I need for my campaign? Why might I need more than one?
Political consultants help maximize your campaign’s performance by lending you years of collective experience. Most consultants have many clients and work on many campaigns, giving them insight that other staff members might not have. Consultants also tend to specialize, meaning you could find yourself working not just with a finance consultant but also with a social media expert and a firm that specializes in TV ads for political campaigns. Regardless of how many consultants you have, make sure you communicate and coordinate efforts between consultants on a weekly basis so that your campaign has consistent branding and messaging that targets the right voters.
- What does a communications director do?
A communications director will be in charge of ensuring your campaign’s external communication is perfectly organized. Additionally, the director will work with the press and look for opportunities to use the media to further your campaign message, whether through speech writing for you as the candidate or through press releases and candidate interviews. Your communications director will also work with your consultants to ensure your campaign branding and messaging is consistent across all media (television ads, digital marketing, mailer campaigns, etc.).
- Political director vs. campaign manager—how are they different?
A campaign manager is responsible for overseeing all the day-to-day details of a political campaign. The manager will hold meetings with the staff, ensure you, as the candidate, stays up to date on all relevant information, and meet with consultants to keep everyone on the same page. Conversely, political directors are in charge of expanding your campaign’s reach and supporter base. They cultivate relationships with special groups (labor unions, constituency groups, veterans, educators, etc.) to garner support for you as the candidate. Whereas a campaign manager will work closely with all departments, the political director will mostly work with the communications director to create earned media opportunities and with the field department to help develop better targeting strategies for voter outreach.
- Recently, Democratic campaigns have also started offering decent benefits with a solid healthcare plan (85%–100% of healthcare premiums covered). ↑
- “Flights” refer to an individual mailer as part of a larger mail program. For instance, if you send out 10 pieces of mail each individual mailer is referred to as a “flight.