If you’ve been working in politics for some time, you’ve undoubtedly witnessed a campaign go off the rails as its plan fell apart.
Now, campaign plans typically cover the basics of vote goals, message, budget, etc. But the basics aren’t enough because they fail to address the goals beyond being elected, don’t consider the personalities of the people involved, and fall short of creating contingencies for things that go wrong. So how can we avoid this?
It’s no secret that the private sector is the birthplace of strategy and innovation. The field of project management has created a wealth of valuable tools we can use to plan and execute better campaigns and improve our chances of success, from the oft-borrowed SWOT analysis to the well-respected Six Sigma methodology. For our purposes, an effective campaign plan, according to the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge, should cover the following seven areas:
Your Business Case
It’s something that’s missing from nearly every campaign I’ve ever joined. Rather than listing your reasons for wanting to run, this section should cover why the district needs you and not another candidate. Be sure to cover the basic what and why of your campaign and answer what makes you think you can win and what unique value you provide to your party and voters.
The District Background
This should include all the research you’ve done about the district, your vote goals, and how you’ll build your winning coalition. Include targeting maps, polling you’ve done, and other projections for the upcoming cycle. Then, to ensure you have enough supportive voters to be elected, outline each target demographic in the district and the percentage of each you believe you can win.
This is defined as anyone interested in your campaign: party members, advisors, major donors, staff, volunteers and, most importantly, voters. Keeping them all satisfied is crucial to the success of your campaign, and I’ve seen too many races fall to hostility and in-fighting. Because not all stakeholders will value the same things or agree on the same goals, it’s essential to decide in advance what you’ll do when those disagreements arise.
These can be yours or those of your stakeholders. Because your campaign’s scope and milestones will depend on your goals, they must be as well-defined as possible. Every campaign seeks to elect its candidate, but remember, the voters will only agree to do so if they believe you share their goals. Therefore, you must think beyond the 50 percent mark to be elected. I use another management tool borrowed from the private sector when writing out goals. The SMART method helps us visualize our goals and make sure they all fit together.
This includes the calendar of campaign activities and our voter contact plan. List out geographic boundaries, each of your target demographics, what you will say to them, and the methods of communication you will use. Because candidates are often pressured by their advisors and donors to change focus midway through, it’s equally important to plan what you won’t do. This section will keep the campaign on track when this pressure is put on.
Costs & Budget
A traditional campaign budget isn’t a budget, as it doesn’t address how much money you’ll have to spend. What we usually call a budget is the costs. This is money spent on staff, materials, office space, paid media, and any fees you’ll be expected to pay, while the budget works backward from the amount of money you believe you can raise. Work on these two factors until the totals match. You don’t want to run out of money midway through the campaign, but you also don’t want to have an excess and risk losing because of it.
Risks and Opportunities Register
This is a document identifying anything that might not go according to plan and what you’ll do if it happens. Go through your scope, budget, and goals line-by-line, and ask yourself what might go wrong (or right) here and how you’ll respond if it does. Include any events you think may or may not happen, such as a vendor going out of business at a critical moment, an opponent failing to get on the ballot, or a donor withholding his donation at the last minute. In an ideal world, we’d have a prepared contingency for every unexpected thing that happens during the campaign, and while this isn’t a real possibility, you should strive to come as close as you can.
A campaign plan is meant to be a living document, and the planning process is never truly over. Don’t shy away from changing details you’ve settled on if new information comes to light. In this way, a fully detailed plan comes out slowly through many iterations. Before a race even starts, I typically go through a plan many times and continue to review it regularly until Election Day. When I am asked how many times you should review your plan before your campaigns starts, my answer is always “at least one more time.”
While these seven sections may seem like common sense, and some may be things you’ve already incorporated, I’ve never seen a campaign include them all. Going beyond the traditional basics and following these steps will get your campaign started on the right foot and put you ahead of 99 percent of other candidates.
Caitlin Huxley is a certified project manager and has managed campaigns since 2010.