Running for Congress: Should You Hire an Image Consultant?

political Consultant Services

What are the chances you’ll actually need an image consultant?  Probably not huge.  But if you’re running for Congress, there’s a better chance you’ll need their help in the event that your race becomes competitive or pivotal on a national scale.

An image consultant is someone you hire to come in and tell you everything you’re doing wrong.  Your hair is too shaggy.  Your tie should be solid blue, not red with paisleys.  Your wife needs a girdle.  Your voice is too high.  You get the idea.  These people are experts at making you look and sound good on TV.  I generally don’t endorse hiring consultants at all, so I’d say start with common sense, some internet research, and maybe going to the salon for a make over (yes, male candidates as well).  But if you really feel like you need the guidance, here are some guidelines when it comes to hiring consultants to keep in mind:

  1. Determine if you really need an image consultant in the first place.  You don’t have to be super-handsome to get elected.  Your choice of tie (unless it’s really, really bad) probably isn’t going to have an effect at the polls.  However, if you have problems speaking publicly that you can’t remedy on your own, for example, you may need outside help.
  2. Don’t hire a consultant until you have the money to pay them.  Find out their fees upfront and set aside a portion of your budget for consultant fees, then make sure you’ve raised enough funds before you sign any sort of contract.
  3. Don’t hire a consultant until you are absolutely sure you need one.  A lot of campaigns, especially at the Congressional level, hire consultants early on, without the funds on hand, because ‘that’s just what you’re supposed to do.’  It’s not.  Don’t do it.  It’s an insult to your donors to be so frivolous with their money.
  4. Don’t hire a consultant unless you are sure you can accept what they might tell you.  It can seem really offensive when an image consultant tells you to whiten your teeth, lose some weight, and get rid of your unibrow.  Or when a media consultant tells you that you basically need to change your personality altogether.  It happens.  But here’s the thing – it’s probably true, and you’re paying them to tell you these things, so just suck it up and do it.  I’ve had candidates that hire consultant after consultant, then fire them because they don’t want to hear that they’re doing things wrong.  Don’t be that guy.  Or if you know you are that guy, don’t waste your money in the first place.

Post to Twitter

How to Pick A Winner – A Campaigner’s Guide to Choosing Candidates

The Five Clues of A Winning Campaign

  • Analyze the district.  Does a Republican candidate have a viable shot of winning?  If over the past several elections voters have favored Dems by only single digit margins, or if redistricting has significantly changed the demographic for the better, the right Republican at the right time may have a shot.
  • Analyze the candidate.  The candidate has to be exactly what the district needs.  Or you at least need to be able to convince people that’s what he is.  I wouldn’t worry too much about personality quirks, a funny voice or overly-bushy eyebrows, but if he has a problem speaking in public you might have a problem.  Observe both his public speaking and his one-on-one behavior.  Is he good at remembering names?  How well does he respond to rapid-fire questioning?  Does he convince you he can win?
  • Analyze the team.  You have to feel comfortable and friendly with the candidate’s spouse and children, and if there’s a campaign manager already, don’t jump on board without being sure he’s an excellent leader.
  • Count the money.  Find out how much the candidate has been able to raise on his own, make sure the campaign isn’t in debt and doesn’t plan to be, and take a look at previous years’ campaign finance records to see if there is a significant base of donors to tap.  A candidate who is afraid or unwilling to ask for money is not one you want to work with.
  • Find the secret weapon.  If you analyze the voter data, past election results and district make-up long and hard enough, often times you’ll have a ‘eureka’ moment where you suddenly figure out exactly how this particular campaign can be won.  If you’ve found this secret weapon (it’s always different for every campaign) – go ahead and take on a campaign that looks, at the surface, un-winnable.

Post to Twitter

Why I Love Politics…And Why I Hate It

I love politics because…

  • All politics is local!  I love the community building aspect of campaigning, going door-to-door, meeting new people and finding folks that are as passionate about my most important issues as I am.
  • I find like-minded friends.  Whenever I move to a new community, which I’ve done 4 or 5 times now, I know I can instantly make friends by attending the next county GOP function or Young Republicans event.  Big city or farmland, I have always have lots in common with fellow Republicans.
  • Everyone in politics, Republican or Democrat, loves America.  As a Soldier and a citizen, I have a deep appreciation for that.
  • I love winning.  I love competition.  And 9 times out of 10 it’s friendly competition.  I strive to make it clear to opponents that my campaigns want to be friendly and the competition is solely in the ballot box.
  • It has a greater purpose.  Maybe it sounds hokey, but I try to maintain the perspective that my work should be first and foremost to further political principles in line with my moral principles.  I seek out candidates that are truly trying to ‘make a difference.’  That’s why I have a special place in my heart for first-time candidates.
I hate politics because…
  • Okay, actually legislation makes me fall asleep.  I really don’t like anything on C-Span.  I have zero desire to work as a legislative aid or chief of staff for a candidate I’ve elected.  I will get you to the statehouse, but please don’t make me go inside.
  • I hate politicians.  It takes about 12 months for freshly elected officials to become conniving, compromising politicians.  It’s really disheartening to see this happen to a candidate you used to believe in whole-heartedly, but the ‘system’ really does corrupt everyone.  That’s why I’m a big supporter of term limits, for the constituency’s sake as well as for the candidate’s soul!
  • Negative campaigning is increasingly being used as a first resort rather than the last resort.  I hate, hate, hate negative campaigning.  If you have to play that trump card, you’re already out of luck.  I also hate that it ruins so many would-be fantastic candidates.
  • I hate political consultants.  I know, I sort of am one, but I hate most of the rest of them.  They’re like vampires or vultures, feeding on the unprotected, ignorant green candidates that haven’t got a clue what they’re doing.  The whole reason I’m writing this blog is to arm those candidates so that they know better, without suddenly accruing  thousands of dollars in campaign debt.
  • I despise party in-fighting.  Yeah, we have to have primaries.  I absolutely hate it, however, when GOP leaders endorse one candidate (usually an incumbent) over another (challenger) well before the primary is over, especially when primary endorsements are specifically prohibited in organization by-laws and constitutions, which it usually is.  It bastardizes the political process and sways would-be donors away from supporting high-quality, often more conservative challenger candidates.  Plus it’s just so conniving.  Not a good leadership play.

Post to Twitter

Are Political Websites Worth The Money?

gingrich- campaign website, political website

To create a good, fully functional website for your political campaign from the ground up will cost you about $3,000-5,000.  Is it worth the money?

Back when I started doing campaigning, I would have said ‘yes, absolutely.’  But times have changed.  I recognized the importance of being accessible to the voters through the internet, and I’ve always felt that a website is a must for anyone running for state legislature or mayor and higher offices.  But 10-15 years ago, there weren’t really many cheaper options available.

So are political websites worth the money now?  Well, I’d say ‘it depends.’  As in, it depends how much money you have raised and plan to raise, it depends how much of your communications strategy relies on online interaction, i.e. social networking, email, etc., and it depends, again, on the office you’re running for.  If you’re running for county council – no.  City council?  Sure, maybe you need a website, if it’s a big city and a competitive district, but not a tricked out, expensive one.  Mayor or state legislatures should at least consider the option of a professionally designed website if they are in big or competitive districts.  And Congressional and statewide candidates do indeed need to budget for a nice website and someone to for someone to handle it.

There you go!  A straight-forward answer!  How many times to you search for the ‘cost’ of things, or ‘should I do XYZ’ and all you get is ‘maybe, maybe, maybe’ with no solid information.  So there it is – office for office, yes or no, and the factors to consider.  You’re welcome!

“But wait, you said there were cheaper options now.  What if I’m running for city clerk of BFE, Nowhere, and I still want to do a website?”

No worries!  There are a ton of cheap/free options.

  • Build your own.  You can buy a campaign domain name and get someplace to host it, and build the entire thing yourself using WordPress.  That’s how I’ve done this website, and trust me, I am not tech-savvy.  I use hostgator to buy domain names and host my website.  They are affordable and their customer service seriously kicks ass.  I haven’t yet messed up my site so bad that they couldn’t fix it.  This option requires time, so I suggest you find some young, tech-savvy whipper-snapper volunteer to do it for you.  This person could be the same person to do your social media and email, although usually those jobs require a different ‘type’ of person.  Building websites is kind of left-brainy and social media/email is kind of right-brainy.  Do what works for your team.  Either way, they will be working on most things together.
    Cost: $100-$500, depending on how fancy you want to get.
  • Pre-fab websites.  I randomly found this pre-fabricated political website via WordPress one day and I think it’s a fantastic concept.  They are clean, they cover all the bases, and they are customizable.  If you’re not planning to do tons of crazy online stuff, this is super easy.  There are probably more out there if you do a search.  It’s essentially the same as the last bullet point, but takes care of the first 20-30 steps of the building process for you.
    Cost: $100-$500
  • Political Web Consultants.  I don’t know much about this area, or how much money would be spent on something like this, but theoretically, because they already have the political knowledge and the infrastructure for political websites, they should be able to do them for 1/2 to 1/3 the cost.  For candidates for statewide or Congressional, I’d recommend definitely going this route if you can afford it.  I have college buddies that started Prosper Group, who seriously rock at everything internet and are trustworthy folk as well – and that’s saying a lot since I usually don’t trust political consultants at all.  They are a couple of the very few good ones.  You get what you pay for, so it’s not going to be cheap, but it’ll be fair, and the results will be fantastic.
    Cost:  $2,000+ (this is definitely a guess – you can always call and ask).
All in all, I’d say most every candidate should have a website.  There’s really no excuse not to when you can at least have a web presence for under $100.  And as time marches on, online interaction will only become more and more important.

Post to Twitter

How to Become A Political Consultant (Who Doesn’t Suck)

Start early, start at the bottom.  

If you’re in high school or younger, volunteer for local political campaigns.  Answer phones, man phone banks, file papers, knock on doors.  Do anything you can.  Summers are especially fun for volunteering.  If you’re in college, you should be in College Republicans.  Start one if there isn’t one already.  If you’re no longer in school, the same concept still applies – volunteer, volunteer, volunteer to do anything.

Read & Learn

If you’re in college you should get familiar with the Leadership Institute and Young America Foundation.  These are two fantastic organizations whose purpose is to train up young conservatives both ideologically and tactically.  Read every book you can get about campaigning and elections.  Read about past elections.  Read the newspaper and analyze the political commentary and coverage closely.  Read Campaigns & Elections, Roll Call and Politico.  Read my blog, and others like it (if you can find any, let me know).  Most importantly, never stop reading and learning, because the field is constantly changing.

Actually Work for Campaigns and Political Entities

Before I started ‘consulting’ I had the following job titles (in no particular order):  Field Representative, Office Manager, Volunteer Coordinator, Campaign Manager, Campaign Director, Strategist, Communications Director, Speech Writer, Political Manager, PR Director, and Secretary.  You don’t have to necessarily get paid for the early gigs, but the fact that a campaign is willing to make you an official representative of the campaign lends you a lot of credibility, and the opportunity to gain tons of hands-on, actually on-the-job experience.

An important caveat:  You need to be on winning campaigns.  If you have a resume full of losers – especially on campaigns you managed yourself – well, that makes you a loser, too.

Get Noticed by The Local/State GOP

I don’t always hold the local Republican Party in high regard when it comes to actually affecting campaigns, but it is an excellent place to network, build friendships, and find like-minded folks to hang out with.  If you’re interested in politics at a deep level, it’s worth it just for that.  Eventually, opportunities to get involved with local candidates come up.

Offer to Help

This is how I became a political consultant.  I helped a friend write their campaign plan for a county level election, and it grew from there.  Eventually I was like ‘damn, I should charge for this.’

 Don’t Try To Do It This Way

Email, send a letter, or show up on the door of a campaign peddling your ‘services.’  Especially after the primaries.  This is what the leeches do, and it gives us all a bad name.

Market Yourself Appropriately

Carry business cards, attend GOP events, put “Political Consultant” under your name on your email and most importantly, offer free advice/help/services.  Give seminars at the local GOP headquarters training new candidates on the basics of campaigning, for example.  Not only does it get your name out there as a competent professional, but you get to actually help others as well.

Post to Twitter

Candidates – Do NOT Jump on the Occupy Wall Street Bandwagon

I just read this disastrous political advice from – you guessed it! – a political consultant – and while most first-time candidate’s aren’t into Campaigns & Elections quite yet, I think it’s imperative that this ridiculous idea be rebutted.  I posted a long comment on the original post, but of course it’s ‘waiting for approval.’  Yeah, I won’t be standing by the mailbox for that one.  So here is my comment, and then some, in response to this heinous, heinous, heinous post:

Wow.  This is the worst, worst, worst idea ever.  In what area/district would this micro-strategy ever work?  I’m thinking, if you’re running in a district solely composed of liberal professors and college students, you might have a thin chance of scraping by in an election, if it’s THIS November. As a ‘youth engagement political consulting firm,’ (ha!) you can’t deny the statistics that have said for decades that young people don’t vote.  Don’t get me wrong, I used to think we were on an upswing ten years ago, I even did an in-depth study citing valid statistics, but time has proven that that’s just not the case.

Additionally, the Gen Y’ers – the proper term is Millennials, or Millennial Generation, by the way, Mr. Youth Engagement Expert –  are graduating college and many have been in the workforce (or not) for 5-10 years now (the link is to the ground-breaking book written on the Millennial generation 11 years ago, that this “political consultant” obviously hasn’t read – I highly recommend it).  They are PAYING TAXES and therefore have a much deeper level of understanding of how important smaller government and lower taxes are to improving the economy.

It’s ridiculous to make a comparison between the revolution of the Middle East, in which there is legitimate and serious oppression being felt, and a group of protesters made up primarily of young adults who are still living at home with their enabling parents complaining that they aren’t being handed everything anymore (I’m generalizing here, of course.  In fairness there are folks with legitimate concerns involved/stimulated by this movement, but the kids in Zuccotti Park are not them).

I would NOT recommend that any serious candidate for office, Republican or Democrat, touch this issue with a ten foot poll.  For the vast majority of candidates (state and local), it should not be an issue at all – deal with your local politics.  For national campaigns, this protest will fizzle long before November 2012, so you really don’t want to hitch your wagon to that horse.  It won’t sustain an entire campaign.

Here are a couple shocking facts for you:

  • Young people don’t vote.  Never have.  Maybe never will.  And that’s okay.  Who cares?  If you look at the statistics and cross reference age with voter turnout, people generally vote more and more as they get older.  The last stat I saw on senior citizens said that 68% of them vote, about 10-15% more than the general electorate, depending on the election.  Just because kids don’t vote now doesn’t mean they never will.  They grow up, they begin to notice how government affects their lives, they get more involved in the political process.  And that’s perfectly okay.
  • Young people are growing more conservative.  There is a ton of research and statistical evidence to support this.  Here’s a story I found quickly for the point of this post about how young people want more traditional values, but there are plenty more.  To sum up, young people are more involved in their community, more fiscally conservative, and more socially libertarian.
  • There is always a vocal minority who gets an insane amount of media coverage that makes them look like a huge crowd.  This is what is happening with Occupy Wall Street.  It sucks, because they don’t really represent 99% of us, but they get 99% of the attention.

Post to Twitter

Top 10 Reasons NOT to Hire a Political Consultant

Political Consultants should really only be used for big campaigns and well-known candidates, and even then they are kept in check by level-headed staff.  Never hire a consultant:
  1. Before you can pay them – don’t ever put your campaign in debt to a political consultant (or anyone, for that matter)
  2. Before you do your research.  Get recommendations from other candidates who’ve won.
  3. Because you don’t know anything.  Read a friggin’ book for pete’s sake!  There are tons of campaigning books at the library for free.  Guess what – they’re the same books the political consultant bases his ‘expertise’ on.
  4. Because hiring a consultant is what you’re “supposed” to do (it’s not).
  5. To make people take you seriously.  This is ridiculous.  If you’re on the ballot, you’re serious.
  6. Because of their “connections.”  I have heard this excuse at least a dozen times, and yet never has the addition of a political consultant brought in more donors, media attention or voters.
  7. Because you want someone to do it for you.  Face it, you are running for office.  I hate to burst your bubble, but hiring a political consultant doesn’t put the campaign process on autopilot.
  8. Because your good friend is a ‘political consultant.’  If your friend is trying to charge you to help you with your campaign, they either aren’t that good a friend or aren’t that good a political consultant.
  9. Because they can’t get a job anywhere else.  This is actually why most political consultants become political consultants anyway, and the really bad ones are the ones preying on small, first-time candidates.  Steer clear.
  10. Because you don’t need them!  As soon as you file for office you have a built-in support system through your local GOP and conservative interest groups like Right to Life, Right to Work, NRA, and many more.  Reach out to them.  They want you to win and they exist for the purpose of helping you succeed and champion their issues.

Post to Twitter

When To Hire A Political Consultant

Many first-time candidates and campaign managers think they have to hire a political consultant in order to seriously run for office. This is especially prevalent at the federal level. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Political consultants are expensive. Talking to a political consultant – many of whom are hacks, by the way – in the preliminary stages of a campaign will rack up thousands of dollars in debt for your campaign before you’ve even raised a penny.  If you hire political consultants in the early stages, chances are good you’ll be fundraising your way out of debt throughout your entire campaign, making the experience of running for office entirely too stressful.

So when do you hire a consultant?  Here are a few guidelines:

  1. Raise at least $50,000 before considering a political consultant. The dollar amount could be lower for small campaigns or uncharacteristically cheap consultants, but generally you should be able to fundraise $50,000 on your own merit.  If the candidate, campaign manager and treasurer/campaign finance chair can’t drum up $50k in the first couple of months before you ‘go public’ with your campaign, you might want to reconsider running.
  2. Shop around.  The vast majority of information the typical political consultant is going to shell out is Campaign 101.  In fact, you could save a ton of money by signing up for a campaign management boot-camp instead of hiring a political consultant (these are often run by state parties or national political groups).  But if your campaign is too big for you to handle alone, do NOT take a consultant’s word that they’re worth what they are asking.  Get references, compare prices, and be sure to set up a pay system that works well for your campaign.
  3. Find the hiring sweet-spot in your campaign.  Some time after you’ve raised significant funds and after you have a cadre of advisors and a faithful following of volunteers, but before you do any serious media events or public speeches – that’s the time to bring on a professional.
  4. Don’t commit. Just because you call in a consultant in the planning stages doesn’t mean you need to keep them on retainer throughout the campaign, or hold weekly meetings with them, and for God’s sake, don’t pay them to be there every single day unless you are loaded with campaign cash and have bought everything else you can think of.
  5. Ask for professional certification. The National Institute of Politics and the American Association of Political Consultants both have professional certifications, as do some other political consulting organizations.  It is not required to be certified in order to work as a political consultant, but it adds credibility.  There are plenty of political consultants without certification that are totally qualified and quite competent, but for every competent political consultant there are at least five hacks waiting to pounce on you.
  6. Beware of vulture political hacks.  As soon as you put your name on that candidate line, ‘wannabe’ political operatives will be knocking on your door, pretending that they love you, they believe in you, and they care about you – then they’ll ask you to hire them.  Don’t.  The real professionals don’t need to beg for work.

Post to Twitter