Hat in the Ring, Not on Your Head!

Political candidates should not wear hats.

Apparently, this is a thing.  I’m amazed I made it this long without discovering this hard and fast campaigning rule.  But really, it’s probably rarely an issue in local campaigns.  How often do local elected officials or candidates get asked to wear hats, really?

At the higher echelons, however, this is a rule you’ll need to be aware of. To prove the point, politico.com has provided a brief history of this rule:

And–this is the best part–a little tidbit from the Nixon Campaign Plan Book:

“The 37th President of the United States of America NEVER WEARS HATS…no honorary hats…no protocol hats…no “great photo” hats…no “the law requires” hats…no “it’s the custom” hats…no cute hats…no beanies…no stovepipes…no firehats…no captains hats…no caps…no Indian headdress…no feather hats…no hard hats…no soft hats…no ladies hats…no mens hats…no fur hats…no paper hats…no grass hats…no thorn hats…no “Nixon’s The One” hats…no nothing.  HATS ARE TOXIC–AND CAN KILL YOU.”

Even if you’re the President of the United States, standing in the middle of Ground Zero among hundred of other people wearing protective hats…

no hat bush

NO.  HAT.

I can understand how a presidential candidate could easily be made to look foolish by wearing inappropriate headgear.  Now, the chances of a hat bringing an equally devastating effect upon a town or county campaign are probably slim, but…why risk it?  Besides, City Councilmen become Mayors, State Representatives become Congressional candidates…do you really want a picture of you in a dorky hat surfacing during an election for higher office down the road?

Leave the hats at home!

Try a lapel pin instead.  Those never go out of style, am I right???

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.

Political Communications: What Is Earned Media?

Hat with Press tag political campaign earned media

“Earned media” is the campaign equivalent of public relations.  Getting earned media simply means attracting the attention of reporters and journalists and getting your name or a story in the papers or news.  The best ways to attract earned media is to create media opportunities within your campaign.  This can be done through:

  • Press releases – a one-page document distributed to local news outlets outlining whatever information you wish to impart.
  • Press conferences – an event held specifically for the press, inviting them to cover information you’ll announce at the event, usually a candidacy announcement, a major platform initiative, a response to an opponent’s attack or a bomb-drop of negative information about your opponent.
  • Campaign events – you can send political beat reporters your schedule and hope that they’ll cover things like town halls, meet & greets and the like.
  • Attending community events – often times TV or radio news-folk will attend major community events and give you an opportunity to give a sound bite.  They may or may not use it.
  • Participating in civic organization events – things like debates or ‘meet the candidate’ events are often well-attended by the press.
All of these should be seen as opportunities to get your message out to the voter through a trusted, credible source – the news.  It’s terribly important, however, to be ready for absolutely any question a reporter may throw at you.  You never want to lose your temper or stumble over your message while the cameras are rolling.  Make sure you are prepared and ready to flash a winning smile and your 30 second campaign ‘elevator pitch’ at the drop of a hat.
Also make an effort to be friendly and get to know the journalists that cover politics in your area.  The idea behind public relations is to build relationships with these people.  You will reap dividends by being exceedingly sweet to reporters.