#LBQA: I'm thinking of running for public office

The Question:

I'm 32, an accomplished business owner, and a father of two beautiful infant daughters - and I want to run for local political office. Here in my hometown of NYC, the 2016 Presidential race is a staple to the daily newspapers front pages, and each evening, my wife and I sit down and try to decipher the strategy of the day by the two remaining popular candidates. I must admit, I look forward to each and every surprise and fumble along the campaign trail, because deep inside, I want to run for political office and represent my neighbors here in New York City. In 2018, there will be a seat up for grabs in the New York State Senate, and I feel as though it has my name on it. My only issue is that I haven't the slightest clue how or where to start with creating a political campaign. I have made a wealth of contacts over the years, and have a well-standing relationship with many members of the press locally. Would you happen to have a few ideas to help point me in the right direction?

The Answer:

No matter what level of race you are running campaign fundamentals are core to winning. Good political campaign advice can help give a campaign a good start. Before throwing your name into the ring, consider these four pieces of advice:

Don’t run unless you have a chance to win. There is a political campaign legend that if you run enough times, you will build name recognition and get elected. In the majority of races, this is not an accurate presumption. It is the reverse that is true: the more times you run, the less likely you are to win. Most folks who run the second or third time do not win.

Run for the right reasons. Don’t run to help your insurance business, or because you feel wronged by your opponent. Run because you have skills that can help your community achieve incredible things.

Listen more than you talk. It is not about the candidate; it is about the voter. This is an essential campaign tip and  hard thing for candidates and political campaign managers to realize. We get so focused on the political campaign that we think the election is about the campaign itself. But that is not the case. Political campaigns are a means to get our message out, they are not the message itself.

A written plan is key.  Good campaign planning is your road map for victory. A campaign plan is a living, breathing document. It is not something that lives in a drawer; it is something that you are constantly working on.

Once you’ve decided that you want to move forward with setting up a campaign, consider these steps to success:

  1. Select the office. Focus on the office that will best help you address the issue.
  2. See if you’re qualified. Usually qualifications are minimal, like being a registered voter for the town, city, county, or state you want to represent. There may also be stipulations regarding age and residency. If the office requires some kind of technical proficiency, you may have to have a certain level of experience to qualify.
  3. File the paperwork to get on the ballot. This varies from city to city and county to county, so you have to find out what is required.
  4. Gather your family and friends around you and announce your decision. By pitching your idea to this small gathering, you’ll get a good idea of what type of support you can count on. It’s almost impossible to run for office without the help of those close to you. You may require either their direct or indirect cooperation to help you run for office.
  5. Write a campaign plan. Your plan should go over how many votes you need to win and how you are going to go about getting people to support your position on the issue. You will need to visit the elections department of City Hall to get quantitative information on the number of registered voters, the average expected turnout, and the percentage of votes you need to win.
  6. Craft your message. While you may have a good idea of the issue you want to run on, you should refine your election campaign message by gathering more information about what other people want from a candidate. Read your local newspapers. Listen to radio talk shows. Talk to people on the streets. Only if the issue that you feel needs to be addressed resonates with the way other people look at things will you be successful.
  7. Find a campaign manager. Now you need to build your team. Begin with finding a campaign manager. As a full-time candidate, you will not have enough time or energy to effectively raise funds, organize volunteers, and coordinate many other aspects of your campaign.
  8. Build the rest of your campaign team. Next, you will need a treasurer, a steering committee, an advisory committee, a campaign chair, a volunteer coordinator, and a scheduler.
  9. Begin fundraising. Now with the campaign structure in place, you need to raise funds. Again, this is too big a task to take on by yourself and you’ll need to create a fundraising team. The more you can raise your visibility by making candidate appearances, using lawn signs, bumper stickers, and holding up signs in high traffic areas, the more money you will be able to raise. You also have to conserve costs. Three of the most common ways to raise funds are house parties, benefit events, and direct mail. House parties are small gatherings hosted by supporters that invite people to meet the candidate. Benefit events are large assemblies. Direct mail employs mailing houses to send written requests for funds to prospective donors.
  10. Meet the people. In order to win a campaign, you have to identify enough voters to show up on election day to support you. Volunteers will be needed to make cold calls, referred to in politics as “phone banking.” Volunteers will also need to go from house to house. Finally, you must visit those houses in person where volunteers have a “maybe” vote. Voters are often impressed when the candidate knocks on the door and asks them directly for their support. Three days before the elections, it’s advisable to call all interested voters to remind them of the date and venue for the elections.

Good luck. Remember, we’re here to help. Lawrence Blake Public Trust helps clients in or aiming for positions within public office and public affairs navigate a complex environment where stakeholder’s interest must be carefully integrated into campaign goals and objectives. We carefully plan, up to years in advance, the communications, stakeholder acquisition, and engagement landscape of the locality in which you will be operating and develop a plan of action to prepare you and your entire staff for the most important days of your life.