Menial Comforts

One of the most annoying parts of consulting with candidates is how so many of them find comfort in the minutia. There are huge projects with which candidates must engage, but many of those projects are tiresome, over or underwhelming, and generally unpleasant.

Candidates prefer to deal with the day to day tangible campaign tasks. They like to help design the logo, prepare an invitation, order up the office furniture, etc. Every new desk installed in a previously empty campaign office is a tangible sign that something is happening. Going to a forum to debate an opponent is a more effective use of time, but there is nothing tangible there. The candidate and campaign have to wait until the election for those results.

A good campaign manager and consultant will prioritize the candidate’s time and take them away from the tangible minutia, when possible. Managers quickly learn that they must either delegate or be swamped. Candidates learn, or should learn, that they must trust their managers and consultants. Unenviably, the burden often falls on the consultant to be task master of the whole campaign, despite having multiple campaigns with which they are working. Regardless of who does what and where responsibility falls, managers and consultants must endeavor to have candidates focus on the non-tangible long term battles.

Candidates, for their part, have to trust their staff. One of the most frequent signs that a campaign has lost focus is when the candidate is micro-managing the campaign. Either the candidate does not trust his staff, or the candidate does not want to get out there and campaign. Generally it is a combination of both, with a related side of not wanting to lose control of what the candidate views as a significant investment. A candidate that fails to let go and trust will generally lose the campaign.

The teaching point today is simple. If you are a candidate out there selecting office furniture or designing invitations or going back over logos or a host of other menial campaign tasks, ask someone else to do them (just not your consultant – we consult). If you do not have anybody, find somebody. If you need somebody, spend a little money and hire someone, or ask your local party for volunteers.

Campaigns consist of three elements – time, talent, and treasure. Only one of those you cannot get more of or replace. So, do you want to spend your time out shaking hands or out playing secretary?

UPDATE: I feel compelled to add that I am not referencing any of the candidates I am working with. They actually do focus on the important stuff and delegate the small stuff — with a few lapses here and there. I was actually thinking about John Kerry investing his time in comeback strategy, instead of letting the campaign sort out the details while he goes out and interacts with the public.

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Erick Erickson

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2 Comments

  • Your consultant insight here is enlightening. I wonder if anyone at the Kedwards Campaign (has anyone seen Edwards lately?) is listening.

    I know the same lesson applies to non-political leaders as well. Leaders should be leading, not managing, and espacially not micro-managing.

    Good stuff…