Being a campaign manager is not an easy job. On the one hand, you have to deal with the candidate, who often knows less than the staff about the technical aspects of running a campaign, but who still likes to overrule staff and consultant decisions. On the other hand, you have to deal with the campaign staff, who are usually underpaid and overworked in the pressure-cooker environment of a political campaign.
Here are five tips I’ve learned during a decade in the trenches on how to be a great campaign manager:
1. Be a Politician
The candidate isn’t the only person in a campaign who needs to be a politician. The campaign manager needs to utilize the same skill set in order to run an efficient and successful effort. A thriving manager will need to massage numerous egos, from the candidate and his or her family to high-paid consultants, local volunteers, and major and minor donors. The ability to do so with grace and aplomb , and still being able to move the campaign in the direction you know it needs to go, is the real hallmark of a campaign pro.
2. Run the Campaign like a Business
Too many political campaigns falter because they are not run like businesses, and are instead treated like expensive hobbies or nebulous non-profits. The best campaigns are run like efficient corporations. Keep an eye on the budget. Make smart cost / benefit decisions and track return on investment. Train your staff and manage their efforts using outcomes-based milestones.
3. Focus on Systems
This tip goes hand in hand with tip #2 – Campaign managers have to be just that – managers. Professional business managers don’t do all the work, and don’t spend all of their time on the technical aspects of their businesses. Instead they focus on setting up scalable systems that their staff can implement to bring success in a proven and efficient manner. Unless the campaign they are managing is extremely small, campaign managers should spent a good chunk of their time putting systems in place – fundraising systems, grassroots systems, communications systems, etc. – and managing their staff and volunteers in implementing these procedures.
Entrepreneurs are people who have a big vision, figure out a plan for getting there, and then implement that plan. Plenty of people have big visions, but don’t know how to get there. Other people can write plans, but can’t implement them. Entrepreneurs can do all three. Often, these skills are learned through practice and discipline. The best campaign managers in the business are true entrepreneurs – they can cast a big vision for a campaign, write a plan to get to that vision, and then manage the implantation of that plan.
5. Build up Your Own Base
Every campaign has various factions and loyalties. These groupings occur among the staff, the volunteer group, donors, the Finance Committee, and even the candidate’s family. There are groups that will advocate for one idea or tactic or another, who argue about message and strategy, who politely disagree on staff members and press release topics. As a campaign manager, you should be sure to quietly and decidedly build up your own base of support.
You should do this not to present a threat to your candidate or any other group, but so that when push comes to shove on an issue you have a group of supporters among the candidate’s friends, donors, and consultants who will back your views. For example, if you think the campaign message should be X, but the candidate’s spouse thinks it should be Y, it’s nice to have the relationships in place so that you can have a few key donors call the candidate to voice their support for your framing of the message.
Being a campaign manager isn’t easy… it’s a challenging and difficult position, no matter the size of the campaign. Go into the job armed with knowledge and a plan for winning. Follow these five tips and you too can join the ranks of the best campaign managers in the business.