Lots of politicians make it look easy… go out, shake some hands, give some speeches, and coast to re-election. If you want to know how to campaign like a political pro, the first thing you need to understand is that it is never as easy, or as simple, as charismatic old hands like Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan made it seem.
Pros make it look easy because they have spent time studying what works, and have worked hard to practice these winning techniques until they become second nature. When everything seems to “click” for a politician, when all of her speeches seem remarkable or all of his media moments seem perfect, yet unscripted, you can be sure he has put hundreds of hours into perfecting his craft. Here are some tips that you, too can use to ratchet up your campaign efforts and build momentum… here’s how to campaign like a pro:
Practice, then Relax
Gifted politicians know that very few things in politics happen by accident. Most of the positive things that occur are the result of planning and practice. Great speeches, successful debates, and great grassroots events are the outcome of lots of time and effort spent in preparation. Campaign pros will tell you that the best way to get ready for a speech, event, or other campaign activity is to prepare so much, and for so long, that when the time comes to act, the candidate is so comfortable with the material and the message that he or she can speak and act without thinking step-by-step, instead just going out and engaging with voters.
Great speeches and great debates are like great hitting in baseball… spend lots of time working on the mechanics beforehand, then go out and do it… don’t think about it. Know that you’ve prepared and practiced, and feel comfortable working without notes.
Remember Names and Information
Political candidates meet so many people during the campaign that it is absolutely impossible to remember most of their names, what issues they are interested in, where their kids went to school, and all of the other tidbits they tell you on the campaign trail. Yet, people are investing time and emotional energy into your campaign, and want to feel like you “know them,” in some way.
I tell candidates and operatives who want to know how to campaign like a pro that the best way to accomplish this difficult task is to make sure there is always someone with the candidate, writing down notes, taking business cards, and gathering information. This person could be a paid staffer (“body man”), a volunteer, or even one of the candidate’s teenage kids.
No matter who is performing the task, they should make sure to write down the names (and contact information) of everyone the candidate meets. The campaign can then send out “great to meet you!” postcards to these voters, and will have all of their information on hand for future fundraising calls, event invitations, etc. People love getting a letter addressed to them that starts off with something personal, like, “I hope your daughter Claire is enjoying her first year at Penn!”
Keep Learning How to Campaign
This tip seems so simple, yet so few candidates and campaigns do it. Never stop learning. Candidates who stop reading up on political campaign techniques usually stagnate, and are taken aback by new trends and methods of communication (“Jim, what’s Twitter?”)
Don’t ever stop learning. If you’re at an ongoing political group, like a party organization, send your staff to seminars on a regular basis. If you’re running a campaign, hold a campaign school to let your team learn the latest and greatest campaign tricks. If you’re a candidate… keep reading books, subscribing to magazines, and talking to other political professionals to keep abreast of new strategy and tactics.
Many candidates and operatives never make the leap from political newbie to political pro. There are many members of Congress who don’t understand modern campaign techniques, never arrive to speeches and events prepared and comfortable, and who try to run antiseptic, mass market campaigns without that common touch. Don’t be like them. Use the tips above, and the tactics you discover in your ongoing learning, to build momentum and campaign like a pro.