Growing up, a friend of mine had an uncle who liked to say, “plan the work, then work the plan.”  It got old, but it was good advice.  His saying assumed that without a plan, there couldn’t be any work, and without work, a plan was worthless.  That’s good advice for any big endeavor and doubly good advice when it comes to politics.

I don’t care how long you’ve been in politics… I don’t care if you’ve worked every campaign for the last 45 years.  It doesn’t matter if you are an incumbent state legislator, an incumbent member of parliament, or a former Secretary of Agriculture: your campaign needs a plan… a comprehensive, well thought out, written plan.

In this case, what’s true for large campaigns is also true for small campaigns.  No campaign, no matter how small, should start without a campaign plan in place.

Why Your Campaign Needs a Written Plan

Your campaign plan provides a roadmap for your campaign.  You should develop it in consultation with your advisors, staff, and “old hands” who can help you write and review the plan.  In larger campaigns, a campaign manager or consultant may take responsibility for writing the plan, in concert with other stakeholders.  No matter who actually writes the plan, the candidate must be comfortable with the plan, and must support it.  Campaigns are tough and time-consuming.  If you get into the heat of battle and the candidate spends all of his or her time re-thinking the plan, your campaign is in trouble.

Political campaigns are hectic. Your campaign plan provides a roadmap to success on Election Day

That’s not to say that your plan won’t change:  it might.  But you should only change the key strategies that you outline in your plan if something major happens.  Otherwise, you will be tweaking the tactics (sometimes on a daily basis) but sticking to the major themes of your plan.  Campaigns are so hectic that it pays to take the time before they begin to research your strategy and develop a plan that you think can win.

How to Develop a Comprehensive Campaign Plan

It is important for your campaign to complete some research and arm itself with some knowledge before completing the plan.  Then you’ll want to work in concert with your team to develop the best plan possible.  Hereare some key considerations:

Learn How to Run a Winning Campaign

Before writing your campaign plan, you want to make sure you understand how to run a winning campaign.  One of the best ways to do that is to read through the articles in our Archive, as well as the information available on sites like Campaigns & Elections.  Make sure to learn about fundraising, communications, grassroots, targeting, and all of the strategy and tactics that you’ll need to win.  Once you have a complete understanding of campaign strategy, you can write a comprehensive campaign plan using what you have learned.

Who Should Develop Your Plan

I generally recommend that in very small campaigns, either the candidate or a consultant should write the campaign plan.  In mid- and large-sized campaigns, the campaign manager or a consultant should write the plan.

In addition to those mentioned above, a number of people (“stakeholders”) should have input on the plan:

  • The candidate – obviously, if he or she is not the one writing the plan, then the candidate should have a significant amount of input into the plan
  • The staff – campaign staff with various specialties, from fundraising to media operations to campaign management, should be consulted when writing the plan
  • “Old hands” – Local supporters who have been around the political block, key advisors, and current elected officials who support your election should be consulted as well
  • Consultants – If you’re using consultants and they’re not the ones writing your plan, gain their input and buy in

While you should consult with all of the above people while writing a campaign plan, the only person you should give veto power to is the candidate.  No other stakeholder should be able to hold up the plan.  Gain everyone’s input, make a decision as to the strategy for the race, explain your decision to the stakeholders, allow comment, then proceed.  Don’t let one chef spoil the soup that the entire team worked on together.

The 9 Components of a Successful Campaign Plan

An important key to the success of your campaign plan is that it must be comprehensive.  That is, it must address all of the various activities your campaign will engage in—and in politics, there are lots of activities that are vital to your ultimate win.  A good campaign plan will include the following components:

#1 – Political Environment, Assumptions, and Analysis: Who are your opponents?  What does the political environment look like this year?  What are your strengths and weaknesses?  What are your opponents’ strengths and weaknesses?  What assumptions can you make about this campaign?

#2 – Targeting and Demographics: Who lives in your district?  How do they break down across neighborhoods, ethnicities, gender, occupation, age, religion, ideology, etc?  How many people will vote in this election?  How many votes do you need to win?  Which voters / areas are you targeting?

#3 – Campaign Message, Issues Development, and Overall Strategy: What is your campaign’s overall message / unified theme?  What are your issues?  What is the “question” of this election?  What is your general strategy for success?

#4 – Communications Plan:  What paid media will you use (TV/ Radio/ Newspaper, etc)?  What type of direct mail?  What collateral materials (Yard signs?  Palm cards?).  What are your campaign colors?  Tag line?  What is your plan for generating earned media (press coverage)?

#5 – Grassroots Plan:  How will you recruit and use volunteers?  How will you run an effective get out the vote operation?  What will your strategy be for absentee ballots? Election Day operations?  Door to door campaigning?  Literature drops?

#6 – Campaign Budget:  What do you need to spend to win this election?

#7 – Fundraising Plan:  How will you raise the amount you need to spend to win this election?  What events will you hold?  Who will be on your finance committee?  What major donors can you solicit?  Will you use fundraising mail?  How will you raise money on the Internet?

# 8- Campaign Timeline:  What are the detailed steps you need to take to implement your plan?  By what date will you accomplish each?

#9 – Campaign Staffing Structure:  Who will be responsible for implementing this plan?

Each of these critical areas are important to your success, and must be included in your campaign plan.  Once you plan is completed, shop it around to the campaign’s key stakeholders, and get their input as well as the candidate’s approval.