A winning campaign is not one that pumps in the most money. A winning election campaign is determined by how well the candidate influences his voters to choose him. 

Political consulting firms can help you there. They advise the candidate (and his election campaign) on how best to engage with the voters to win. 

“With enough money, 40% of the consultants say, they can get voters to accept a weaker candidate”

Consultant ethics, Washington Post

Political consulting firms typically give inputs on ad and media spends, help with opposition survey and also direct their GOTV efforts. 

Not all of them however, do it well. 

An unfortunate example is Jeb Bush’s campaign in the 2016 US elections. He spent a whopping $125 million on his campaign consultants, before dropping out of the presidential primary race. 

jeb_bush_political_consultant_firms_example

His failure is hugely attributed to his campaign strategists. They were criticized for spending money on TV and media ads, instead of positioning the candidate as a viable option. 

“Had they spent $60 million contrasting Trump and Jeb Bush, it would have been a Trump–Bush race.”

Stuart Stevens, Strategist for Mitt Romney 2012 campaign

On the other hand, Obama’s win in his 2008 election campaign and his subsequent re-election are legendary.

Both these successes were largely due to how well his political advisors used technology to make intelligent decisions in the campaign.

The bottom line is, picking the right political consultant for your election campaign is important. It could be a firm. or a singular consultant (like David Axelrod – who was senior advisor to Obama). 

This post can help you there.

Before you go ahead and pick the right consultant for your campaign, it is important to understand how they can help your candidacy. 

What does a political consulting firm do?

Roughly, there are 4 types of political consulting firms—pollsters, media consultants, direct-mail experts, and strategists. 

The direct-mail experts are those who focus on fund-raising. However, in recent times they also lend their expertise for more targeted messaging. 

Pollsters are firms who take opinion surveys and polls to understand the pulse of the voters. They bring back information on how popular the candidate is with the target audience, what issues affect them, and how they respond to the candidate’s most recent event. 

Media consultants focus primarily on producing and placing TV and media ads. They are responsible for the ad spends (note – this has the maximum money) and also handle social media for the candidates.

In fact, pure strategists who don’t offer other services—Republican Stuart Spencer is the most famous—are a dying breed. They only offer strategic guidance on what to focus the campaign on – leaving the rest to the candidate (and his team) to figure out.

Here is a quick look at which type of consultants were most ‘in demand’ (based on how much money was spent on them) in the 2016 US elections. 

political_consulting_firms_top_five_payments

Whatever their role, political consultants understands the key challenges the candidate (and by extension their campaign) faces.

They then offer strategic solutions to not just overcome the problem, but also shape a favorable opinion of the candidate with the public. 

In some cases, if the candidate already has a public image (like Joe Biden, running for 2020 elections), the political consulting company should be able to leverage it to win support. 

Yes, it is a tough job. But as you can read on, some political consulting firms do it extremely well.

Here are the top 5 examples. We’ve included both liberal and conservative political consulting groups.

Global strategy group (D)

Who are they?

Global strategy group (GSG) has six offices across the USA. It is located in New York, Washington DC, Hertford, Seattle, Denver, and Chicago.

Anthony Chiarito, senior associate public affairs, is known for his brilliant work in PR and is named as one of Observer’s rising stars: 10 most powerful young people today.

Erin Billings senior vice president is a veteran communications consultant and former political reporter. She has great experience in addressing public affairs challenges and managing strategic communications.

GSG has worked with National political leaders, Fortune 100 companies, associations, and nonprofits.

The firm was named Public Affairs Agency (2104) by the Holmes Report. The consultancy is distinguished for its depth of talent, influential clients, and a great track record. It has also won Democratic Pollster of the year, Best Opposition Research, Best IE and Online Advertising Super PAC.

Notable win

The ACLU hired GSG as it wanted to limit government surveillance and establish the issue in the 2016 election cycle.

GSG_political_consulting_firms_top_five

Credit: Global Strategy Group

GSG conducted a national survey to show that Americans by the ratio of 2:1 did not want to the Patriot Act reauthorized. The survey was based on likely voters, screened based on their propensity to vote.

The ACLU used the survey to secure media coverage in major outlets and helped inform powerful ad campaigns in eight major battleground states. The ACLU could gather tons of support with the help of GSG.

ACLU was successful in passing a vote against the authority of the government to collect bulk data on its citizens.

What do they specialize in?

  • Research and insights
  • Strategic communications
  • Digital strategy
  • Grassroots and grasstops organizing

GMMB (D)

Who are they?

GMMB is located in Seattle and Washington DC. It has established itself as a top firm in DC and across the nation. It provides a variety of services such as strategy development, advertising, digital engagement, graphic design, coalition building, and media relations.

Allie McKay, vice president, is a key player in the management of ad production and distribution.

Kerry-Ann Hamilton, senior vice president, is known for creating high-impact strategic communications and positioning.

The consultancy has won 10 awards in 2017 at AAPC annual Pollie awards and conference. It has earned recognition for ads created for candidates and causes.

Notable win

Pramila Jayapal hired GMMB and was given the job to effectively communicate her credentials through an integrated research-based media campaign. The campaign was seamless from digital to broadcast.

The initial polling showed that Pramila was significantly behind her opponent.

Her tireless work and smart campaign run by Aaron Bly and his team, including partners of GMMB, lead to a victory with more than 40% votes.

GMMB earned recognition for its digital campaigns (won a Pollie) on behalf of Pramila Jayapal’s winning campaign, and the ballot initiative Save Lives California.

What do they specialize in?

  • Use of advanced and innovative techniques
  • Ad creation
  • Digital analytic
  • Micro-targeting
  • Media organization

Precision Strategies (D)

Who are they?

Precision Strategies, located in Washington DC, is lead by Stephanie Cutter, Jen O’Malley Dillon, and Teddy Goff, a team which has contributed remarkably to the Obama campaign and other high-profile campaigns and causes.

The consultancy has won Holmes Report’s Digital PR Agency of the Year (2016). The award specifically mentions three of Precision’s campaigns that catch the eye.

Namely, the Coalition of Public Safety, For the John F. Kennedy Library, and the most high-profile of all, the LPC election campaign.

Notable win

In 2015, the LPC (Liberal Party of Canada) hired Precision Strategies for a data-driven campaign and digital messaging tactics to persuade Canadians to vote for Justin Trudeau.

The consultancy began its work months before the election to build the infrastructure necessary to run a data-driven, grassroots campaign.

The team had two goals, first to simplify and strengthen infrastructure. Second, to create strategies for targeted voter contact and communication.

LPC_trudeau_win_consultants

Credit: Precision Strategies

The campaign had knocked over 5 million doors, made personal contacts with voters discussed their concerns, and discussed the candidate’s vision.

It targeted both online and offline voters, being the largest turnout effort in Canadian history. The party won an unexpected victory in the elections securing 40% of votes nationwide.

What do they specialize in?

  • Strategic planning
  • Marketing techniques
  • Message creation
  • Digital programs
  • Data-based measurements

FP1 Strategies ®

Who are they?

Danny L. Diaz and Terry Nelson are the top names in FP1 Strategies. They are communication consultants and political strategists for the Republican party. The firm is based in Washington DC.

It has won the AAPC 2017 Gold Pollie for Best in Show. The consultancy has won several other awards among which best web testing, use of A/B testing, use of online targeting for the ballot initiative, and for a cause stands out.

Notable win

The firm was hired by Rob Portman to develop a messaging strategy and advertising campaign.

The aim was to showcase senator Rob Portman’s results, expose Ted Strickland’s failed record, built support among independent women and the China issue.

The TV campaigns began in 2016, focused on the candidate’s leadership in forging bipartisan solutions to heroin addiction and overdose.

The first TV ad “Holly” featured emotional testimonial of a mom who lost her daughter to addition. The ad becomes very popular and gained the support of the masses.

FP1 Strategies dedicated 2015 and the early part of 2016 to release a series of videos that defined Portman’s campaign and highlighted the aims. The videos earned significant media attention in Ohio.

The videos “Abyss” and “Ohio Lost Jobs” destroyed Strickland’s campaign. Senator Portman was re-elected by a commanding margin of 58 percent to 37 percent.

Youtube – Abyss/ Rob Portman for Senate

What do they specialize in?

The firm specializes in:

  • Advertising
  • Digital engagement
  • Message development
  • Crisis management
  • PR and media relations

BrabenderCox ®

Who are they?

BrabenderCox is recognized as a Republican political consulting firm, with offices in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, and Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The key people in the firm are John Brabender (founder), Rob Aho, Brian Nutt, Kent Gates, and Hogan Gidley. Brabender has been named as “Political guru” for kick-starting Rick Santorum’s career.

It is one of the most creative firms in America, having won hundreds of awards for work in both traditional advertising and the digital space.

Their clientele includes Presidents, Governors, Senators, Professional Sports Franchises, Fortune 500 Companies, Entertainment, and Gaming Resorts, Non-Profit, and Healthcare Organizations.

Notable win

Todd Young hired BrabenderCox to win the Senate seat in Indiana.

As soon as Evan Bayh announced his entry BrabenderCox went to work. They stepped all over Bayh’s announcements and did not cede a news cycle to him.

To win the candidate needed a series of hits that told his story and the story of his opponent cashing in Washington and quitting abruptly.

This video was just one among the many series that Brabender created for Young.

Young benefited from embracing the newest digital and data analytical tools. With this, the firm was able to run highly-targeted, efficient messages to key audience groups. They had the support of military veterans and national security voters.

Young won the elections.

What do they specialize in?

  • Adversarial marketing
  • Political advertising
  • Public affairs

How to pick the right political consulting firm?

Most candidates pick a consultant they have already worked with. Pete Buttigieg, for his 2020 Presidential nomination has Mike Schumhl as his campaign manager. Schumhl had previously run Buttigieg’s Indiana Mayoral campaign. He had also served as his chief of staff.   

Similarly, Obama had his trusted advisors David Axelrod (communication manager) and David Plouffe (campaign strategist) for both his winning elections. 

Both these examples highlight a few critical requirements for your consultant. The consultant you pick should be:

  1. Trustworthy – remember, you are trusting him with large amounts of your donor funds and also your entire election campaign. 
  2. Have a good track record – this does not mean just ‘wins’. It means how well he worked with previous candidates.
  3. An AAPC member – AAPC lays down a code of ethics that the consultant is liable to follow
  4. Relevant to your campaign – he should be able to identify your exact short-coming and help you leverage that with his expertise.

Such a combination is usually tough to find. Also, compounded by a consultant’s “Don’t Blame Us” attitude, choosing whom to trust can get very tricky.

“We had people (consultants) who obviously didn’t have, necessarily, my best interest in mind. I think for them it was a job. A lot of money was made, and a lot of advantage was taken”

Ben Carson, Presidential Primary candidate 2016

After all, you don’t want to wind up like Carson. Despite having one of the best fundraisers in the 2016 elections, he still couldn’t win the primaries because he felt his political consultants didn’t steer him right.

Can you win without a political consulting firm?

Despite the wealth of information and tools political consultants arm you with, it is still possible to win an election without their insights.

The most recent example is Donald Trump. For his Republican Nomination, he spent less than all the other candidates and went on to become the President. And the kicker? He did not hire a political consultant firm!

Take a look at how thoroughly he swept the elections:

Trump_winning_example_no_consulting

When compared to the other candidates, Trump did not spend spectacularly on media ads. His ground-game wasn’t on point, campaign infrastructure non-existent, and his targeting could’ve used help.

But he still won the race, because as a candidate, he leveraged public opinion and nailed campaign messaging!

Of the factors that decide elections, consultants rank a distant fifth. What’s most important, not surprisingly, is the candidate himself.

The myth about political consultants, newrepublic.com

What’s next?

If you have decided to choose a political consultant for your campaign, go ahead and pick from the list we have given. These 5 Best Political Polling Companies can help you further.

If you are still (understandably) hesitant, then your best friend is effective communication. I suggest you reach out to your voters directly (with a sample list) and check the kind of responses you get. 

It need not even be a complicated phone banking outreach, a simple SMS can do the trick. 

Try your first voter outreach for free

Call/ Text to see how involved your voters are with you

If the response is lukewarm and you find more questions than answers, then you will have a starting point to discuss with your consultant. 

If the response is overwhelming, and if your audience are already engaged, all you need is a strategist who shape that into a winning campaign.

All the best! We are totally rooting for you to nail your campaigns!

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