On the 15th of July 2020, the State of Alabama saw an interesting race for the US Senate office.
Tommy Tuberville (a President backed candidate), contested against Jeff Sessions – a loyal Republican who unfortunately was not in the President’s good graces.
Though a Presidential backing did not guarantee a win, it did influence how the campaigning panned out. As this veteran political campaign consultant pointed out:
“Jeff Sessions allowed the narrative to become Jeff Sessions versus Donald Trump.”Angi Stalnaker, Veteran Republican consultant
Well, the result was evident – Tommy Tuberville went on to win the race, with Sessions making a graceful exit.
Interestingly, political advisors like Stalnaker quickly identified the primary reason why a veteran politician lost against Tuberville.
The election had boiled down to a Trump loyalty contest, rather than a bid to run for office.
It is valuable insights like these that political campaign consultants can give you throughout an election campaign to help win your race.
In this post we will cover all the basics you need to know about political consulting and their role in your campaign, so that you can hire the right one for your race.
What is a political consultant?
Political consultants help candidates with the knowledge and strategies they need to win their race. Also called political strategists, their primary goal is to help the candidate be aware of the various factors that could influence the election and subsequently develop a strategy to address them.
|What does a political consultant do?|
A political consultant advances their candidate’s election interests. They act as political strategists to map a plan of action for the election campaign. They could serve as public relations guide, coordinate campaign staff or simply arrange meetings to publicize the candidate or the cause.
A political consultant’s ultimate goal is to bring voter’s attention to their candidate and win their loyalty – so that their candidate can win.
Why do campaigns hire political consultants?
Political consultants can be pivotal to your campaign’s success because:
- They bring their field experience to your election campaign. Veterans like David Axelrod (who advised Obama), or James Carville (who has advised multiple political candidates for public office), know how best to influence voters in favor of the campaign. Their previous wins (and losses), gives them a clear edge to winning. It means that they don’t spend time ‘learning’ on the job, instead use their past experiences to map out a winning strategy for you.
- They focus on the bare facts – on the data, while the candidate focuses on the election. Running for office is highly stressful, with the candidate having to focus on multiple areas (fundraising, canvassing, hosting rallies, filing paperwork). This means that the candidate is less suited to dig deep into data and actively look at strategizing. A political consultant can take that off your hands and help you focus on what matters.
- They can help you keep up with new trends in the race. Facebook fundraising, the changing digital landscape of grassroots mobilization, and of course the advent or relational organizing, all can be hard to keep track of and execute for a candidate. A consultant on the other hand, can be on top of the changes and find the right way to adapt it for the campaign.
While their expertise has a bigger impact (and is critical) for bigger races, consultants can also be game changers in local/down ballot races!
What are the things political consultants can’t do?
A political consultant can only set the stage for a candidate’s victory. They cannot guarantee a win!
There are multiple factors that govern victory in elections – not the least of which is public opinion and voters turning up to vote.
Despite your campaign’s best efforts, it could happen that last minute events inordinately sway public favor against you. This could result in swing voters voting against you and also losing some hard core voters.
In this scenario, even if political consultation is your best bet to win back your popularity they may not be able to mitigate the crisis in time to win you back your position on the polls.
So please keep in mind that hiring a political consultant does not mean an assured win. It simply means that you are maximizing your chances at being elected.
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What are the different types of political consultants?
Based on their expertise (specific domain knowledge), political consultants can help you in certain targeted areas of your political campaigns. A typical election campaign includes:
- Grassroots mobilization
- GOTV efforts
- Media campaigns
- Direct-mail marketing campaigns
- Web-based/digital campaigns
A consultant who can help you with more than one of the areas focused above is a general consultant.
Here is a quick look at how various types of political campaign consulting that can help your campaign:
|S.no||Type of political consultant||How they help your campaign|
|1.||General consultants||Help you with all aspects (or at least more than one) for your campaign|
|2.||Consultants for grassroots mobilization||Specifically focus on improving grassroots mobilization|
|3.||Consultants for GOTV||Target improving voter turn out at polls|
|4.||Fundraising consultants||Amp up your fundraising efforts|
|5.||Consultants for media campaigns||Strategize and execute your media (ads) campaigns|
|6.||Direct-mail marketing consultants||Improve your direct-mail marketing efforts|
|7.||Web-based/digital campaign consultants||Keep up with new digital trends and reach a wider audience|
The impact each of these political consultants brings for your campaign is different. Let us understand them a bit more in detail.
These consultants are those who can help you with all aspects (or at least more than one) of your election campaign. They look at the campaign from start to finish and identify key elements that can make or break the campaign.
Since these consultants look at the complete campaign picture and are not focused on one single aspect, they can give you a holistic campaign strategy that works across your campaign.
They can also ensure that your campaign is in keeping with the current public/voter sentiment and behavior.
For instance, they can combine your grassroots mobilization efforts with a facebook fundraising campaign to strengthen your race. Similarly, they can ensure that your website and social media handles all have consistent messaging.
When to opt for general political consultants?
- Candidates running for office for the first time
- Unseasoned candidates, who still have a lot to learn about campaign nuances
- Candidates who want to navigate the digital landscape better for their campaign
Consultants for grassroots mobilization
These consultants specialize in reaching our supporters and motivating them to participate in your campaign.
Political consultants for grassroots mobilization focus on building momentum for your race by encouraging your supporters to attend (and volunteer) at rallies, host private house-chats for local races and also volunteer in canvassing.
In a non-election context, grassroots mobilization consultants encourage public participation to win policy battles. However, such grassroots powered movements around a candidate’s stance can strengthen their position.
For instance, mobilization against repealing Obamacare was also quite political – it was strongly backed by democrats who believed in it.
When to opt for political consultants focused on grassroots mobilization?
- If your campaign already has a modicum of support from the voter base and you are looking to channel their support for your campaign, then your grassroots mobilization expert can help.
- Or if you are a popular candidate who can win the public vote, you still need to create a large momentum to overcome the electoral college. In this scenario (particularly for presidential races), a grassroots mobilization expert can advise you on suitable strategies and a plan of action to build on the supporter base.
Political consultants who exclusively work to increase voter turnout at the polls are called GOTV consultants. They can be partisan/non-partisan consultants. Hiring a partisan GOTV consultant for your campaign will ensure that only your supporters are mobilized in their efforts.
Though a lot of GOTV efforts take place only in the last week of the campaign, these consultants can be roped in from the start to give them a better understanding of the candidates perception with the electorate.
When to use GOTV consultants?
- Voter turnout is a critical factor in determining election wins in close races.
- They are also crucial in determining outcomes in swing states.
In both the above scenarios having a GOTV consultant to exclusively focus on improving supporter turnout can be pivotal in your win.
Fundraising consultants spearhead the fundraising efforts for your campaign. They inform your political fundraising strategy and also help carry it out.
Keep in mind however that political fundraising consultant cannot make certain decisions for you. For instance, it is the candidate who can opt to self fund a campaign or boycott super PACs.
It falls to your fundraising consultants to find the best way to raise money (either to meet your fundraising goals for election criteria, or to meet campaign expenses) for your race.
When to use Fundraising consultants?
To be honest a fundraising consultant can always come in handy for any race. Even a local election that has relatively lesser cost can still use a fundraising political consultant who is laser focused on bringing in money.
However, it is crucial to have a fundraising expert in races where money is part of the selection process. E.g. to qualify for the presidential primaries and debates, each candidate has to meet a certain fundraising goal. In such cases, it is convenient to have a fundraising consultant on board to ensure you qualify.
Consultants for media campaigns
Media consultants, in effect, act as the PR for the candidate. They send out press releases (or advise you on them), plan ad campaigns on TV, social media, and radio. They also determine which channel to invest most of your campaign promotions on.
When to use political consultants to run media campaigns?
- Candidates who want to reshape their public image, strengthen their stance on certain issues, and also consolidate the support of new voter bases need a media campaign consultant.
- Keep in mind that a media campaign consultant is more focused on execution rather than on strategy.
E.g. if you already have a campaign message planned and have a solid strategy in place (e.g. improve grassroots support), then having a media consultant is a great idea.
Consultants for direct-mail marketing
As the name suggests, these consultants take care of the direct mail requirements in your campaign. That could mean sending campaign literature via campaign mail, sending fundraising ask, or even a voter registration form.
How to use direct mail in your race is still a decision a general consultant (or a fundraising consultant would take). E.g. they can advise you to use direct mail as a channel to win voter support and not one for fundraising.
But it is the direct mail consultant who decides when the mails go out, keeps track of which voters were covered, and who has been sent what post.
When to use direct mail consultants?
- Direct mail consultants become indispensable when your campaign has a target voter demographic that is highly receptive to direct mail.
- They are also critical when you want to carry out a coordinated direct mail campaign across multiple regions and want it to be seamless.
Consultants for web-based/digital campaigns
Consulting for digital or web-based campaigns take care of everything – from your campaign website to your social media account handles. They monitor and build your public image online and ensure that your campaign gets the right attention across multiple channels.
For instance, they could help you run a facebook fundraising campaign, or help you increase attendance for your event. Better yet, they may tell you that since your campaign has a lot of youth supporters, online/virtual events can be a success for your campaign.
An important aspect of web based campaign consultants is that they should be able to gather data on voter behavior from the campaigns they run online and use it to inform other campaigns. Ideally, they should also be proficient in adopting political technology to streamline your campaign.
When to use consultants for web based campaigns?
The 2008 Obama Presidential campaign took digital campaigning to a new level. Currently, it is only evolving.
- To keep up with voter behavior and the sophistication of the campaigns executed, it would be a good idea to have a digital campaign consultant.
- A good digital campaign consultant will be able to harvest prior campaign data, segment and use new data to run highly targeted campaigns.
Keep in mind that the various aspects of campaign strategy and execution are irrevocably interlinked. E.g. if your general consultant advises a digital heavy campaign, using direct mail only in swing states, then your direct mail consultants should be able to execute it.
What to look for when hiring a political consultant?
Hiring the wrong political consultant can cost your campaign dearly. Take a look at how much money was spent in the 2012 elections (Trump Vs. Clinton).
If you look a little closely, you will notice that high spending does not guarantee good poll support! Swaying public opinion can be accomplished by political consulting.
They should be able to hit on the correct insights from data generated, and derive an actionable campaign strategy based on it.
As a rule of thumb, here are certain aspects to consider while hiring a political consultant:
1. Track record
As we already discussed, a track record for a consultant does not mean they have given only successes. It means looking at the kind of strategies they have devised and to what extent he has been instrumental in swaying public opinion.
For instance, Obama picked Axelrod for his initial Presidential campaign because Axelrod is proficient in campaign messaging and strategizing.
It worked! Obama was successfully seen as a ‘Candidate of change’ which won him the votes of many caucus-goers and Independents.
2. Social proof
Talk to candidates and teams who have worked with the same consultant in the past. Also talk to those who chose not to work with them and consider their responses. Both of these responses can be valuable in telling you whether that political consultant could be the right choice for your campaign.
3. Recommendations (from peers/seniors)
Get inputs from your peers and also your seniors who have contested in similar elections. They would be willing to recommend a certain consultant (based on a well executed strategy), that can help your decision.
4. Your rapport with the consultant
Keep in mind that you will have to work closely with the political consultant for the next several weeks or months. Even if they have a stellar reputation consider these two questions:
- Can you trust them?
- Do the communicate well (with you and your campaign staff)
Ensure that you can potentially have a good working relationship with the consultant before picking them.
5. How they perform under pressure
All election races and campaigns are extremely high-pressure. However, the heat is higher in swing-states, in close races, and when there is an even split between both the parties. In such cases, ensure that your consultant can not only withstand, but respond positively to the pressure and improve your campaign.
How to pick the right consultant for your campaign?
The above tips can help you narrow down top political consultants from the large number you are considering. To refine this even further, consider the political consultant in terms of how they can help your campaign needs.
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While political consultant budgets are quite big, the amount your consultant charges should still be within the campaign budget you have ear-marked. So if you are struggling to decide between two consultants, your budget should help you make the right decision.
2. Does their track record reflect a similar election campaign
Your campaign will have specific requirements that the political consultant should be capable of handling. For eg. a re-election campaign is highly different from a campaign where the candidate is contesting for the first time.
Similarly, a fresh candidate will have different campaign requirements when compared to a seasoned candidate (the strategy would be different).
So look for a consultant who has handled election campaigns similar to yours in the past and then make a choice.
3. The size of your campaign and electorate
(e.g. local election different from federal ones)
How big is the campaign? The scale of the strategy and execution of the campaign is vastly different for say, a mayoral election than a Presidential primary. A consultant’s experience in advising a local election may not translate well to big ballot elections.
4. The primary requirement for your campaign
Do you need a consultant whose strength is in campaign messaging? Or does your campaign need a better strategist to bring together supporters from across various demographics? Pick a consultant whose strength reflects your campaign needs.
Of course, if you are unsure of what your campaign requires, stick to a general consultant and then work on refining specific requirements throughout.
5. The voter demographic being targeted
Who are the primary supporters for your campaign? Are they the Baby Boomers? Or Gen Zs or Millennials? Ensure that the political consultant is proficient in communicating and engaging with the said demographic.
E.g. Can the consultant execute a flawless digital campaign and get young people to vote? Can they also consolidate support offline with a different voter segment?
The right political consultant will be instrumental in priming your campaign for a win. Hopefully, this article got you started in the right direction.