A successful campaign can never be planned and carried out by one single person. Choosing the right group of people to prepare and run a campaign of any sort is among the most crucial strategic decisions you will have to take.
The individuals that make up the campaign team need not all be from within the party. But, together, they must be capable of that which a solitary campaign manager simply is not: seeing, understanding and shaping the broader picture, both inside and outside the party.
Crucially, the division of labour within the campaign team must be such that each of the principal functions is covered and that each of the main actors is involved. It is often necessary to distinguish between a ‘core’ group, and other members of the team responsible for the calendar and events, printed material, opposition research, as well as a creative resource, and, sometimes, the candidate.
The Campaign Team: Which people? What functions?
The best campaign team is a small campaign team. This, however, is not always possible, for there are often practical and political reasons to include certain functions and factions of the party. As a general rule, the campaign team should consist of nine people, and never exceed fifteen (although bigger teams, even in small countries, do of course exist!).
The larger the team, the more important and useful it is to establish a ‘core’ group within it, which can act quickly and effectively when swift, and frequently unexpected, decisions are called for (your opponent ridicules the figures you have used to justify the party’s economic recovery programme; damaging revelations concerning your top candidate appear in the evening news bulletin…). The core campaign team should be composed of three to five individuals: always the Campaign Manager, the Secretary General, and the Media or Press Officer; sometimes also the treasurer and the volunteer manager. Speed kills in a campaign: the core team must be trusted and have the legitimacy necessary to act or react quickly, without having to consult others on the appropriate measure to take.
Two scenarios are common. In the first of these, the Secretary General of the party is appointed campaign manager. The advantage is that he or she will be readily accepted by the party hierarchy, and can kick-start the campaign with a well-developed and well-oiled network throughout the party and across different regions of the country. But there is a danger that the Secretary General will remain bogged down with party work, and that he or she, although a competent long-term planner, will be ill-equipped to work at the pace required. A political party is slow; campaigns must be fast. Campaign management is a proper, full-time job, and the campaign manager needs time and space to carry out his work. It is therefore essential that the Secretary General’s regular duties be passed on to a colleague or a replacement for the duration of the campaign.
The second option is for the party board, assisted by the Secretary General, to choose a person with campaigning skills. The individual may be an outsider, from a PR agency or with a solid PR background. But under no circumstances should it be someone without prior experience of dealing with a political party. In any event, he or she must be capable of garnering the trust of the party’s board and middle-management (this obviously applies differently to big and small parties).
Whoever she is or wherever he comes from, there are qualities that the campaign manager must always demonstrate: project management skills, PR knowledge, a political instinct, and absolute loyalty. Of course, given the nature of the tasks ahead, the campaign manager must be thick-skinned, stress-resistant, calm under pressure (which is likely to be constant), a good motivator, and an excellent team player.
A campaign team full of technocrats, no matter how talented or quick-witted, will rarely deliver. A creative person, therefore, can only be good news for the campaign. This could be someone from within the party, or an external but experienced public relations manager with close links to the party (the latter is a particularly good alternative for smaller parties).
It is always useful to have somebody who is in charge of publications or other printed material. The job is relatively technical, just as it is varied (typing, design, production, stapling, etc.). But it is one that, like so many others during a campaign, has to be done quickly and well. Such work can be outsourced to an agency (known in the business as a ‘full service agency’) – but this inevitably pushes the costs up.
Calendar / Events
Don’t just pick the person with the biggest calendar! A range of different tools can be used and combined: from a large wall calendar or an Excel sheet, to more specific time management systems (Lotus Notes, Outlook, etc.). Whoever manages the calendar must have an overview of all relevant and significant dates; he or she must be able to say, at a glance, what can or can’t be done, when and where. He or she must not only be aware of what colleagues have planned, but have notes and up-to-date information concerning opposition meetings and gatherings, public or school holidays, the parliament’s plenary sessions or committee meetings, government announcements, and so on. Even seemingly secondary events, such as football matches or localised demonstrations, need to be tracked. The objective is to always have an accurate idea of what’s happening inside the party, inside other parties (to the extent possible), and across the country.
The most sophisticated campaigns function with multi-layered calendars (Microsoft Project or open-source software). These are used by several people, and enable the individual responsible for the calendar, and timing more generally, to have instant access to the most important dates of all people involved in the campaign.
Much of the above software is not ideal for smaller campaigns or smaller parties. ‘Quick-and-dirty’ is generally a good motto when getting started: a simple and effective initial approach is to map out the most important steps and events ahead using coloured post-its (green is for…); once this basic flow-chart is in place on a wall or on a board, the more detailed calendar covering all parts of the campaign and all people in it will follow.
In small campaigns, it is not unusual for the same person to be in charge of both the calendar and the events. In larger ones, where this is less common, it is important for at least one member of the ‘events team’ be involved in the campaign team.
The top candidate
It is certainly not always necessary for the top candidate to personally take part in meetings of the campaign team. But it is advisable that she be involved in the most important decisions or represented by somebody she trusts. A member of her staff cannot replace the top candidate; but he can act as her eyes and ears, function as a form of early warning mechanism, and, in all circumstances, encourage the two-way flow of information.
Campaigning is a fight: know your opponent! Someone in the campaign team, or very close to it, must be responsible for researching and providing the latest facts and figures concerning the opponents’ policies, plans, weaknesses, etc. This information should always be ready and accessible.
Volunteers are often an untapped source of talent and enthusiasm; their diversity, their number, and therefore their potential, represent an outstanding opportunity for Green campaigns, political or otherwise: all contribute ideas, energy and help – all for free.
Frequently overlooked or quite simply forgotten, volunteer management is without doubt one of the most important functions in any political campaign, and the person in charge of volunteering must be a key member of the campaign team. How often do volunteers spontaneously turn up at campaign offices or get in touch with party headquarters hoping to offer a helping hand, looking for a task, leaving their contact details? How often are their names and numbers then swept under the carpet, and lost? It is the volunteer manager’s responsibility to ensure this never happens.
What are you able to do? What do you want to do? How much can you do? Three important questions to determine and make best use of a volunteer’s skills, enthusiasm and availability. The best way to keep volunteers happy is to get them involved from the very beginning, to offer them ownership of the campaign. Bring them all together during the planning phase, and openly discuss the different tasks. Talk with volunteers; do not order them about.
A volunteer works from home on her computer? Another volunteer has a car? Yet another has plenty of free time? Get to know them, and get to know how they can fit in.
The person responsible for volunteers must, above all else, be an excellent communicator. This is not a job for the least important and least experienced person in the party. Your volunteer manager is a central figure of your campaign.
From the moment it is set up, the campaign team must know how it can take decisions, and which decisions it cannot take. It is common for the party board to reserve some of the most sensitive decisions for itself. Precisely which these are must be made explicit. A lack of clarity will almost inevitably lead to disputes and disagreements, which, in turn, are certain to damage, or at the very least disrupt, the campaign. The procedural rules must be straightforward, transparent and agreed by all.
In many instances, the candidate has the final say. One rule, in particular, should never be broken: a campaign poster must always be approved by the candidate that it depicts or represents. Campaign posters are powerful strategic tools, and one which a candidate is unhappy with will fast become a subject of extensive and predominantly negative debate (first and foremost because the candidate himself won’t stop complaining about it!). If a top candidate doesn’t like a poster, don’t print it. Likewise, his or her veto concerning any part of the campaign should stand. Top candidates are not puppets of the campaign team or party board.