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Campaign Boot Camp 10: You Need a Campaign Plan

(Thinking about running for office? RightVoter presents “Campaign Boot Camp,” a series of essential “how to run for office” rules for your campaign.  For the full series, click here.)

Let’s get into your campaign plan (an actual written campaign plan).  In the next few segments, we’ll go over the components of a campaign plan and start to build out some of the most important sections.  But for now we need to answer the questions: What is a campaign plan, and why do you need one?

Your campaign plan is your blueprint for victory.  It lays out a strategy to win, couples that strategy with specific tactics, embeds each tactic into a timeline, and budgets your campaign resources.  A campaign plan should also include key information about you, your campaign, the district, your opponents, and the race you will be running.

So why do you need a campaign plan?

First and foremost, a campaign plan ensures that you’re following a coherent, unified strategy and delivering a message that advances that strategy.  A campaign plan clearly defines how many votes you need, where those votes will come from, how you will communicate with specific voter groups, and what issues will most influence them.  (If your strategy is to target suburban independents with a focus on job creation, your campaign plan will have spent weeks and months laying the groundwork for the delivery of that message: who you are, your experience, the problem that needs to be solved, your solution, and how you differ from your opponent.)

Second, a campaign plan is essential for budgeting.  Let’s fast-forward your campaign – we’re 17 days from Election Day.  Your well-crafted campaign plan includes enough detail that you know that as of today your grassroots has made 23,428 contacts, you have an 4,100 hard IDs, your phone program is wrapping up a series of ID-persuasion calls, the digital ads are in their seventh day, the fourth direct mail persuasion piece is hitting likely-voting independents (and the fifth is awaiting final approval), you have a press conference scheduled to talk about your jobs plan, and you’re about to swap out your initial introductory television ad with a contrast spot.

Chances are, you don’t have an unlimited bank account.  That means that if you’re going to execute on everything listed in the example above, you’re going to need to know exactly what you’ve raised, what you’ve spent, what you can raise in the next 17 days, and how much you still need.  If you’re short, you need to either raise that money or cut something.  (Whatever you do, don’t run out of money early and don’t end a close race with extra money in the bank.)  Plan, budget, re-evaluate, repeat.

Finally, a campaign plan is your “no.”  Throughout your campaign, you will be besieged with well-meaning supporters (and some blood-sucking pitchmen) offering advice on what you should be doing and how you should be spending your money.  Saying “no” can be difficult – especially when the advice comes from friends, family, and donors.

But here’s how that conversation can end well:

Father-in-law (and max-out donor): “You need to be running ads on The Weather Channel.  Everyone I know watches The Weather Channel.”

Without a campaign plan, you’re going to have an in-depth discussion, the discussion will lead to an argument, and you might just end up running the ads on The Weather Channel just so you can keep your father-in-law (and max-out donor) happy.

But with a campaign plan, the conversation goes something like this:

You:  “That’s an interesting idea.  Let’s look at the campaign plan.  It was built by our professional consulting team, based on a clear strategy, data-driven targeting, and very specific vote goals.  It even details exactly where we are in terms of our budget… Well, I’m sorry to say, running ads on The Weather Channel isn’t in the campaign plan for this week.  But if you want, you can talk to the consultants.”

This also works for vendors pitching silver-bullet services:

Blood-sucking pitchman: “You need to spend $15,000 with us or you will lose.”

You (looking in the campaign plan): “We have already made decisions on vendors and budgeted out the campaign, and [digital, phones, mail, television, grassroots, software] is being taken care of.”

Finally, it will help with keeping your team in check (“the campaign plan doesn’t allow for torn jeans in the office”) managing workflow (“the campaign plan says that all contributions need to be logged into the main database within 24 hours of receipt”) and chain of command (“the campaign plan says that you report to the political director”).

So write a campaign plan.  And yes, campaign plans need to be flexible and responsive.  Budgets change.  The political landscape changes.  Your campaign plan will change.  But that’s not an excuse not to have a plan.