Chessman Standing Alone In Front Line, In A Game Of Chess

Campaign Boot Camp 12: Campaign Plan Strategy and Messaging

(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.)

In our last installment, we began writing a campaign plan.

Perhaps the most important part of your campaign plan is the section on Strategy and Messaging.

More specifically, who are you and why should I vote for you?

Luckily, you’ve written down the “who are you” part in “The Candidate” section of your campaign plan. It’s the second part that’s tricky, the “why.” And this is the part of our program where most first-time candidates start rattling off the bullet points from their resume.

We get it: You’re a nice guy . . . You’ve got experience . . . You ran the food drive at your church . . . You have a nice family . . . Your dog likes you. In other words, you’re just like everyone else in the race. (Even if your opponent isn’t a nice guy and his dog hates him, he’s going to tell people he is.)

Yes, you need to hit on the high points from your bio, but how does the “who” affect the “why”?

Let’s get started on a strategy.

First, you need to come up with a one-liner that defines who you are. “I am a ­­­­­____ who will fight for ____, ____, and ____.”

That first slot (“I am a ____”) is your moniker.  It’s where the “who” drives the “why”.  But you’ve got one or two words to sell it. Choose wisely. Think in terms of contrast: Outsider vs. Insider, Businessman vs. Politician, Conservative vs. Moderate.

Next, the three issues in your one-liner.  These are the core message of your campaign. Everything you say or do from here on out must reinforce those three issues. No, you’re not allowed to have more than three issues, so don’t ask. In fact, if your race hinges on one overriding issue, just go with that. (“Ax the Tax” has elected a governor before. They even used the two-letter spelling of “axe” to make it even simpler.)

Wait, you’re saying, I’m a thoughtful, issues-driven candidate. I have ten-point plans and detailed white papers on over a dozen issues. Good for you. That’s what 10-minute stump speeches are for. That’s why Al Gore invented campaign web sites.

So it’s (for example) “I am an outsider who will cut taxes, create jobs, and improve education.”

Now you get to flesh things out a bit. For your moniker and your three issues, you’re going to want to offer up a few reinforcing bullet points. (Yes, this is basically a review of critical writing class you took.) This becomes the beginning of your stump speech: “I am an outsider who will cut taxes, create jobs, and improve education. I’m not a politician. I’ve spent 30 years in business creating jobs. We need to cut taxes to keep government small, allow people to keep more of what they earn, and allow businesses to grow. I understand that jobs are only created when government is small, so we need to cut regulation and red tape. And we need to demand excellence in education to prepare the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Note the structure and continuity. Who are you? An outsider and a businessman. Why should I vote for you? Because I agree with you on the three main issues. And note how the three main issues reinforce who you are.  Note how your moniker – who you are – provides credibility to the three main issues.

Now it’s on to the campaign ahead of you. Let’s talk about your opponents. It’s time to create your strategic positioning grid. It’s pretty simple. For a two-person race, create a four-box grid. Write “Me on…” and “Him on…” in the top margin and “…Me” and “…Him” down the left margin. It should look like this:

In the box at the top-left, write what you would like to say to voters about yourself. (Hint: It’s your one-liner, discussed above.)

In the “Me on Him” box, you need between one and three bullet points describing what you’d like the voters to know about your opponent. (Hint: These should be reasons not to vote for him.)

In the “Him on Me”, write what he’s going to say about you (be honest); and in the “Him on Him” box, write what he’s going to say about himself.

Now that you’ve got your grid laid out, you need to develop answers for the “Him on” section of the grid. Anticipate his attacks on you and develop your response. Then anticipate what he’s going to say about himself and develop a message to discredit it.

Throughout the campaign, your goal is to keep the debate to the “Me on” boxes. These are your strengths. If he’s going to hit you on something from the “Him on Me” box, you’re prepared to answer it and shift the debate back to the “Me on” side of the grid.

So if you develop a one-liner that resonates with the voters, and you give the voters a reason to vote against the other guy, and you control the debate and keep it on your side of the grid, chances are, you’re going to win.

Of course, you’re asking, “How do I ‘control the debate and keep it on my side of the grid’?” Well, that’s where tactics come in. But you need to get your strategy right first.

Next up: The tactical side of the campaign plan.