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Campaign Boot Camp 4: Launch Checklist

(Thinking about running for office? RightVoter presents “Campaign Boot Camp,” a series of essential “how to run for office” rules for your campaign.  Part 1. Part 2. Part 3.)

This post might be a bit dry. But one of my pet peeves is when I’m talking to someone and they assume I know their jargon. Doctors, lawyers, accountants, auto mechanics, contractors… they all do it. If you’re like me, you want your accountant to write out exactly what you need to do, step-by-step. Sign here. Write out a check to this blood-sucking government entity. Put it in this (pre-stamped, pre-addressed) envelope. Mail it on this day. Post office boxes are the blue ones.

Political consultants are no different. We make too many assumptions about your ability to navigate the step-by-step process of running for office.

“You got your first check? Make sure you copy down all of the information into your campaign finance spreadsheet before you deposit in your bank account.”

“What information? What spreadsheet? What bank account?”

That’s not a true example, but I once had to stop a candidate from driving to the post office to buy 5,000 stamps.  As he explained to me: “That’s how many people voted in my district last cycle and by the way will the city clerk give me labels with the voters’ names and addresses on them and how can we afford yard signs because I just tried to get one made and they wanted $35 each.”

So here’s a step-by-step approach to lighting up a campaign.

WARNING: I am so adamant about the need for experienced, professional consulting for campaigns that I have deliberately left anywhere from one to seven steps off of this list. The missing steps may or may not be the steps that prevent you from getting indicted. So go back and re-read the first three installments of this series and hire a professional consultant.

A few steps that you need to take care of, roughly in order.

  • Come up with an official committee name and find a treasurer.
  • Secure a URL, Facebook page, and Twitter handle.
  • Open a mailbox at a UPS Store, and get a dedicated campaign cell phone.
  • Get an EIN from the IRS.
  • Open a bank account.
  • File your appropriate paperwork with the FEC, the Secretary of State, or the City Clerk.
  • Hire a professional photographer.

I’m going to stop right there. Did you see that last item? Hire a professional photographer? Do it. For the love of God, please do it. Block out three hours of your time. Make sure your family is there. Hire a professional photographer. Get a good, professional, well-lit head shot, a family photo, and a few “action shots”: Laugh as you push your kid on a swing. Knock on your neighbor’s door and shake his hand while smiling. (Get your neighbor’s front porch American flag in the shot.) Change your clothes between setups. Have at least one formal picture (suit and tie) and a few where you’re casual (khakis and button-down shirt with rolled-up sleeves.) You can either spend three hours with a professional photographer or spend three times that trying to find one of the family photos you “have plenty of” and then realizing that they’re not high-enough resolution for printed materials.

While you’re busy opening a bank account and posing awkwardly with your annoyed neighbor for a photograph, your campaign team’s task list will include:

  • Design a logo.
  • Write out a short (120 words) and longer (300 words) biography.
  • Write out your basic platform/stump speech. (We’ll get in depth on this in later posts.)
  • Create basic copy for collateral.
  • Create basic copy for web site.
  • Create preliminary web site design.
  • Write up a “donor leave-behind” – which will serve as an investor’s prospectus for your campaign.

You should be involved in all of these items, but you shouldn’t be actually doing the work. What are your preferred colors? (Don’t say green. Don’t say green.) Great. Your team will use those colors to work up a half dozen potential logos. What issues do you want to focus on? Okay, those’ll get you crushed, so maybe let’s talk this through a bit.

You’re an integral part of this process, but all of these items need to be happening simultaneously. You can’t wait for your logo design to begin working on collateral copy or the website. You need to know how to make your bio fit on the collateral. You can’t write your collateral or website copy until you’ve come up with a basic platform.

You can’t do this on your own.  You’re going to burn through a day opening a mailbox, opening a bank account, getting your paperwork filed, and having some pictures taken.  You’ll spend some time with your consultant providing guidance and feedback and more guidance and more feedback on your bio, platform, logo, design themes, and copy, but remember that a candidate should only do what only a candidate can do.  Don’t spend your valuable time doing work that someone else can do (and do better – no offense).

Besides, you’ll be too busy calling your friends and family and asking for their help.

(And don’t forget – there may or may not be up to seven steps missing from this list.)