Dear Dr. Bob,
I’ve made it onto the ballot with the help of friends, family and a few volunteers. Now it looks like I’m going to need some professional help. But how should I go about hiring a political consultant or a consulting firm? There are so many coming after me that it’s getting confusing.
This is a terrific question and I’ll do my best to answer you impartially given my own work in political consulting. So here goes…
1. Don’t start with which consultant to hire, start with what you’ll need to win. The truth is that not all consultants can do everything — although they often act like it. What I tell candidates is that they are responsible for thinking through how to get from here to a win on Election Day. That doesn’t mean the pros can’t help, they can, but it does mean that you need to determine what skills and capabilities you need to run a winning campaign.
If you’re running in a small district does it make sense to hire a consultant who produces TV commercials? Do you need big time polling or fundraising help? Do you need a speechwriter if you’re most likely just going to use a basic stump speech with some minor tailoring for specific purposes? What is the best single way for candidates to communicate to the voters of your district: direct mail, telephone calls, street or yard signs, email, etc., etc.? Do you need more personal help like speech lessons, dressing correctly, etc.?
All of these early decisions are critical and they are things you need to think through. And this is worth repeating: If any consultant says he/she can handle all of these things, run away as fast as you can.
2. Look at the consultant’s track record. All consultants are going to put on their best face; that’s just basic marketing. But you need to know if the consultant or his/her firm can actually win races like yours with similar structure and dynamics. Look, almost any consultant can win a race in which their candidate’s party has a 2:1 voter registration advantage and three times as much cash as the opponent. But what about the races that are more like yours: the opponent has a slight voter registration advantage and you’ll have a limited budget? If they can win those, good. If not, they’re of no use to you.
3. Finally, I’ve used this analogy before and most people find it useful. If you were having surgery who would you want performing the operation: A very nice doctor with a great bedside manner and moderate surgical skills or a doctor who is very rough around the edges but is among the best surgeons in your area?
In other words, try to look past the charm and ‘bedside manner’ of consultants who are after your business. You are looking for someone who can help you win, not a new best friend.
Hope that helps!