By: Paul Bentz
I read the “7 things consultants hate about you” by Jake Williams from Campaigns and Elections and found myself nodding along with most of the things he said. His complaints are common in candidate races and there is no doubt that they can be frustrating at times. In fact, we attempt to address most of the complaints addressed by Williams upfront, albeit in a more positive manner, on our website in the “So You Want to Be a Candidate” section.
I understand why Williams took the grandfatherly tone he did in the article, it’s easy to get irritated. It has certainly happened to me over the years. I’ve often joked that I prefer to work on issue campaigns because an initiative can’t call you in the middle of the night. However, it also got me thinking. Candidates get just as aggravated with consultants as the so called “gurus” get with their clients. Consultants could use a little empathy and if they’re going to ask candidates to work on their flaws, it’s only fair for consultants to do the same.
Now, I have never been a candidate, but I have spent a lot of time with candidates and found out the hard way what they hate. So, in response, here are “7 Things Candidates Hate about Consultants” based on the lessons I’ve learned and mistakes I’ve made along the way:
Yes, you might be running the most efficient data driven campaign ever known to mankind. You may be pivoting from an opponent’s attack with ease and recommending all the right talking points in response. However, when was the last time you took a moment to remember that it’s the candidate’s life and reputation on the line? Win or lose, you move on to the next campaign or the next issue. It’s your job, but it’s your candidate’s life. It’s downright impossible for a candidate to NOT take things personally. As a consultant, you shouldn’t get caught up in the anxiety, but you also have to be careful about appearing cold and uncaring. Find ways to show that you care and understand what the candidate is going through. Remind him or her that you’re in this fight together.
It is very easy to lock yourself in the bunker and ignore the “extraneous” things that are going on around you. Before you’re dismissive of the echo chamber, remember what effect it is having on your candidate (and sometimes more importantly, the spouse), his or her supporters, and his or her donors. Listen to what the candidate is saying is going on; get updates from the “field.” Take some time to read the actual emails and comments that are coming into the campaign (even the ridiculous anonymous ones). It’s your job to have a pulse of the things that are going on with the campaign whether they are real or not. Perception drives reality and things that are being said “out there” may be impacting your candidate and what they’re saying on the stump. The things you hear may not change your strategy, but it’s the only way to fully understand the environment.
3. Let some things slide
Candidates and supporters can be full of suggestions and as a consultant, sometimes you feel like Dikembe Mutombo swatting away all the bad ideas. Want to make the denials easier in the long run? Learn how to say “Yes” sometimes. Don’t like a picture on a mailer, but the candidate does? Let it go. Don’t like the color of the yard sign? Lose the argument gracefully. That way, when your candidate wants to do something that is really stupid, you’ve built up the credit to lay the smack down. Make it mean something when you say no.
4. Change things up a little
Your current candidate is sick of hearing how you did things with your last candidate. In all likelihood, the candidate is aware of what you did, that’s part of the reason he or she hired you. The candidate also wants you to be a creative thinker and come up with ideas catered to his or her race. The principles are the same in most races, but the circumstances can be different. In the same way, even your winning formula can get a little stale sometimes. Change up your designs, candidates and voters can tell when you’re using a template. It hurts your brand when people say, “Everything from Consultant X looks the same.”
5. Would it kill you to be encouraging?
Candidates know when they flub a question or something goes wrong at a debate. You need to address mistakes, but there is no need to spend all of your time on them. During the course of a campaign, you’re in a “relationship” with your candidates. If you were dating someone, would he or she stay with you if you never had anything nice to say? When my wife was pregnant with our first child, she turned on our doctor in the delivery room instead of me, because our doctor had a rather stern bedside manner. If you don’t want them to turn on you, take some time to focus on the successes and compliment your candidates when they do well.
6. Candidates are people too
Walking, fundraisers, coffees, campaign meetings, media training, debates, the list goes on and on. It’s no wonder why candidates sometimes feel more like trained seals than human beings. Candidates are not cyborgs. They get tired. They need time to eat. It would be nice if they could see their family on occasion. Give your candidates some time to rest and recharge their batteries. Let them know you appreciate their hard work and you’re working equally to make sure they win. Rested and loved candidates are more likely to sit down and make fundraising phone calls than someone who is run ragged all the time and views fundraising as just another demand piled on them.
7. If the spouse ain’t happy…
Ain’t nobody happy. I am going to end where Williams started his rant, with the spouses. Your candidate’s spouse sleeps with them at night, you don’t. You are no match for pillow talk. The spouse often will take the attacks even more personally than the candidate. You must be aware of this and respect it. You don’t have to implement all of the crazy ideas, but you have to have to listen and give a spouse the time that he or she deserves. In addition, keep rule #3 in mind, if you say “yes” sometimes to the spouse’s ideas, it will make things easier in the long run. The worst thing you can do is set up a candidate vs. spouse conflict, you’re going to lose that battle.