Got me thinkin’ …

Erick’s earlier post about branding in politics got me thinking about something that we have touched on before here in the “political pickin’s from the Peach State,” as they say.

Branding is probably one of the most basic, yet most important strategy for any organization, whether Fortune 100 or political campaign.  However, the majority of political marketers have failed to really embrace this seriously. 

Now, we all know what the BC’04 branding looked like still to this day, and some of us even remember Dole/Kemp, Bush/Quayle, Reagan/Bush, and so on, as well as Kerry/Edwards. 

But, in thinking about political strategy in general, how do we identify what day(s) of class that most political consultants/operatives/staffers actually missed?  That’s easy … they missed all of the important ones, and instead focused most of their time at CR mixers, writing papers on Leviathan and volunteering on meaningless campaigns.

Instead, they should have been learning how to read financial statements for various types of organizations, understanding the ins and outs of quantitative and qualitative research and getting a strong grasp on the difference between literary writing and persuasive language.  Further, they should also have been attempting to understanding macro and micro economics better, so that they could really interpret and understand the market’s influence on politics/policy.  Instead, we have a legislative branch of government made up of 23 yr old staffers making a salary below the poverty line, most of whom couldn’t tell me the difference between a mutual fund and hedge fund. 

This leads me to a discussion that many folks at the crossroads of business, law and politics have had for a while now … what is the best background/training for political/policy staffers?  Should there be required training for political operatives that is more legal based or business/market based? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each?  Should there even perhaps be a licensing (sp?) requirement for political consultants and lobbyists? 

Further, why haven’t campaigns implemented more strategies, tools, and processes that the marketplace has been profiting from for years?!?  Accenture was able to bill $15.55 billion in revenue in 2005 because they hire skilled people to implement the most advanced strategies for clients; however, statewide candidates are hiring fresh-out-of-the-College-Republicans managers that can’t tell polling data from a financial statement.  Now granted, campaigns must be conservative on expenses, but even most of the higher paid consultants’ experience is relatively limited. 

What would happen if political operatives used some of the tools that business and market strategists use to gain a competitive edge against their opponents and draw more voters to turnout on Election Day?

14 comments

  1. GAWire says:

    Oh, I should put in as a disclaimer that I was in fact one of those polisci guys that should have been focusing more on real education.

    While I didn’t attend any CR events (after the first one my freshman year), I put way too much time into understanding theory. Now, if I even think about talking about that kind of stuff with someone else I feel like a dork!

  2. I take direct offense to your comments. Having spent a great deal of time with many College Republicans, I know for a fact that the vast majority are extremely dedicated to school. The fact that they often sacrifice their social life to participate in the grunt work of the political process simply represents another vital part of any education for a person wishing to involve themselves in politics. Further, political science majors do not represent a significant number of our members. A diverse background is one of our strengths and we include business majors (such as myself), English majors, journalism, international affairs, public policy, mechanical engineering, biochemistry, and even nuclear and radiological engineers. We also have many active members that are seeking advanced degrees.

    I’m not sure what experience you refer to, but I would be interested to learn more about the supposed inferiority of College Republicans and their intelligence. The average GPA of the College Republican executive board at Georgia Tech is above 3.5, which significantly higher than the school wide average.

    Do you speak of the CR alums that now operate in the State Party and Perdue Campaign? The very same CRs that make great sacrifices and have been instrumental in the Republican takeover? Feel free to give details of the individuals you to which you are referring.

    Finally, it is interesting to note that Karl Rove did drop out of college himself, yet his lack of formal education never seemed to hold him back.

  3. The Warsaw Ferryman says:

    Amen! I’ve seen life on both sides of this aisle. I’m finding more and more, though, that political staffers are strong on political acumen and short on analytical ability. They refuse to acknowledge hard facts that contradict political edicts.

    However, the reverse is also true. Life long bureaucrats tend to be resistant to change, thinking that the way it is being done has a purpose and they refuse to re-look at the purpose.

    Truth be told, I think that a blend of the both is best, but they need to be able to bend and sometimes acknowledge the other is right.

  4. Erick says:

    You know, all I can say is I think what I did was the right way to go. College degrees don’t matter much, but depending on what you do with them, they really can be a benefit.

    I went to law school, focused on election law, and worked on campaigns across the board — local, state, and federal.

    Then I went to several campaign schools, while working almost as an apprentice with older hands.

    Then I branched out on my own and started consulting for local, state, and federal candidates. I make sure to do some sort of educational training each year and above all else, I make sure I’m never the guy who also is doing the mail, the tv, etc. so I have no incentive to recommend an extra mail piece to get more commission.

    In fact, I don’t take a commission so I have no financial motivation to go overkill on a yard sign order or a media buy or a direct mail piece, etc.

    That is the dirty little secret and that is why Bob Shrum is suck a schmuck. He, like too many consultants, worship at the alter of direct mail because they have a side business doing direct mail and make a commission off the mail — telling their client they need to do massive amounts of mail and ignoring how financially lucrative that instruction is.

  5. blazer says:

    GAWire,

    You attacked the CR’s, now you must suffer the wrath…

    ….

    no wrath yet?
    keep waiting, its coming I’m sure of it…

    Oh well, maybe next time.

    Everyone who has spent much time around CRs and isn’t their stinking executive director knows they are ALMOST completely and utterly useless.

  6. kevin35 says:

    I am on vacation this week for a wedding in the Keys and taking a break from the campaign and read your post.

    I agree with you on the business side and I must admit I was a fan of college and the instructors. I was in DCT while in High School for those who do not know what DCT means it is a group where one works while in High School the group I joined was VICA. I learned how to balance a checkbook, fill out tax forms, fill out a resume and other basic business functions. I graduated High School and moved to another job and so on and so on. I helped campaigns along the way but felt the need to help some friends start and run a company which helped my understanding of business dynamics. I admit it was a tough process but I learned and earned street knowledge which sometimes outweighs the 3.5 GPA. I am now a ripe old 35 year old and have followed business trends which have lead to some wins and some defeats. I now understand how global economics work and trade and balances which does help my understanding of the market’s influence on politics and policy. I can quote at anytime the commodities market, stocks and if I am lucky the GDP of importing and exporting nations and some third world nations.

    I helped run my fathers campaign in South Georgia and was able to carry a conversation with a CEO to a factory worker. I need to end my short post before my eyes shut, I agree with the post you need business and political knowledge to help exceed in politics and win the vote in a underdog race. I will admit the fact I won most of Southern Georgia for my dad, does not mean I will carry my District but I have educated many who doubted my knowledge. I will follow up my exciting post when I return from this thing I call a vacation. I will be in the car and will miss the UGA game but go DAWGS and kick some Florida well you know.

  7. Fogle says:

    “Everyone who has spent much time around CRs and isn’t their stinking executive director knows they are ALMOST completely and utterly useless.”

    Hahahahaha… amen to that!

  8. Before launching into my main point, I should mention that I agree with GAWire’s argument that real world experience should be a prerequisite of holding a position in the political/ policy making process. Since I am not a savvy politico, I really don’t feel that I am qualified to comment on the merits of using business technology in political campaigns. Best I can tell, it seems like a good number of local, state, and national campaigns have already incorporated many of the recent innovations developed in the business world.

    I take issue with the idea that College Republicans are “ALMOST all completely and utterly useless.

  9. GAWire says:

    Erick, you aren’t in that category that I am talking about. You went on for further extensive training/education (i.e. law school, etc). You didn’t assume your time as a CR made you in line to become the next Rove or whatever.

    The post wasn’t really meant to attack CRs (although I never miss a chance to get my jabs). My point is that too many people in politics think that they are experts b/c they have volunteered or whatever.

    And, again, for a long time, I was one of those people, albeit, with a somewhat unique perspective. But, since being out in the world of commerce where things really happen (unlike the Hill, 1600 Penn Ave, or K Street), I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons.

  10. GAWire says:

    And again, what do you think would happen if you put an experienced veteran with an MBA or MA, business/mgmt experience, and the applicable political acumen running a race with staffers that also have similar backgrounds (perhaps even without the advanced degree), that used analytical, business and strategic principles in their operations? We could see an entirely new kind of political machine.

    I think BC’04 was the first example of this. At that higher ranks of that team, you had decisions being made by real “thinkers.” That organization was ran like a Fortune 500 company. Sure, volunteers such as former CR Victory Team people did the grunt work, but the mgmt came from a market-based model, rather than traditional campaigns.

    That’s one thing I’ve always liked about GWB – he doesn’t want just a bunch of policy lifers around him making all the decisions. He likes a wide range of expertise, such as people from business, law, finance, academia, etc with all types of training and education backgrounds.

  11. GrandOleDawg says:

    GaWire, I think Chris’ point was that the CRs today are the MBA’s, MA’s, etc. of the future. Most that I know of are not PoliSci majors and do not plan on moving to D.C or wherever and start masterminding any sort of grand political schemes. Most are business (like myself), journalism, pre-law, pre-med, engineering, etc. students who enjoy involving themselves in the political process, and plan to stay involved in the process at some level after graduation (even if it’s just as a volunteer or a donor). Very few have visions of granduer. Most are just concerned citizens who want to do something good. And please don’t discount their work. Every campaign, not matter how well-funded, relies on the work of dedicated volunteers to get out their message at the grassroots level. This is what CRs do. The candidates they help do not discount their efforts, so I don’t think you should either. Your logic seems to be that young people should just sit on their hands for 6-8 years, get an advanced degree, THEN try to immerse themselves in the process. I think both experiences are valuable.

    Here is my take on your question of what is the best background for political work. It’s my stance that bright, hardworking, ambitious people will do well in whatever endevour they take to. Although certain training and education may seem best for a given field, I don’t think any degree is a pre-requisite to success in the political field (or any for that matter). Ralph Reed has a PhD., Karl Rove dropped out of college. Sonny Perdue is a veteranarian, Alec Pointevent is a small businessman. All of these gentlemen have had more than a little success in politics. All these gentlemen have taken different paths.

    I will say that I do agree that operating campaigns like a business is a good idea, and that was a strength of Bush-Cheney. That said, a business background could come in handy, but it’s not necessary.

    Here is another question for you: Once these people (esp. the MBAs you speak of) are out in the ‘real world’ and making the big bucks, how do you draw them back into the political arena where the compensation isn’t always the best? Although sacrificing for the cause is noble, by the time people have gone through advanced degrees and started working in the ‘real world’, they have a future to look out for (not to mention massive student loans to repay) and a pay cut may not always be feasible.

  12. GAWire says:

    >>”””Here is another question for you: Once these people (esp. the MBAs you speak of) are out in the ‘real world’ and making the big bucks, how do you draw them back into the political arena where the compensation isn’t always the best? “””

    Great question and you hit the nail on the head. The answer is “they don’t!” I sure as heck didn’t. Why would someone after working in an efficient, market-driven, highly paid position, go back to work in the most ineffecient system there could possibly be? So, you’re right, Dawg.

    I guess I am imagining implementing systems that derive from market driven processes. And, I’m not just talking about technology. Technology is only one tool in a large toolbox. I guess the closest thing that has been done in this area is the use of market research (i.e. polling), but even that has become so “politicized” that the analytical systems used in politics are not near as accurate or effective. Further, many people don’t know how to use them properly. That’s why your larger research firms – the POS’, Tarrances, etc – of the world are doing about 5% political work and the rest corp work.

    As for the CR’s, your point is actually well taken. It really isn’t the majority of the CR’s that give the organization as a whole a bad name. It is the ones that are typically out front and the face of the organization that make many of us cringe when we see them.

  13. jbowles says:

    Speaking for myself, the last thing I want to do is to stay in this arena for the rest of my life. I’m looking forward to seeing financial statements for quite some time over trying to become the next Karl Rove. No dissrespect to those individuals, it’s just not my cup of tea.

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