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How to Create a Campaign Plan

Before you get started on any campaign – whether it’s an election campaign or an issue based campaign – you NEED to have a plan. But just as the plan is important, so is the planning process itself. As former President (and General) Eisenhower once said, “Plans are useless, but planning in indispensable”.

Over 2,000 years ago, Chinese General Sun Tzu described what he called the “Five Elements of the Art of War” as follows:

  • Measurement of space
  • Estimation of quantities
  • Calculations
  • Comparison
  • Chances of victory

He stated that: “Measurement of space is derived from the ground. Quantities derive from measurement, calculations from quantities, comparisons from calculations and victory from comparisons.” To put that in political terms, you need to evaluate the environment, research the numbers, determine what’s needed to win, compare yourself and the opposition and then realistically estimate if you can win.

In other words, YOU NEED TO PLAN.

Planning forces you to think things through, weigh the options and see potential opportunities and problems. Once you’ve got a plan it’s much easier to know “what’s next” on a day to day basis, and you’ll know “why” it’s better to do things a certain way and not just guess or roll with the flow.

This section will give you a good thumbnail guide on how to plan a campaign, and how to do the research and make the evaluations needed in order to decide what kind of strategy and tactics you should use.

The Basics of Campaign Planning are:

    1. Evaluation: Identify all of the factors (current or possible) that can have an impact on being successful.
    2. Research & Targeting: Analyze what’s needed to achieve the results you want – and how you stack up. Do you have what you need? Can you get it?
    3. Strategy: Develop a strategy that maximizes your strengths and the opposition’s weaknesses. How can you make the most of your likely resources and opportunities?
    4. Tactics & Implementation: Determine what tactics you should use to implement your strategy – and when to use them.
    5. Timeline: Start with Election Day (or another critical day, such as a key vote you are lobbying) and work backwards, building in enough time to get the things done that need doing.
    6. Budget and Finance: How much money will it take…and how will you raise it?
    7. Review: Evaluate and review the plan and your progress on a regular basis – then make adjustments.

A good plan is a collection of answers to a series of good questions. Pull all of those answers together and organize them in one place. Then write out a formal plan. And to get the most out of any planning process, make sure that all of the key players who will be involved in carrying out the plan are part of the process. If they don’t “buy in”, they will be less likely to help.

Don’t try to plan in a hurry. If the purpose is to develop a good plan, then you need to respect the process and take the time to do it right. Depending on how much time you have available, or who else may be helping you, (or how big your campaign is), you could spend a few weeks on doing it right. At the same time, you want to avoid “analysis paralysis”. As Patton put it, “a good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week”.

Don’t expect what you do to be perfect. No plan ever survives contact with the enemy. Or as Mike Tyson once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth”. Things change.

Your plan has to be flexible and able to adapt to circumstances – which means the “planning” doesn’t end with the first draft. It’s an ongoing process. So once a plan has been implemented, schedule regular meetings of all the key players and review the situation. Have things changed? Does any element of the plan or the timeline need to be altered to deal with those changes?

Evaluate, research, plan, implement and adjust. Then repeat!

If you do the planning that you need to do on the front end, you’ll save yourself a lot of time and headache later, not to mention increase your chances of being successful. So take your time and don’t take shortcuts. You’ll be glad you did it right.

Remember, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.

Know Your Environment

Before you can put together a good plan for any type of campaign, you have to have good information. That means that you need an honest evaluation of the things that will have an impact on the campaign and its ability to succeed. In other words, you need to know your environment. It’s like the water that you’re going to have to swim in.

In political campaigns, knowing your environment means knowing any outside influences, knowing the campaigns and/or candidates themselves, knowing the issues and the media that you may have to deal with. If you’re aware of what the environment will be like, then you’ll know what your plan needs to address and what you need to plan around – or even try to leverage to your advantage.

Here’s how to break it down:

Know the Outside Influences:

Whether you like it or not there are some outside factors that aren’t related to you or the opposition that can have an impact on any campaign. You need to take them into account and determine what kind of difference they could make.

Below is a short list of items to consider, but make note of anything else that could have a major impact.

• If it’s an election, what other races are on the ballot? President, governor, senator, representative? State and/or local races? Are any of them popular (or unpopular) enough to impact voter turnout?
• Are candidates in other races likely to draw more favorable or unfavorable voters to the polls?
• Major endorsements? (Who’s supported by the big names, and will it matter?)
• Are there any key referendums on the ballot?
• If it’s a lobbying campaign, who supports and opposes it? Establishment/insiders or outsiders?
• Are there any special interest groups or coalitions at work? Will they help or hurt?
• Who can you expect to work against you? If it’s an election, how is all of this likely to impact voter turnout?
• What are the economic conditions? What impact will they have?
• Is there an intense anti-establishment atmosphere?
• List any key events or dates between now and the election (or any key vote that you may be lobbying) and how they could impact the campaign.

The more that you know about the outside factors that you can’t control, and the events that are looming on the horizon, the better the chances that a campaign plan will be realistic about what you can and can’t do. The point is to try to avoid creating a plan that runs smack into reality or events that you could have anticipated.

It will help you avoid having a plan that forces you to swim against the tide – or at least give you a realistic idea of just how hard you’re going to have to swim!

Know the Campaigns:

The next step is to take a realistic look at the campaign itself, as well as the opposition. What are the strengths and weaknesses? Does it have what it needs? Is it likely to? Sketch out an honest profile of both sides. Start with a simple “T” chart for strengths on one side and weaknesses on the other. Pull this basic information together and review it.

Take a good look at the opposition as well as your own campaign from several different perspectives, then specifically focus on doing more detailed research of the opposition.

Candidate profiles would include:
• Biography / Resume – (On paper, who looks more qualified and has the best story to tell?)
• Personal strengths and weaknesses – (Of candidates and campaign leadership)
• Stands on the Issues – (If it’s a candidate campaign, any flip-flops or philosophical problems?)
• Support from special interests – (Which political groups are involved for whom, and does it hurt or help?)
• Political experience – (Does anyone have any? Past campaigns? Does anyone have experienced or “smart” help?)
• Financial support – (What kind of donors? Self-funding? Access to donors?)
• Resources – (Does either campaign have what it needs to win, or is it likely to?)
• News clippings – (Collect any useful news clips / articles on the issue or candidates)
• Existing networks – (Who’s well connected and has access to others to build support)

Opposition Research: most of the information below can usually be found with the government body they represent.
• Votes and/or stands on issues: are they consistent?
• Accomplishments – (What have they sponsored or co-sponsored? Have any of their proposals become law?)
• Attendance records – (Did they show up for work regularly or not?)
• Campaign and personnel finance disclosures – (Look for any position switches within days of getting major contributions)
• Any resume inflation?

What jumps out as an obvious weakness that the public would care about? Why is that? Know the answers and you will be able to plan to exploit and leverage your strengths and the opposition’s weaknesses. You’ll know what “ground” you would rather fight on.

Sun Tzu put it this way, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles”. Don’t’ lose on account of ignorance.

Know the Issues:

Whether you’re running a grassroots organization, a lobbying campaign or an election campaign, issues matter. As legendary South Carolina political consultant Lee Atwater used to say “Issues win campaigns”, and he was exactly right. Issues win campaigns because campaigns are about people…and people are moved by issues.

Issues can be used to unite voters behind a cause or a candidate, or divide them away from one. They can also be used to compliment a candidate or group’s image, if they’re consistent with the current image, or what you want to portray.

Choose the Right Issues. Most people hate politics. They don’t usually get involved in it because they’re bored and lying around with nothing to do. Something motivates them. They care about something. Take the time to find out what that is.

Find the issues that are relevant to the people whose support you need – AND that are important enough to move them to take action. The kind of issues that not only motivate people, but that sometimes may even divide your supporters passionately from your opponents.

In many cases it can even work to your advantage to make an election, a vote that you may be lobbying, or even a PR campaign, into a “referendum” on a specific issue or group of issues. In other words, you can piggy-back on public support for an issue that people care about by equating support for your cause or campaign with support for that issue.

Take a look at the issue environment and determine which issues will have the greatest impact on your campaign, (or could if they caught fire).

You can check any recent polls that have been done that mention specific issues, make note of those that get a lot of play in “letters-to-the-editor”, consider doing a “focus group” of campaign supporters and reviewing major issues with them, or even send a web-based “issues survey” or poll to everyone on your email lists.

• List the “hottest” issues?
• List issues that have the potential to be “hot”?
• List those that are relevant to the supporters that you need

Remember that in order for an issue to have an impact, people must be aware of it – AND the differences between you and the opposition. They have to be highlighted aggressively and repeatedly.

Know the Media:

Communications are a critical part of any type of political campaign and, like it or not, that usually means dealing with the media, (both the “old” and “new” varieties). In order to do that effectively you need to gather some basic information about who you will be dealing with.

List all media outlets that would conceivably cover your campaign or issue: ex. radio, TV, newspapers, blogs and other notable outlets. List key contact information, political ad rates, deadlines and endorsement policies
Determine which outlets will be most relevant to the campaign and how to use them. (Ex., blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Supporter social media accounts, etc.)
ID and create a list of key social media contacts (ex., media, bloggers, key “influentials”). Communicate and share campaign updates with them on a regular basis


Follow these steps and make sure you have a realistic view of the environment the campaign will take place in – and be prepared to deal with it (or even leverage it)!

Ten Trump Election Lessons

Donald TrumpThere are always lessons that we can learn from the results any election, but when one is the most stunning upset in US political history we really need to pay attention. Here are the first lessons that come to mind:

1) Money isn’t what it used to be. Trump won spending about five dollars per vote…half of what Hillary spent. That’s not to say that money doesn’t matter. It helps you communicate and organize. But this totally upends what the “smart people” who try to get big donors to waste millions of dollars constantly tell us.

2) Free media matters! And being able to go above the media with your own outlets matters too. (See #1)

3) Being politically incorrect won’t kill you. Hopefully other candidates will learn to take off the political correctness filter. Don’t be so buttoned down and afraid of the media. Channel what your target voters are thinking. And doing so can get you free media. (See #2)

4) Staying on message matters…a lot. Because the “message” matters. This one speaks for itself.

5) Republicans don’t have to pander to win (repeat…Republicans don’t have to pander to win). Note that Trump got a higher percentage of the black, Hispanic and Asian vote than Romney did…using a message that the “smart people” (who showed us how to lose) said would kill us with minorities. A blue-collar, middle-America message appeals across racial lines.

6) Evangelicals are a growth market. Trump got a higher share of evangelicals (81%) than Romney, McCain or Bush…and there are tens of millions more that still don’t vote. It’s the second most loyal demographic – and the largest pool of untapped votes – in American politics. Keep in mind that any real growth that we will ever see among minority groups will come from those sitting in church somewhere on Sunday mornings. That means that religious liberty issues matter.

7) The Rust Belt is the GOP’s presidential future. I’ve been saying this for years. The future of our winning/keeping the presidency lies in combining most of the South with the Rust Belt; meaning blue-collar voters and Catholics (of which Trump won 52% nationally). And they don’t like globalism and open borders.

8) Yes, nationalism can win – and that’s a good thing. And yes, it can “co-exist” with conservatism – especially given the fact that a large percentage of self-identified real world conservatives (not ivory tower egg-heads) also subscribe to an America First (i.e. “nationalist”) message. The pharisaical, legalistic “conservatives” who claim that true conservatism = globalism will lead us to nothing but a further divided, less successful conservative movement and party. (See #7)

9) We can see shadows of realignment. While not a technical electoral realignment by political science standards, this was the leading edge of one, seeing us win states that we haven’t carried since Reagan was on the ballot. This “message” (and even better messengers) can expand that market and bring about a real political realignment for the Republican Party. Not to try would be political malpractice. (See #8)

10) Successful politics is about addition and multiplication. And that starts with unity. Now is our opportunity to bring new people in and build something bigger than what we had.

I’m sure other lessons will become self-evident (or may be right now), but these are some that Republicans should take to heart.  Pass it on!