Campaign Management

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    • 00:10

      BEN HEAD: Hey.So my name's Ben.I'm here gathering some signatures todayfor Will Guzzardi.I think he's your state representative--

    • 00:15

      SPEAKER 1: Oh yeah.Mm-hmm.

    • 00:16

      BEN HEAD: Perfect.So are you familiar with the petition process?

    • 00:19

      SPEAKER 1: Can you just let me know--

    • 00:21

      BEN HEAD: Sure.So here-- let me show you.My name is Ben Head, and I serve as political directorfor Congresswoman Jane Schakowsky's political arm,Schakowsky for Congress.As political director, I serve all the rolesthat a campaign manager does, in additionto a few extra political responsibilities.

    • 00:35

      SPEAKER 1: I'm doing my part.

    • 00:36

      BEN HEAD: Absolutely.I wish more people thought like that-- I really do.Listen, it was real good to see you,and I'll look forward to seeing you in November.

    • 00:42

      SPEAKER 1: All right.Thank you.

    • 00:43

      BEN HEAD: See you, man.The traditional route to becoming a campaign managertypically involves involving yourselfwith one or more political organizations.I'm familiar with the Democratic side,but there are Republican counterparts to each oneof these organizations.Within Illinois, the Democratic Partyof Illinois, the Illinois Senate Democrat VictoryFund, and nationally, either the DCCC or the DSCC

    • 01:08

      BEN HEAD [continued]: are typically the organizations that you find yourself in.These organizations provide training as well asorganizational and advancement opportunitiesthat are tougher to find on your own.The independent route as a campaign manageris significantly different.It's a lot more entrepreneurial, and you'reforced to use your own relationships to determine

    • 01:30

      BEN HEAD [continued]: your path to victory.It takes a lot more work in some ways,but it could happen a lot more quickly if you do it right.There are several steps that go into choosing a candidateas a campaign manager, and different campaign managersin different situations will make different decisions.Like any job, sometimes you're taking the jobbecause you have bills to pay that month

    • 01:52

      BEN HEAD [continued]: and your options are limited.The more successful you are as a campaign professional--the more wins you have and the more highly regardedyou are amongst people who make these decisions-- willdetermine what your options are.The more options you have, obviously, the more you'reable to choose in terms of salary, ideology,or personal advancement.

    • 02:14

      BEN HEAD [continued]: Campaign work is a very cyclical enterprise.Most elections are held every two years,although some offices are held every four to six.All primaries tend to happen in the spring, at leastin Illinois, and all general elections are in November.So you can count on working during general election seasonpretty consistently from June until November.And then during the primary, they'll

    • 02:35

      BEN HEAD [continued]: usually start hiring around December.So if you jump on with a primary candidate that makes itto the general, you could potentiallybe employed for about 11 months.But that's, keep in mind, only every other year.So what a lot of people do to fill that gap-- sometimesthey'll work non-political jobs.Sometimes they'll work what are known as "issue campaigns."So different organizations, organized labor,

    • 02:58

      BEN HEAD [continued]: issue-based organizations such as AARP or Planned Parenthood,for example, will often have organizing projectsthat they will hire campaign staff to performon sort of a gig basis.Another route that can be taken, as with my current position,and they're fairly rare.There are some political positionsthat do last year-round without any delays.

    • 03:21

      BEN HEAD [continued]: The decision whether to stay in a specific regionor to travel nationally as a political professionaloftentimes boils down to what your options are.Those folks that choose to work with larger organizationstypically have more opportunitiesto move from place to place, and it's more of a necessitythan it is an opportunity sometimes.Those organizations are either state or nationwide,and their needs are where their needs are.

    • 03:42

      BEN HEAD [continued]: So if you want to advance in those organizations,you have to be willing to move where they tell you to move.As more of an independent political professional,I tend to be much more rooted regionally.My reputation and my relationshipsare what enable me to get my next jobas well as to be successful in my current job,so I would be at a significant disadvantageif I were to move to another region.

    • 04:03

      BEN HEAD [continued]: Most campaign managers and political professionalsare very closely tied to one party or another.Because it's such a relationship-and reputation-based industry, it'sdifficult to build a reputation with two opposing sides.And so more often than not, a campaign managerwill be tied to one party.There are some exceptions to that.For example, in the Chicago municipal races,

    • 04:26

      BEN HEAD [continued]: which involve more money and organizationthan a lot of state races in other parts of the countrydo-- those are technically nonpartisan races.And so there are opportunities to workin a race that isn't explicitly partisan, especially if you'redoing an issue campaign.But for solely electoral campaign managers--they almost always pick one party or another.

    • 04:47

      BEN HEAD [continued]: So one of the primary differencesbetween working for Democratic campaignsversus Republican campaigns has to do with the internal focuswithin a campaign.Now my experience is somewhat limited in termsof the Republican side, but the biggest differencein terms of the way campaigns are runhas to do with what we call "field.""Grassroots" or "volunteer activity"

    • 05:07

      BEN HEAD [continued]: would be another way to describe it.We have a much bigger focus on direct person-to-personcontact, from knocking on people's doors and phone callsand approaching strangers at train stations and events.Republicans tend to move more through social networks.So they focus less on, sort of cold-calling, if you will,and a lot more work trying to move

    • 05:28

      BEN HEAD [continued]: their existing relationships and organizations.So that manifests itself, in termsof the day to day on the campaign, very differently.We spend a lot more time trying to recruit volunteersand tracking individual pieces of datathat those volunteers bring back from their conversationswith voters.The reason that there tends to be a difference in the waythat we approach our field has to do, one,with different structural advantages, and another,

    • 05:51

      BEN HEAD [continued]: with different demographics.So Republican voters, by and large,don't need as much encouragement to actually come out and vote.Republicans spend more time persuading their votersto be Republican with the understandingthat they don't need as much urging to vote.On the Democratic side, we have a much bigger issuewith turnout.

    • 06:12

      BEN HEAD [continued]: And so we spend more time talkingto people that already agree with usand convincing them that it's important to actually casta vote to support those opinions.Whereas Republicans are more confident that their voters aregoing to make that decision to vote,and so their goal is more building their organizationrather than pushing it forward.A lot of that has to do with demographics.

    • 06:32

      BEN HEAD [continued]: Republican voters tend to be older,and they tend to be more homogeneous.And so, in some ways, it's easierto reach out to them in a group basis.Democrats, on the other hand, tend to be more diffuse.They tend to be more diverse.And so it's oftentimes more important to haveface-to-face contact.In particular, they say that face-to-face contact,

    • 06:53

      BEN HEAD [continued]: whether that's at someone's front door, at an event,out in public, is actually the primary or the strongest waythat you can get somebody to come out to vote.We call that process GOTV, or Getting Out The Vote.Republicans, again, spend more time on persuasion than GOTV.We spend more time on GOTV rather than persuasion.And so that affects some of the strategies and tactics

    • 07:14

      BEN HEAD [continued]: that we use to make that happen.So what you want to do is, yeah, print and then sign there.When one is developing a strategyfor an effective campaign for a particular candidate,there's a few steps that go into that.So typically the first step is assembling a staff.Assembling staff for a political campaign can be very tricky.Politics, as I've said, is a very relationship-

    • 07:36

      BEN HEAD [continued]: and reputation-based game.And so when I go to hire staff, the first place I lookis-- I look to see folks that I've alreadyworked with in the past.And barring that, people that have worked with peoplethat I've worked with.A good reference means more than justabout anything else in this business.So as someone who might be lookingto get into the business, building reputations

    • 07:56

      BEN HEAD [continued]: with people, not only that will be hiring,but whose opinions matter to peoplethat are going to be hiring, is extremely important.So for people that are looking to get into working in politicsat the entry level, there are a few optionsto be able to find these positions before you'reable to make some of the relationshipsand build the reputation that you need.Talking to one of the organizations--

    • 08:17

      BEN HEAD [continued]: the D-trip, the DSCC, your local state party, your county party,potentially.These are all great ways to look into see where there's entry-level positions.There's also a wealth of online resources,from email LISTSERVs to websites,that anybody can access where entry-level positions areadvertised.The second step is where you look into your opponent's

    • 08:39

      BEN HEAD [continued]: background-- if they're an incumbent, whatvotes they've taken, what groups give their campaigns money,statements they've made to the media,et cetera-- you also typically dothat with your own candidate-- so that you'llhave an idea of what your opponents will be sayingabout you.Once you have a good understandingof who your candidate is and who your opponent is,you move into the polling phase.The polling involves talking to voters and figuring out,

    • 09:02

      BEN HEAD [continued]: are they familiar with your candidate?Do they like your candidate?What issues are important to them?And even more specifically than that,how do you phrase a certain issueto make it more or less popular?Once the polling phase has been completed,you then move into looking at who is your candidate.What sort of groups are likely to be in favor?

    • 09:23

      BEN HEAD [continued]: So let's say your candidate is a 40-year-old female firefighterwith two kids.So first thing you would look at is,well, they're a firefighter, so other firefightersmay be interested.Firefighters are typically, at least in Illinois,part of a union, so organized labormay be interested in being involved.She has children, so one could assume that there'san interest in education.

    • 09:43

      BEN HEAD [continued]: So these are things that you start to look at,and you think, what groups have similar interestsor similar values to your candidate?And that gives you an idea of whoyou can start reaching out to for money, volunteers,and other kinds of support.On a more technical level, when you start to look at strategy.We spend a lot of time in what's called "voter targeting"and "field analysis."

    • 10:05

      BEN HEAD [continued]: So it's very important to us to understandwhen we go to do some of the field I describedearlier-- knocking on doors, making phonecalls-- we need to know who we're talking to,and we have to know what message we needto bring to the right person.So a lot of the work that we do in termsof determining strategy has to do with figuring outwhat a candidate's win number is,what has historically happened in that district

    • 10:26

      BEN HEAD [continued]: with similar elections, what's happening elsewhere-- stateor nationwide-- that would impact those results.So there's a lot of math that goes into it.Very little of it is complicated math--we're not doing calculus.But it can get pretty detailed.A lot of what I do is trying to strikea balance between strategic planningand on-the-spot improvisation.

    • 10:46

      BEN HEAD [continued]: So this piece looks good.I don't think it needs a lot of revisions,but there's a few tweaks we're going to need to make.One, the disclaimer box is not large enough.

    • 10:54

      SPEAKER 2: OK.

    • 10:55

      BEN HEAD: Two, and I think this is a larger issue-- the logo isnot popping on this background.In an ideal world, 100% of what a campaign manager doesis preplanned.Unfortunately, flexibility is one of the biggest qualitiesa campaign manager can have.Situations change very quickly, goals change very quickly,and, in particular, politics can be a little capricious.

    • 11:18

      BEN HEAD [continued]: And so you may be at an event and find outthat your main speaker is no longer able to make it10 minutes before they're able to speak.So in that situation, you have a good plan--you've put those things into place--but you do need to improvise.One of the things I was taught when I first startedwas a good organizer sets about doing anythingby figuring out anything that could possibly go wrong

    • 11:39

      BEN HEAD [continued]: and having an answer for it.And once you've exhausted your list of what could go wrongand what your plan B is, then you know that your plan is set.So I think there's a little bit of both involved, but I think,I guess, planning to improvise is certainly a part of it.There's two primary sorts of candidates.You have an incumbent versus a challenger.An incumbent is somebody who is already in office.

    • 11:60

      BEN HEAD [continued]: A challenger's somebody who is seeking officebut isn't currently elected to that particular seat.As a campaign manager, they provide different benefits.Working for a challenger often has a higher ceilingbecause they don't have any staff existing.Working for an incumbent-- they have governmental staff.They have other consultants that are already on the payroll,and so sometimes there's less chance for a permanent position

    • 12:22

      BEN HEAD [continued]: or for an advancement.Whereas an incumbent is far more likely to be elected.Numbers differ, but somewhere between 90% and 95%of incumbents are reelected, and soit tends to be a much safer bet.And because reputation and one's win/loss ratiois so important in this business,incumbents are often seen as a safer bet.

    • 12:42

      BEN HEAD [continued]: We're going to be making some phone calls to our volunteerstonight to try to promote our town hall next week.So as you can see here, we've got a list of names and phonenumbers, and we've already talked about the script.So what I want you to do is go aheadand dial that first number.There's a lot of mistakes that a campaign managercan make, especially when one is starting out.I think the biggest mistake that can be made is ego.

    • 13:05

      BEN HEAD [continued]: A lot of times, campaign managersare successful because they're very confident,they're very outgoing, and they'revery willing to doggedly pursue a task until it's completed.However, because the campaign manageris in a position of leadership and authority,oftentimes with people that're older and more experiencedthan they are, sometimes there's a tendency

    • 13:26

      BEN HEAD [continued]: to overstate one's abilities, to neglectto ask for help or advice, or to portrayoneself as more confident or more effectivethan they really are.Now that can be an effective strategywhen dealing with maybe some other staffers thatare a little bit naive or early, but whenyou start to deal with somebody who really has experience, that

    • 13:47

      BEN HEAD [continued]: isn't something that's going to help your reputationin those relationships.One important thing for someone that's getting into politicsis to manage expectations about what it looks like.Politics can appear to be a very glamorous thing whenit's in movies or on television-- the same waya lot of professions are.It's not that glamorous.Starting out, it's not that high paying.

    • 14:08

      BEN HEAD [continued]: You will be working 80-90 hours a week.You'll be working under some pretty stressful conditions.For those of us that are fans of the West Wing,a lot of us grew with the understanding that that's whatpolitics really looks like on a nitty-gritty level--and frankly, it isn't.Another piece of advice that I'd liketo give to people entering the political professionis the understanding that there'salmost no paid on-the-job training

    • 14:30

      BEN HEAD [continued]: when it comes to politics.Any job that you will be selected for,it'll be understood that you are alreadyproficient in that position.And the way you gain that proficiencyis almost always through internships and fellowshipsto start."Earning one's bones" is a phrasethat comes up in politics a lot, and that

    • 14:50

      BEN HEAD [continued]: applies to someone who started as a volunteer or an intern,moved into an entry-level positionas a field organizer, a finance assistant, a communicationsassistant, and was able to successfully move step by stepup through the ranks in order to become campaign manager.That's always the best way to do it,but it requires a great investment of free labor

    • 15:11

      BEN HEAD [continued]: at the beginning of career that not everybody's able to do.So what I would recommend for peoplethat are really interested in getting involvedbut can't dedicate maybe 40 hours a week for a monthor two of free labor-- to get involved on a volunteer basisand to start building those relationships and those skillsets where you can, so that when you are ready to take that step

    • 15:32

      BEN HEAD [continued]: to become a campaign professional,if you have two or three cycles of internships under your beltand those relationships that go along with it,you'll be in such a stronger position than 90% of the peoplecoming in.One thing that a lot of people are concerned aboutis how ideology impacts with campaigns.I think one of the tropes that you

    • 15:52

      BEN HEAD [continued]: hear is you got to play dirty to winor there's the sense of cloak-and-dagger stuffthat goes on.And I think that that's more of a Hollywood inventionthan it is something that happens on a day-to-day basis.It's not to say that there isn't a certain amount of diplomacythat goes on or a certain amount of back-and-forth.

    • 16:12

      BEN HEAD [continued]: The idea, I think, that the campaign managersthat break the rules or act unethicallyare somehow more effective-- I don'tthink results bear that out.Ideology, in terms of one's political affiliation,is usually taken care of by which party you're with.But there certainly have-- and I can certainlyspeak to my own history-- there aretimes when you're working for a candidate

    • 16:33

      BEN HEAD [continued]: that you don't 100% agree with.You might be with them on some issues-- most issues--but there's one or two that there'sa strong bit of disagreement there.And that's something that I think each individual campaignmanager needs to sort out sort of morally and ethically.The way most campaign managers I know make those decisions--there's a certain set of questionsthey'll ask a candidate when they first come onto a race--

    • 16:54

      BEN HEAD [continued]: you know, where are you at on these particular issues.And if there is something there that they justdon't feel right about, that they can't morallyhandle-- that's really the appropriate time to step away.Other campaign managers, I think,are probably less concerned about that.Some, I think, operate with the understandingthat they're sort of like a defense attorney.

    • 17:15

      BEN HEAD [continued]: Whether or not their candidate is the best personfor elected office is not their decision--that's up to the voters.Their job is to present or promote that candidateto the best of their ability and then leave that decisionto the voters.Political campaigns exist from president down to dogcatcher,and so there are definitely differences in the waythat those campaigns are run on the state, local,

    • 17:36

      BEN HEAD [continued]: and federal levels.Obviously, the federal races tend to be the largest.They involve the most money and the largest staffs, the mostmedia attention.State races, though, can garner a lot of attentionif you're talking about governor or mayor of a major city, whichwould be a local race.In terms of a campaign manager, the way that you approach thatis actually fairly similar.

    • 17:58

      BEN HEAD [continued]: The biggest difference is in the division of laborwithin a campaign.So a well-run congressional campaignwill have anywhere from 4-10 full-time staffers--one person to handle communications and media,one person to handle field, one personto handle fundraising and finance,one person to deal with compliance and administration,and then your campaign manager.

    • 18:19

      BEN HEAD [continued]: And now there's additional support staff--you may have a deputy campaign manager,a deputy comms director-- to assist with those things,but those are sort of the major divisions of labor.With smaller campaigns-- for example, a state representativecampaign I worked for, there were only two of us on staff--it was myself and my deputy.And so in those situations, you have to be far more

    • 18:40

      BEN HEAD [continued]: of a jack-of-all-trades.Specialization for a campaign manager is not always helpful.It's very good to have specific skills, but as someone who'sresponsible holistically for the campaign,it's important that if even if you're notproficient at each one of these aspects,you're at least able to understand them and beable to evaluate somebody else's performance.When it comes to reaching out directly to voters,

    • 19:02

      BEN HEAD [continued]: whether it be via phone or via the door, how much activitythere is there, how many people are contacted,really depends on the campaign itself--the size and scope of the campaign,as well as what its priorities are.Some small campaigns may do very little fieldat all, which is a mistake, certainly,because it's the most cost-effective thingyou can do.But it also involves the most work and the most effort,

    • 19:24

      BEN HEAD [continued]: so it's the easiest thing for people to shirk.So to give one example of how volunteer outreach works,we recently did a large rally for a presidential candidate.As a rule of thumb, between 35% and 50% of the peoplewho say, yes, I will come to something,will actually follow through.Our goal was to get 300 people to walk in the door.In order to get 300 people to walk in the door,

    • 19:44

      BEN HEAD [continued]: we had to get about 600 people to agree to come.In order to get 600 people to agree to come,you typically have to talk to about 1,800 people, 2,000people.In order to actually talk to 2,000 people on the phone,you typically have to make about 8,000 phone calls.These are sort of rough numbers, but it gives you an ideathat for one 300-person event, in addition to the mailings

    • 20:05

      BEN HEAD [continued]: and the email and the earned media outreach,about 8,000 phone calls were made.And for us, all of those were made by volunteers and interns.So a huge part of what a campaign doesis trying to build a volunteer army, a group of peoplewho are willing to contribute with their sweatrather than with a check, that really makea lot of these things happen.

    • 20:26

      BEN HEAD [continued]: And just to give you some scope, wedo an event like that about once a month, along with probablya half-dozen smaller ones.So on any given month, we're probably attempting 20,000or 30,000 phone calls and knocking on probably 5,000doors-8,000 doors.Campaigning, at its heart, really revolves

    • 20:46

      BEN HEAD [continued]: around two activities and then the support workrequired for those two activities.And those two activities are making lists and making asks.So on its fundamental level, we makea list of voters-- people that are registered to vote--and sometimes we get more specific than that-- age,gender, party affiliation.But we'd make a list of voters, and then we

    • 21:06

      BEN HEAD [continued]: ask them for their vote, whether that's via direct mail,over the phone, knocking on a door.There's a lot of different ways to make that ask.But that's fundamentally what a campaign does.And so when we go to raise money,we make a list of potential funders,and then we ask those people for money.When we go to try to assemble a volunteer corps,we build a list of volunteers, and then we

    • 21:27

      BEN HEAD [continued]: ask people to come volunteer.And so a lot of the complexities of a campaign involvewhat's the best way to make those asks,what people need to be on this list and what people don't.And that really is sort of the fundamental cruxof a campaign-- is our lists and asks.If somebody were to ask me what the single most important thing

    • 21:48

      BEN HEAD [continued]: to keep in mind when running a campaign is,it's the understanding that a successful campaigndoes a series of very, very small, fairly easy activities.But it does them at a much greater scalethan the opponent, and it does them more effectivelyday in, day out.It's far more of a marathon than a sprint.It's a lot of phone calls, it's a lot of emails,

    • 22:09

      BEN HEAD [continued]: it's a lot of conversations-- that each one may notseem incredibly significant, but the sum of those partsis what makes the difference between victory and defeat.[MUSIC PLAYING]

Campaign Management

View Segments Segment :


Ben Head discusses his career as a political campaign manager and what the job entails. Campaign work is a cyclical enterprise, and most people who work on campaigns must work other jobs when it is not election season. Head discusses how to get into the career, important job skills for a campaign manager to have, and the most effective campaign strategies.

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Campaign Management

Ben Head discusses his career as a political campaign manager and what the job entails. Campaign work is a cyclical enterprise, and most people who work on campaigns must work other jobs when it is not election season. Head discusses how to get into the career, important job skills for a campaign manager to have, and the most effective campaign strategies.

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