Not much you can do – almost the entire eastern part of the country is being inundated today with snow, wind and cold. Cancellations everywhere, and the ability to actually get stuff done is pretty diminished. That being said, there’s a benefit to having some time to yourself without interruptions, in that you can wrap your head around some things that daily life won’t usually let you. If you’re running for local office this year, here are some ideas for you to wile away the snowy hours:

 

Organize Your Fundraising List – Should you actually make calls? No. While it might seem as though you have a captive audience because people’s daily business is interrupted, think about what you’re dealing with today – getting the kids settled, snowblowing the driveway, cancelling meetings. Today’s not the day. But you can get ready for tomorrow!

 

Lay Out Your Door-to-Door Calendar – If you’re running in November, it’s still early, and you may not have started your door-to-door yet (if you’re running in May, you should have!). But door-to-door canvassing is infinitely more valuable with a strategy. What neighborhoods and/or streets have higher percentages of your base voters’ homes? A simple analysis of voter records from previous elections can tell you where are the best places to spend your time once the sidewalk reappears.

 

Find Events! – Depending on the size of your community, it’s a challenge to know all of the events taking place – hopefully, you’ve got someone looking for them on your behalf. But a day like today might be a good one for you to peruse some community web sites and find some less-than-obvious ones that you might be able to throw on your calendar. Think churches, fire halls, libraries… Don’t worry – despite the Doomsday outside right now, spring is coming, and the events will begin.

 

Practice Public Speaking – As a candidate, and especially as an elected representative, you’ll be needing some public speaking skills. Not your bag? Make it your bag. If you have the house or your office to yourself, get in front of a mirror and hone your skills. We like the “Infomercial” game – take some random products from around your house and “sell” them to your audience as though you’re creating one of those late-night infomercials. You’ll be surprised at how you can present when you’re speaking and thinking creatively at the same time!

 

Go on Social Media and Emote about Current Events – No!!! That was a test. Don’t do that. In fact, if you haven’t put someone else in charge of your social media accounts yet, use this snowy day to figure out who the right person is. Then give them the credentials. Then forget you even know what a hashtag is.

 

Enjoy the snow day!

A few days ago, I recorded the next interview for The Campaign Coach podcast – a fantastic conversation with New York State Senator Tim Kennedy, who I actually saw take his first oath of office as an Erie County Legislator back in 2004, when I was a member of the Legislature staff. As legislator, and now as state senator, Tim has been an effective representative for Western New York, and has become a good friend. It was a pleasure talking with him (as it always is).

One of the key points that Senator Kennedy brought up in the interview, which will go live next week, was how he got himself involved in the political process long before he was thinking about running for office himself. At The Campaign Coach, we spend a lot of time talking to people who are getting ready to run or have just kicked off their campaigns. While our tools are appropriate for someone who wants to run sometime in the future, as well, we don’t dig too far into what people can be doing when their run for office may be some years away. I appreciated Tim emphasizing the issue.

One of our free resources for potential candidates is our Pros & Cons Questionnaire, which asks a number of potentially uncomfortable questions to help you determine if you’re ready to run for office. We know that some people read our questionnaire, and it only confirms for them that their head is in the right place. We know that some go through the questions, and decide it’s not for them. And we also know, because of the way we’ve written the questions, that for some, the response is, “Not now.”

So, what can you be doing if you are intent upon running for local office at some point, but it just isn’t the right time yet? Turns out there’s quite a bit:

Volunteering

The best way to learn about the political process is to hurl yourself into it. Spending time working on a campaign will give you insights you couldn’t get otherwise – gaining knowledge of your community and what makes voters tick, understanding tactics needed to win and building relationships that will be there for you when you’re ready. Nothing beats time in the trenches. Find your local party HQ, and ask where you can fit in.

Learn What Local Government Does

This may seem like an obvious one, but it’s often overlooked. Guest after guest on The Campaign Coach podcast tell us that one of the things that surprised them most while campaigning is how little voters understand about their government. If running for local office is in the future for you, learn how your local government works, so when the time comes you’re ready to answer all of the questions that come your way.

Get Involved in the Community

At the local level in politics, name-recognition is an enormous asset. Who do you know that will help your campaign? Who do you know that will send friends and family get-out-the-vote cards? Who do you know that will invite you into their living room with ten of their friends for a coffee chat? Make yourself known to your community, and show through volunteerism that you’re a person who provides value.

If 2017 isn’t your year, but you know at some point in the future you’re going to be filing that paperwork to kick off your campaign, start laying the foundation for your run now.

It’s February, so when you’re looking at a November election, it’s still pretty early. Have you made the decision to run yet? Are you still thinking about it?

Now’s the time when you should be having conversations about your candidacy and doing your analysis as to whether 2017 is your year. Either way, even if you’re having quiet conversations about possibly running, you’re probably finding out that you’re not the only one interested in the race. Which means that if you do plan on moving forward, your campaign starts now.

The good thing for you is that others interested in running, particularly in your own party if your community has partisan elections, are going through the same thought process as you are. You’re at an advantage if you’re ready to go. Once you announce your intent, everything you do from that point forward changes the political landscape – your name recognition, your contact list, your ability to fundraise… At this early stage, all of those things can factor into someone else’s decision as to whether or not they’re going to run against you.

Some steps you can take now to get the ball (and your campaign) rolling:

• At this early stage of your candidacy, if you can get some money in the bank, that’s a big plus. An early fundraiser is a good way to deter opponents. Fill the room with family, friends, business contacts, neighbors, etc.

• Depending on what part of the country you live in, you can actually start walking door-to-door. Seeing someone out working already this early can be intimidating, especially if you’re building on existing name recognition.

• Running a press release or interview in your local newspapers announcing your intention to run also provides you momentum.

These are some easy things you can do early on in the process that will not only help the rest of your campaign, but will also send a message to potential opponents that you and your campaign are for real.

It’s a long road ahead, but you can make it that much easier by building a firm foundation now!

That’s how it starts, isn’t it? At some point in your life, you’re in a family discussion at some holiday party and everyone’s emotionally spouting off on a random political topic, when suddenly you find yourself as the voice of reason. “Here’s what needs to happen…” you might say, and suddenly you have everyone’s attention. Then you eloquently display your understanding of public policy in a logical manner, and everyone present deems that you should run for office.

The seed is planted.

You think I’m being cliché, but I’m not. It’s real. How many people do you know as teenagers wanted to grow up to be a town councilman? I don’t know any. But somewhere along the way, you were encouraged that your persona, your articulation and your wisdom made you a viable candidate. And here you are, on The Campaign Coach’s page, to get information on how to run for local office.

We’re not here to disagree with your friends and family, only validate them. The holidays are over, and you’re thinking about 2017. Maybe it’s the year that you want to take on this challenge, this life experience. Are you ready? Do you know what you need to do? Do you know what it takes to run? To win? To serve?

The Campaign Coach is here to take some of the guesswork out for you. To the right is a link to my Pros & Cons Questionnaire – a handful of questions you should be asking yourself if you’re thinking about running this year (or ever). It’s our intent that you have a firm grasp on what you’re getting yourself into first, and if you do decide to take the leap, then we have lots of resources to help you along the way.

Download the questionnaire – it’s free – and take a reality check before you make your decision. We’ve put 20 years of working with local candidates into the questions, so trust us. It’ll help.

It’s a bit of irony that, while at The Campaign Coach we spend the majority of our time counseling local candidates operating on a shoestring budget, the most recent race we worked on was a behemoth New York State Senate race where the campaigns and third parties spent a whopping $2.8 million on a seat that is integral to the balance of New York’s upper house.

Now, while a race of that magnitude is a completely different animal than the campaigns we normally deal with, there is plenty to learn from playing in the big kids’ sandbox. Your strategy meetings will be less about TV ad buys than door-to-door lists, and your extended family may be up at midnight sending out invites to your next fundraiser rather than a team of professionals, but I’ve compiled five key takeaways below, to demonstrate that winning a bigger race is not altogether different from winning a local one…

(1) “Face time” is the most critical component of a campaign – While in a district with 100,000+ people, it’s much more of a challenge to meet with people face-to-face, a congressional or state candidate needs to be as aggressive as possible, and optimize her time by spending it in the areas where her voters are. For local candidates, it’s even more important because you’re not able to afford incessantly being in mailboxes and on the airwaves. But from Town Coroner to President of the United States, the importance of meeting with the electorate never changes.

(2) Focus on getting your base out to vote – The wording here is key… It’s not “Focus on your base,” but focus on actually getting them out to vote. No matter the size of your jurisdiction, there are people who will vote for you because of their party affiliation, your stance on a specific issue, or because you go to the same church. You need to make a concerted effort to engage them from Day One through Poll Closing Time on Election Day.

(3) Picking up the phone and asking for money is still a pain in the butt, and it’s still important – Yes, in a larger campaign there is definitely a bigger pool of resources to tap into, and more people’s lives to influence. Which is why it takes so much fundraising to win at that level. But scale to the size of your community, and the necessary tactics are the same. In fact, if you have aspirations for office higher than local government, asking people for $500 a pop is good practice for eventually asking them for $5,000.

(4) Your message must be broad and inclusive – With the exception of the major metro areas, large districts generally include many different communities with many different interests – often with urban, suburban and rural constituents. While special interest issues among those constituents can help build your base, your overarching message must be broad enough to engage all voters. Just the same, at the local level, while you may be able to segment voters into neighborhoods or by issue, it’s rare that one segment can, by itself, carry the day. Give people issues they care about, and demonstrate your value as a representative in relation to those issues.

(5) The negative campaigning isn’t any less personal – At the local level, where everyone in your community seems to know each other, negative campaigning can be particularly personal. Don’t think that in a $3 Million race, it’s any different. In this particular race, our candidate’s girlfriend held a key role in the campaign, in a role where she had experience (and did a fantastic job). Obviously, knowing she could be a target simply for the relationship, she stayed behind the scenes, but of course she came up in the opposition’s messaging. Well, actually – a “random tip” to the media from someone “outside the campaign” (wink, wink). So, it happens, and it’s important that you and those close to you are ready for it, and don’t get distracted from your own message.

Are you thinking about running for local office in 2017 but haven’t decided yet if it’s the right thing to do? Download our free “Pros & Cons” Questionnaire to help walk you through the decision-making process.

When President-elect Donald Trump took the stage at nearly 3 a.m. today to claim victory in the race for President of the United States, he began his remarks by mentioning that Secretary Clinton had called him, saying:

“She congratulated us… It’s about us… On our victory.”

It was a short phrase, lost perhaps in the early morning sleepiness of people having waited two years plus another six hours to find out the results of the election. But from a campaign perspective, it was significant. The results of yesterday’s presidential election demonstrated the power of “us,” as the Trump campaign, which spoke to many different sectors of the American voting public even as it was often denounced by his own party, was always seen as a group of people with a cause, and a leader. Throughout the campaign, Trump talked about “us” and “we” as he described what he often referred to as a “movement.”

Consequently, I believe that Hillary’s campaign made a grave mistake with the slogan “I’m With Her,” because it was the antithesis of what Trump was trying to accomplish. Yes, it was clear from the outset that the slogan and logo were intended to direct people (via the arrow) to the first woman president in U.S. history, which may have made sense at the time, but it left the door wide open to paint Clinton’s campaign as being about her, and her alone.

Whether it indeed was about her own ascendency, or if her own “movement” was just not branded as well, once Trump started saying “I’m With You” every time someone said “I’m With Her,” it was a stark contrast. The Clinton campaign picked up on that partway through, changing the logo and slogan to “Stronger Together.” But “I’m With Her” never lost its prominence in the campaign, and even on Election Day the hashtag #ImWithHer was prevalent on social media.

Policy, mudslinging and wrongdoings from each candidate aside, from The Campaign Coach’s perspective this was the difference in the election. Now, the final count may have Clinton winning the popular vote, so clearly it wasn’t the be-all, end-all with voters, but take away the hardline Democrats and Republicans and there is a percentage of voters who need something to believe in to lean the election to either side. They believed in Trump’s message because they felt as though they were a part of it – “Make America Great Again.” It’s not much different a scenario than how the very inclusive “Hope and Change” engaged people eight years ago.

Clinton made two key mistakes directly related to this topic. First, her comment about Trump’s “basket of deplorables.” Nothing unifies people more than being grouped together in an insulting way, and this labeling solidified exactly the inclusive environment that the Trump campaign was building. Second was Clinton’s YouTube video where she, in a fit of exasperation, said, “I don’t know how I’m not up by 50 points.” Not inspiring, because it was not about the people of America and their needs, but came across very much as about her alone. Understandably, there are frustrating moments throughout a long (very long) campaign that make you want to do something like that, but it was ill-advised, and played into Trump’s message.

None of this is to suggest that everyone’s motives in the presidential race were pristine for the entire length of the campaign, nor am I asserting that anyone’s motives were in the wrong place at any point during the campaign. I’m talking about the story that was told to the American people, and ultimately, Trump’s story was better told.

The lesson for local candidates in this is to always remember that you’re running for office to be a representative of the people, and that should reflect unwaveringly in your public message. From your logo to your slogan to your stump speeches to your volunteer force, everything you do should be about how you’re going to best represent your constituents. While elections are “won,” public service is not a prize, even though coverage of races makes it seem that way. It’s a responsibility. And candidates who demonstrate that their allegiance is to the voters who they’re asking to put them in office are the ones whose message will be the most inspiring. When you’re talking to your community, using whatever forum that is, use “us” and “we” more than you point to yourself. Encourage people to be a part of your movement.

So… Ready for next year’s local elections? I’ll give you a couple days off before we start revving you up for that!!!

It’s less than one week to Election Day, and for many voters, it can’t come soon enough. The presidential election this year has been about as divisive as you can imagine, and nothing is letting up here at the end. The latest “October Surprise” seems to have changed the face of the election once again, and who knows what’s going to happen in the next few days?

This is a presidential election year, so if you’re running for office next Tuesday, getting out the vote is not your issue. Getting out your vote is your concern, and reminding people that there is more on the ballot than simply the presidential election. You’ve probably identified your prime and non-prime voters by this point, but your lists don’t account for people who not only vote in presidential election years, but only vote in the presidential race. Hopefully, over the past several months, you’ve built up your name recognition so your race isn’t a mystery to voters that they’ll choose to shy away from, but reminders on the phone and at the polls can be important when people are focused mainly on the big showdown.

If you’re running next year, The Campaign Coach’s prediction is that this year’s election has taken a toll on American voters, so we can expect turnout to be very light, especially if you’re running at an odd time of year, such as the March, May and August elections across the country for various local positions. Which means that your Get-Out-the-Vote effort will be absolutely critical. It’s years like 2017 where local elections are won by just a few votes.

So, if you’re running – or thinking of running – in 2017, don’t wait to start identifying your voters, engaging them in conversation, and building those relationships. Check out your local Board of Elections web site to see how many votes it took to win you village/town/city/district in the last election, and give yourself a number you need to reach by Election Day. You want to be well-prepared, with a solid list of voters, when you come to those final days, so you can hound people to get to the polls.

For a variety of reasons, local elections around the country happen at all different times of year. While most take place in November, cities, towns, villages and school boards hold their elections in March, May or August sometimes in different states and regions. Which means that the first thing you need to know when you’re thinking about running for local office is perhaps the most basic – when’s the election?

The country is caught up in presidential politics right now, but if you’re thinking of running locally in 2017, it’s definitely not too early to start building a foundation for your campaign – even if you haven’t committed to anything yet. Here are some activities you can be doing right now:

Informal Polling– If you’re thinking of running for office, we’re assuming you have some kind of stake in your community, and probably already know some people. Engage those people now in informal conversations about your community’s issues and get feedback. You’ll start to get a sense of how your own stances on issues align with your community’s. Important note: get outside of your family and close circle of friends.

Walk a Business District– While it’s probably not time before announcing as a candidate to take on door-to-door canvassing, there’s nothing weird about taking a day to walk through your community’s business district, stopping in shops and restaurants and saying hi to people. You want the flavor of your community? The business district is where you’ll get it. And those relationships will be invaluable once you actually do kick off your campaign.

Be Seen– You can be certain there are a slew of holiday season events happening in your community. Take the time to not only attend, but to volunteer your help. Think about where else in town people congregate, and be there. Church events (and church, in general), local football games, farmer’s markets – you know your community better than we do. There are plenty of gatherings to attend. And don’t forget your local political committee, whose support you’ll need to get on the ballot. Watch for monthly roundtables, fundraisers and other activities.

Finally, I encourage you to download our free “Pros and Cons” survey – a self-guided analysis of your own appetite for running. The Campaign Coach knows what a leap it is to decide to jump into political waters, and we hope to help you make it a well-informed decision. http://thecampaigncoach.com/proscons/

The Campaign Coach Debate Review – 9.26.16

Tonight’s debate was the first round of a prize fight featuring two candidates who are not only very different from a politically point of view, but who brought very different styles to the debate. For 2017 local candidates watching the debate, there was plenty to take from the candidates’ approach, demeanor and delivery.

clintontrumphp-rtspkqh-600x450-e1474947301976From the get-go, Donald Trump went right into his top talking points, using his opening comments on economic development to make his points about China and Mexico’s impact on the U.S. economy, and then carrying those topics for the first fifteen minutes. A few times, he made disjointed segues to introduce a topic that wasn’t on the table, such as turning job creation into comments about ISIS early in the debate. There’s a risk in how he handled it, because have differing views of topic changing, but regardless of how you feel about what Trump is saying, he has been masterful at steering the media so far in the campaign… Paying attention to how he steers the conversation to his topics isn’t a bad idea.

Consequently, Clinton was more scripted, and was adept at pulling the segues back to her talking points (with some sarcastic responses mixed in, of course), even when Trump’s comments became more intense. She did a good job of not getting flustered, in a tense conversation where most of us wouldn’t have exhibited the same level of patience, and actually by staying the course kept Trump very much on the defensive in the mid-to-latter part of the debate. There’s a definitive value to maintaining control of the portion of the conversation that you can actually control.

Clearly, both candidates came in with a prescribed style that each was generally able to hold throughout the 90 minutes. Trump’s intent was to bring lots of emotion and fire, and Clinton’s was to stay on script with a slow, steady hand. Both went on the attack early and often, and each strategy made good sense relative to what has been happening outside the walls of Hofstra University in the weeks leading up to the debate.

Interestingly, the choice was also made by each side on focus – who each would address. Clinton almost exclusively addressed the crowd, even when she was talking “to” Trump, who she interestingly referred to as “Donald” throughout the debate, directly. Trump, when answering debate questions, addressed the moderator, Lester Holt. But when he was speaking to Clinton, he looked directly at her. Two different styles – Clinton presumably speaking to the people with the persona of the traditional president, with Trump presenting himself as a fighter, railing directly on “politicians” (represented by Clinton) throughout the conversation as the alternative to the Washington political elite. How do you need to present yourself to people in your community? You should know this before speaking to them.

Going into your campaign, while it has gotten him to where we are today, it’s important to understand that Trump’s style doesn’t work for everyone, and it doesn’t work everywhere. That kind of frustrated fire has to match a frustrated and fired-up community for it to be effective.

Also, we’re not a fan of the phrase that Clinton said a number of times throughout the debate, “Trumped Up, Trickle Down.” While fans of Clinton likely feel as though she got in a good burn with that one, in an environment of constant polling, the last thing you want to be saying is your opponent’s name with the word “up” after it.

Takeaways for local candidates:

(1) While you may not have the chance to stand face-to-face with your opponent in a moderated session, your campaign is essentially one long debate. The conversation you and your opponent will have for six months with each other and people in your community is very similar to the 90-minute version.

(2) Control the conversation in the way that’s best for your personality, and that matches the current conversation in your community.

(3) Get your talking points to the forefront of the conversation and keep them there.

(4) Determine how you’re going to present yourself to you community. Are you a wise leader or a fighter in the trenches? Once in office, will you be a partisan flag-bearer, or will you strategically cross the aisle to get things done? Are you going to win by shaking hands and kissing babies, or getting those hands dirty in the political mud? All of these have a presentation that goes with them, and how you present yourself doesn’t require a nationally-televised debate to be recognized.

(5) Even though Clinton chose throughout the program to call Trump by his first name, we recommend “Mr. Jones” or “Mrs. Smith” in instances where you’re addressing your opponent. What might be interpreted as disrespect (which we’re assuming was Clinton’s point – addressing Trump as though he was not presidential… Though she did also mention Presidents Bush and Obama without title) can come across as arrogance. While you may not actually be involved in a debate, it is likely that you’ll be in the same room with your opponent at some point during your campaign, say, at community forums or council meetings, and the situation may arise.

(6) Be careful of catch-phrases that don’t further your message. This is the second time in a few months that Clinton’s catch-phrase paired Trump’s name with a positive word – the previous one was “Love Trumps Hate.” Don’t add to your opponent’s positive name recognition in an effort to be cute.

(7) Finally… Life’s not fair. Neither are debates, and neither are campaigns. Just like a debate can have one candidate getting tougher questions than the other, in your campaign sometimes your opponent can get more press, endorsements that make no sense, and lawn signs on your street in front of homes of people who you play ladder golf with at your block parties. Control what you can control, and be prepared to roll with the punches in both a proactive and responsive way.

– The Campaign Coach

1920-1This evening is the first, highly-anticipated presidential debate between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton. The debate hasn’t even started, and the emotion is at a fever pitch, with both sides already lashing out against the rules, with moderator Lester Holt in the middle of the firefight. Get your popcorn ready!

But while there is definitely much to listen for relative to the next four years and the future of our country, there will be an awful lot that local candidates can pick up and bring back to their own campaigns. Not every local campaign features a face-to-face debate, but certainly the rhetoric can be very similar. And you may not be on stage in a moderated session, but you will be in front of people enough during your campaign to know the finer points of presentation.

So, on behalf of local candidates all over the country, here’s what the Campaign Coach will be watching tonight:

Body Language

You know those famous statistics that show that 93% of communication is non-verbal? Well, they’re especially true when you’re standing in front of a group of people. Facial expressions, gestures and voice inflections all play a role in determining the audience’s reaction to the speaker. Those things will be at play in tonight’s debate, and in your speaking opportunities, as well.

Delivery of Key Points

Debates can and will be unpredictable – even beyond the specific personalities on the stage this evening. Skilled debaters can pivot, turn and maneuver through whatever is thrown at them. But, in the end, each candidate comes into the debate with specific messages that they want to get across – which may be items on their own agenda, or points they want to assert against their opponent. How they get those points into the conversation in a meaningful way is the ticket.

Emotional Intelligence

The 2016 presidential race is one filled with emotion on many, many issues, and the two figureheads for those emotions will be on-stage this evening, often representing very different perspectives on topics of great concern to the American people. How they deal with representing the fire and passion of so many while maintaining decorum and respect on the stage will be critical. If you’re running for local office next year, don’t think that emotion is reserved for the top of the ticket. People get as emotional about local road construction as they do about immigration policy.

If you’re a local candidate (or future local candidate), keep an eye out for these things tonight, and we’ll check back in after we’ve had a chance to watch the show!