Going to Campaign School? Here’s what you should get out of it.

I remember going to a campaign school years ago – you’ve seen them, these all-day affairs where you go to a hotel, and a bunch of speakers run through their services for you, while giving you a little bit of expertise on the side. This one was long ago enough that one of the speakers was trying to convince the local candidates in the room that they needed to design a web site for their campaigns. They went on-and-on about what they can do, and at least three people asked them how much a web site would cost. When one of the candidates finally stood up and demanded an answer, I don’t remember exactly what they said, but I think it was in the neighborhood of $10K that they admitted (at the time).

Campaign schools have a two-fold purpose. The first is to give local candidates a head-start on their campaigns, with some inside information on political science and some of the steps they’ll need to take throughout the next several months. The second, is to put a host of vendors in front of candidates, while confusing them enough to make them think they need their services.

As a candidate who’s recently been endorsed, it’s natural to feel some obligation to attend. I wanted to share some thoughts on how to get as much out of the time spent as possible.

1. Ask lots of questions – Many of the speakers you’ll hear at Campaign School are vendors trying to sell you something. As in any relationship with a vendor, take advantage of the face-time you have with them, and ask a boatload of questions.

2. Talk to vendors off-line – After sitting through the presentations, you’ll have a good idea of who’s there to educate, and who’s there to sell. The vendors want your business (which I always find strange because as a local candidate you probably don’t have money lying around). Just like you would with a car salesman when you’re shopping around, try to get as much information as possible from people who want badly to sell to you.

3. Network – One of the advantages of a Campaign School is that you’re sitting in a room full of people who are in the exact same position as you are. Some will have already gone through things that you’re about to, and some will be a couple weeks behind you. All of you will have stories to share. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn from your colleagues, and offer help when you can. Politics is a funny game, and someone you sit next to randomly at Campaign School can become an ally down the road.

For the rest of your campaign, you’ll be looking for guidance, expertise and help, and it won’t always be readily available. If you’re going to be in the room for a Campaign School, use it to make yourself, and your campaign stronger!