How do you choose the right political consultant for your campaign? In short, interview thoroughly. Do not hire strictly on the advice of a close friend or relative or someone you know who once hired a consultant. What was best for them might not be best for you.
Instead, write a clear definition of the wants, needs, desires and objectives of your campaign and then look for the best person to fulfill those requirements.
Following are some tips on choosing the right consultant.
First, interview each candidate the same way. Ask the same questions of each under the same conditions. Tell each the same things about yourself and your campaign and compare their responses.
Find out how long the consultants have been in business. Ask them to detail how their careers have progressed from the beginning until the present. Ask whom their mentors were, how their ideas and philosophies developed, and what their basic approach is to structuring, running, and participating in a campaign.
Ask about the consultants’ specialties. Everyone has some. Some consultants specialize in state legislative or congressional races, some in grassroots organizing or media campaigns. Be sure their specialty matches the needs of your campaign.
Ask detailed questions about the consultants’ previous campaigns. Don’t make judgements strictly on the won/loss record. Other things count, too. Ask about the reasons for the wins and losses. Beware of the consultants who take credit for the victories and blame others for the defeats.
Find out how many clients the consultant currently has and how many they plan to have during the course of your campaign. Obtain an explanation of the consultant’s management system, which will be responsible for all clients’ work being performed thoroughly and on schedule.
Find out how often you will personally talk to the consultant, who the subordinates are, and how accessible each person will be to you and your staff.
Ask which types of campaigns the consultant does not do well. There should be several because no one can be great at everything.
Two of the biggest complaints about political consultants are that they charge too much and they force their own ideas on candidates. You can avoid these problems by doing the following.
Have each consultant provide a written price list for everything they might do in the campaign. Be sure you can comfortably afford these charges in addition to other things that you will need during the course of your campaign. Ask how they will deal with disagreements with the candidate and other members of the campaign staff.
When stalemates occur, find out how they would propose resolving them.
During the interview, listen closely to both the answers to your questions and to the questions the consultant asks. Much can be learned about a person by the questions they ask. During this interview, the consultant should attempt to learn details about you, your ideas, your district, and your opponents. Beware of the consultant who doesn’t ask about these but instead pretends to know everything already.
Also, beware of the consultant who has quick, easy answers for difficult questions. Watch out for those whose only solutions to campaign problems involve greater expenditures.
Ask for references. Naturally, you will only receive good ones so add these questions to your list when you call. They could give you some additional insight. "What were the best things the consultant did for your campaign? The worst?" " If you could change something about this consultant, what would it be?" " Would you personally use this consultant again? Why?"
Finally, and most importantly, be comfortable with your choice. If you have doubts or questions, resolve them before signing a contract. If you find that you can’t resolve your problems and get satisfactory answers to your questions, heed this forewarning. Failure
To do so could cost you the election. Conversely, establishing a good working relationship in the interviewing and hiring processes will lead to an enjoyable and successful campaign for both you and your political consultant.
Randall P. Whatley is president of Cypress Media Group, an advertising, public relations, and training firm. Cypress Media Group provides training primarily related to business and technical writing, presentation skills, and media relations. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
He has been a government relations consultant for over 30+ years and has served as a political campaign consultant (over 50 campaigns with 30+ victories in five states) and lobbyist. Additionally, he has served as an RFP consultant to both government agencies and contractors, administered government contracts, written proposals, and authored handbooks that address government/layperson relations.