Common Missteps with Local Candidates by Ben Holse

By at May 27, 2015 | 12:05 pm | Print

Common Missteps with Local Candidates by Ben Holse

Ben Holse


Campaigns for local candidates are different than bigger races. While you will still have to work hard to raise money, local candidates will depend in large part on the community for the resources to mount the campaign. Local candidates also tend to go without the aide of consultants. Thus, there are often individuals running these campaigns in which it will be their first experience campaigning. With that said, here are a couple common mistakes made by local candidates and what can be done to fix them.

Ineffective Communication
Everyone loves pancake breakfasts but as a primary communication medium, they’re hardly effective. Some local candidates will think that it’s enough for them to show up to their local pancake breakfast or the church’s annual spaghetti dinner shake a few hands, talk to a few people and call it a day. But at a pancake breakfast, the only trait you know all of the people who turned out share is that they like pancakes. As a local candidate, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t attend large gatherings of people. This, however, should be a secondary means of persuading voters. In order to run an effective campaign, you need to develop a strategy for who it is you need to persuade/turnout and work with your state or county party to get VAN access and go door-to-door and talk with these folks. Bottom line, you need to be speaking with the right people to win and chances are, they’re not all attending the pancake breakfast at the same time.

Ineffective Use of Resources
Local campaigns are renowned for using yard signs and other chum as their primary means of communication. As we’ve written here many times, yard signs are expensive and are not a very effective communication medium. Visibility should be last on your list of communication priorities. Other chum, like bumper stickers, campaign buttons, and t-shirts are even worse, in that they can be even more expensive and less effective. If you have money in your budget for paid communication, your best bet is to evaluate your budget and decide what makes the most sense in order to get your message out there, be it direct mail, digital, radio or phones. In the end, your yard sign will say your name, but it says nothing about who you are or where you stand on the issues that matter to your community.

Lack of Commitment
In order to run an effective campaign, even for a local race, you need to be able to commit a serious amount of personal resources to the campaign. If you want to win, you have to put in the time and the resources in order to do so. For one, you will likely need to take a fair amount of time off work. You’ll need to do call time, knock doors, and attend events, and there simply aren’t enough hours in the day after 5pm to get it all done. Further, to run a competitive campaign, you will need to be willing to ask your family and friends for their money and for their time. This is always an awkward ask, but your family and friends are really the foundation of your campaign, especially for local candidates. If your not in a position in which you can take time off work or ask your family and friends for help, you should consider putting the race on hold.

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Ben Holse, Junior Account Manager,  The Campaign Workshop; a political and advocacy advertising agency in Washington D.C. that provides strategy, digital advertising, direct mail and training services to non-profit and political clients. Ben has worked with a variety of campaigns and causes, including National Nurses United, AFSCME, DC Vote, Anne Colt Leitess for Maryland State’s Attorney, Trust for Public Lands, and The Nature Conservancy. Ben graduated summa cum laude from Valparaiso University with a B.A. in political science and history.

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