Whether you are a new candidate, or you've run many times before, the chances are you are making one of these five common mistakes.
This is not an exhaustive list, but they are common errors that we see.
Be honest with yourself and count how many of these mistakes you're making.
Mistake #5: You think voters care about your candidacy.
Voters have limited bandwidth. They care about the Presidential candidates. They care a bit less about their Congressional and US Senate candidates or Governor. But the further down ballot your name is, the fewer voters consider you relevant to their daily lives.
We talk with incumbents all the time who are shocked to find out they have only 25% name ID after winning one or two elections. They are discouraged because they are working tirelessly for voters "who don't even know I exist!"
It's not a knock on voters. They're busy.
But this knowledge should inform your approach. Don't assume voters know who you are. Assume they don't, and make your campaign relevant to their lives.
Mistake #4: You think you can win without money.
We hear this one every year: "I spent $.05 per vote and my opponent had to spend $7.45 per vote to beat me! So I actually won more votes per dollar."
What the hell does that even mean? It means you lost. By every definition, gentle reader, you lost. You are now a constituent of your opponent.
And this one is even more common: "I don't have the ability to raise money, so I'm going with a grassroots strategy instead."
Once again, you have lost before you even started. You are literally planning to fail.
The percentage of low-budget or no-budget campaigns that beat well-funded opponents can easily be rounded off to zero. Sure, it happens. But it won't happen for you, my friend.
If your message is your weapon, then money is the bullets. It doesn't matter how accurate your weapon is if you don't have ammunition. Without money as your ammunition, you're just a little kid playing in the backyard, saying "pew pew pew" as you fire imaginary rounds at opponents who simply raise an eyebrow.
Low budget gimmicks and grassroots alone will not suffice. Your Tweets are not going to make the national news tomorrow morning. Instead, your well-crafted, brilliant Tweet will be a lonely shot fired in a lonely wilderness where no one hears or cares. [see mistake #5 above]
It takes money to win. You don’t necessarily need the most money to win. We have less money than our opponents in most of our competitive campaigns. But you do need enough to get your message to the right audience.
A successful campaign will find out how much money it is going to take to get your message to the right voters, and then formulate a plan to get that money.
If you can't do either of these, then you have a losing campaign plan.
Mistake # 3: Your campaign is about yourself, rather than the voters.
This is a big one because I see candidates and professional consultants both make this mistake on a regular basis.
From your initial press release, to your doorbell literature, to your website, to your elevator speech, is it all about you? See Mistake #5 and remember that voters don't really care about you. They care about themselves.
However...they will care about your candidacy if you are relevant to them!
So don't talk about yourself; talk about voters.
Talk about their issues, their concerns, their thoughts. Use that as your starting point, and weave in your resume or ideas as proposed solutions to their problems.
But always start with the voter.
Mistake # 2: You talk about issues that are “hot” rather than issues that move votes.
Here is how this mistake happens: you are reading a public opinion survey of voters in your area. It says "better schools!" is the top issue of concern to your voters.
"Eureka!" you exclaim. You think you have found the magic issue. Now just make your campaign about "better schools!" and you've got it in the bag. Start choosing furniture for your new office.
Not so fast.
Don’t just read the toplines on your survey; read the crosstabs. Ask your pollster to do a regression analysis if they think it would be informative. Just because the most talked-about issue is "better schools!" doesn’t mean you have any ability to move votes on those issues.
Often you'll discover that issues that are popular aren't necessarily those that move votes away from your opponent and to you. Very often voters have their minds made up on the hot issues and which candidate or party they prefer on that issue. You still need to talk about the hot issues to demonstrate you aren't tone deaf, but understand that's not how you'll persuade voters.
Instead, find out who the persuadable voters are, what messages will persuade them, and then make that the core of your voter contact messaging.
Mistake # 1: You think all campaign professionals are equal.
Okay this one is a bit self-serving. But we just gave you a bunch of free advice, so hear us out.
There is a reason a few campaign strategists win consistently, while others are just Tier 2 or 3 operators. It's a mistake to assume that choosing a campaign consultant is not like choosing a gas station or finding the best deal on dish soap; there are substantive differences in the product.
It isn't a matter of finding someone who can design mail. Or finding someone who can shoot a video ad for you. Some of us have a long track record of success while others have not quite figured it out yet.
Would you hire an inexperienced or sub par attorney to defend you in court? Then why do it with your campaign?
Take our advice on this as well. Find a few campaign strategists who win consistently. Ask them why they win; then pay the money to get the best.
Chad Minnick is President of Minnick Group
and has one of the best win records in the Pacific Northwest.