"Some consultants are like the bottom half of a double boiler: They get all heated up but don't know what's cooking." - Anonymous
The quote above best exemplifies a crucial challenge most candidates face when hiring a consultant. Is the political consultant someone who contributes to the overall vision and strategy of the campaign? Or is he/she someone blindly working to deliver only on certain specific aspects of the campaign? Thus, as a candidate, when do you choose a consultant who is a campaign ‘generalist’ as opposed to choosing a ‘specialist’?
Political consultants fall into two broad categories: generalists, such as campaign strategists or political directors, and specialists, such as media buyers, pollsters and others. While the former may or may not specialize in specific services such as polling, media buying etc, the latter most likely do not serve as general campaign strategists.
A candidate’s foremost consideration in choosing a consultant should be to evaluate whether the campaign has a need for a strategist. Most campaigns do – and any candidate should assume that his or her campaign does as well. This is so mainly for two reasons.
First, regardless of the level of experience brought forward by a campaign manager or the candidate, it is always useful to have an expert strategist who offers a detached view and analysis of the campaign and race. Secondly, a campaign strategist not only helps with formulating a strategy but also assists with its implementation. In fact, implementing a successful campaign strategy often depends on the efficient and balanced use and allocation of both organizational and financial resources available to the campaign.
This last point takes us to our final consideration. That is, when to retain specialists.
Campaign specialists such as pollsters, media agencies , get-out-the-vote and grassroots consultants, all offer very valuable and sometimes indispensable services. These specific services, however, must fit within the overall strategy and goals of the campaign and must be allocated as efficiently as possible. A media buyer or pollster, unfortunately, may sometimes be driven buy the desire to launch another TV advertising campaign or run yet another poll while failing to serve or pursue the wider strategic needs of the campaign. A political strategist, along with a campaign manager, in most cases will ensure that those needs are met and that campaign resources are allocated appropriately and efficiently.
Finally, candidates should also take into account some other peripheral factors when choosing a consultant. What is the consultant experience and track record? What is his or her availability, particularly looking down at the final stretches of a campaign? Does the consultant understand or even share the campaign’s ideological framework? These and other questions can only be answered through a frank and honest conversation between the candidate and the political consultant. Experience, skills, and insight are very important. But what’s also important is the potential of a good working relationship between the candidate, campaign manager, and the consultant.
In every society some men are born to rule, and some to advise.
Ralph Waldo Emerson
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