Finding A Leading Political Consultant
If your campaign has an appropriate budget, it is worth considering hiring a Democratic political consultant to help navigate the perilous waters of campaigning.
What is a Political Consultant?
Political consultants help candidates, ballot initiatives, labor unions, environmental organizations, pro-choice groups, education advocates, or other progressive organizations develop campaign strategies, create advertisements, produce media, respond to opponents and engage in field efforts.
Generally speaking, most political consultants are either affiliated with the Democratic or Republican parties. Our firm, CN4 Partners, is a Democratic political consulting firm. You’re on our website right now!
In addition to the partisan split, there are different types of political consultants. Some consultants only give a campaign advice, write a campaign plan, budget etc. but do not produce advertising – this is known as a general consultant, or abbreviated to GC. Other political consultants specialize in direct mail, television, or digital advertising and may or may not also offer general consulting services.
Furthermore, a whole different group of consultants specialize in traditional fundraising, digital fundraising, PAC fundraising, opposition research, paid phone calls and polling. And finally, there are a whole host of vendors who cater to people running
for office that offer websites, printing, yard signs, signature gathering, blast email services, social media, list matching services, apps, voter data and other services. We even know of someone who specializes in putting up yard signs for a per-sign fee.
Lots of firms like to tout their experience; some even go so far to claim to be the “industry best” in the website and sales pitch. Another group of consultants claim to have “never lost a race” or have an absurdly high win-rate. As a smart consumer, you must learn to ignore the superlatives used by people trying to get your business. If the frequency of the BS is high, you probably don’t want to work with them. The fact is, there are a number of really good firms/consultants in this business who have done amazing work who we admire and have learned so much from.
On the other hand, there are a handful of firms/consultants who don’t do adequate work (we refer to them as ‘pretenders’). Be wary of those pretenders who offer bargain basement pricing, who advertise consulting services after having worked on one race or have other full-time jobs on the side. If you are a serious consumer (and you’re reading this article, which would suggest that you are), I would avoid this group of political consultants.
Perhaps the most important factor in choosing a consultant is simply this: Do you trust them? Do you trust them enough to take their advice? Do you trust them that they understand your message in your brand enough to communicate that voters? Do you trust that they will have your best interest (not their bottom line) at heart throughout this campaign, but throughout your career?
Below you’ll find some tips and questions to ask potential Democratic political consultants before you hire them.
- Determine what your needs are before even interviewing a political consulting firm. Do you only need help with direct mail, digital outreach or other services? For example, our firm, CN4 Partners, not only produces direct mail, but also serves as a general consultant and handles both television and digital media ad buys. Some firms specialize in only one function. How much help you need will be partly determined by the level of the race. For example, a campaign for Governor in a medium-sized state with a budget of $12 million will likely have a General Consultant, a TV firm, a mail firm, a digital firm, a fundraiser, an opposition research firm, a pollster and a paid phone vendor. Whereas a candidate for Mayor of a 100,000-person town with a budget of $150,000 may have a general consultant who also produces direct mail and digital services.
- Do you want someone to just help with advertising or do you need help as a general consultant? For some of our clients, we only do direct mail or digital advertising, where for others we help them as a general consultant – working on targeting, helping you write the campaign plan, and hire and guide the manager. In these cases, we (and other consulting firms) charge a retainer. Ask how much it is and when the payments are due.
- Ask to see examples of media product from similar size races. It’s great that the consultant worked on a high-profile gubernatorial race, but do they also have experience working on races in rural areas, or in mid-sized mayoral contests? Ask questions that specifically pertain to your race and your circumstances. You may choose to go with a firm that hasn’t done a race exactly like yours, but you may want to factor that into your decision making.
- Look at the firm website. Most Democratic political consulting firms provide a portfolio of recent work on their websites.
- What about those awards? Like many firms, we are proud of the awards we have won from industry bodies and the fact that year in and year out CN4 Partners is one of the most recognized firms in the industry, and it’s one way to measure if the political consulting firm is recognized by its peers for excellence. In political consulting, there are two widely recognized awards. The first, from the American Association of Political Consultants, are known as the Pollies. The second, awarded from Campaigns and Elections Magazine, are known as the Reed Awards. View some of the Pollies and Reed awards we have won.
Assess the firms.
- Compare what you are getting. A small local firm might not charge as much, but also might not provide the same services, or have the experience of a larger firm.
- Local vs. out-of-state. Both will have its advantages and disadvantages. Since we do both types of work, and have worked in all regions of the country, we know this intimately. A local firm usually will have a deeper knowledge of your state or region, where a national Democratic political consulting firm brings new ideas and perspectives to your race with access to a broader range of examples that might be a “game changer” for your contest.
- Check references. All political consulting firms should be happy to give you some references, or you can call around to some of their past clients.
- Ask questions (list follows).
Here are questions you can ask Democratic political consulting firms when you interview them:
- Who will be doing the actual day-to-day work? With some political consulting firms, the principal pitches a campaign and hands the actual work off to a junior associate. You’ll want to make sure you know who is assigned to your campaign and that you’ll have access to the top folks when you need to talk to them.
- Do they charge a retainer, and when is it due? Are they flexible with due dates to align with your fundraising strategy?
- How many people work for the firm? Bigger isn’t always better and you need to ensure your campaign gets attention.
- How many other clients do they have, and at what level of races? If the consulting firm is handling the Democratic presidential nominee then you might not get the attention you need for your campaign for city council.
- What is included in the price for the direct mail? What costs are built in and what are extra (is postage included)?
- What is their process for designing mail or producing TV or digital advertising?
- Are there other costs associated with your race? Do they charge a winner’s bonus?