Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Staging a Political Campaign Event? Think "Wedding"

Campaign Event Management – Think “Wedding”
Ned Barnett

 Note - I was inspired to write this because my "last" single son got married Saturday night, in a big event that was held (but with no political overtones) at the Clinton Center in Little Rock.  Yes, it really does look exactly like the world's largest double-wide, and the inside is even tackier than I'd feared ... it's really almost a parody of itself, and of President Clinton. But it made a fine venue for a great wedding, and having talked at length with the wedding planner - she had dinner with my wife and I after the rehearsal - I was inspired by how closely weddings and political events can parallel.  So learn from the events-masters - wedding planners - and make your next event a life-altering success!

Everybody has experienced a wedding – their own, in most cases, along with the weddings of brothers or sisters, daughters or sons – but even if you’ve only experienced a “Hollywood Wedding” on the Silver Screen, you’ve got an idea of what one is like.  And if you can imagine putting together a wedding – a big wedding, with all the bells and whistles – you’ve know everything you need in order to put together a successful political campaign or fund-raising event or other voter-growing project.

The key to success is planning, whether it’s for a wedding of for a political campaign event.  Except for elopements, visits to the Justice of the Peace, or last-minute spur-of-the-moment “quick, before we sober up” Vegas weddings, all really impressive weddings begin with planning.  And planning begins by making a master checklist.  With just a few exceptions, the lists are the same.

Campaign Event
1.     Wedding Planner & Timetable
1.     Event Planner & Timetable
2.     Theme
2.     Theme
3.     Date and Time
3.     Date and Time
4.     Location or Venue
4.     Location or Venue
5.     Priest, Preacher or Rabbi
5.     Master of Ceremonies
6.     Guest List & Invitations
6.     Guest List & Invitations
7.     Caterer & Flowers
7.     Caterer & Decorations
8.     Entertainment
8.     Entertainment
9.     Wedding Favors
9.     Campaign Hand-Outs
10. Rehearsal & Rehearsal Dinner
10. Pre-Event Run-Through

Let’s run through those.

1.     Event Planner.  Whether this is something you do yourself, something that you assign to your campaign manager, or something you hire out, this is essential. Someone has to be in charge.  If “everyone’s in charge” (i.e., everyone instinctively knows what they’re supposed to do) then, in fact, nobody’s in charge.  Success happens by accident, not intention.  Recommendation:  Hire or retain an event planner – this frees you and your staff up for what you all do best – take care of voters, donors, the media and campaign business.  Then, ask the event planner to create a time table for the events – indicting who does what, and when, in order that it all comes together on campaign event day.

2.     Theme.  This is a central element to the event.  Weddings usually have themes – from “back to nature” to “traditional church” – and this defines everything from the location and date/time to the nature of the invitations and the flavor of the edible decorations.  So create a theme that focuses on the event – and focus the event in ways that will bring in your goal, be they donors, volunteers, the party faithful or potential voters.  Sometimes traditional is best, but sometimes thinking out of the box works.  Traditional means having a voter-education component (“this is who I am and why you should vote for me”) or announcing a new position on an issue of breaking-news importance.  Media events designed to generate press also are traditional, but unless you're already a Governor or Senator who's running for re-election, getting the press out to a "press event" can be tough (meaning "impossible").

Those traditional programs often work – but sometimes, it helps to go beyond traditional, to think out of the box, to make this more than an Amway-like sales pitch.

For example:

Super Bowl Sunday could be a horrible setting for an event – but you could make a Super Bowl Sunday event the hit of the season … IF you want to attract women voters who would otherwise be stuck at home, bored beyond tears as they serve up hot wings and cold beers to their significant other and his buddies as they make fools of themselves in some kind of weird annual male bonding ritual. 

Women can be a powerful force in your volunteer team, but they have other priorities.  Staging a “Gal’s Night Out” kind of events - for voter calling or envelope stuffing or training them to be effective advocates - can really be effective, especially when your event includes the free delivery of (hopefully-donated) pizza and wings, sent home to the husbands of any woman who actually show up, making it “ok” for them to be away from home at supper time.  That may seem a bit pricey, but it could provide a huge pay-off in new volunteers and get-out-the-vote efforts.  They’ll even come home to a happy and well-fed family.

Think out of the box.  If it's not a couples event, come up with a theme that works for the guests’ spouses and families, as well as the guests – and one that also works for building new volunteers, donors or voters.

3.     Date and Time.  You need a date that doesn’t conflict with local civic or charitable events, or Wednesday night church services or other scheduled conflicting events.  You need a time that won’t require you to close your campaign office for too very long (you will have to shut down if stage this event in your own office, or manage the event with your campaign staff.  But to have it somewhere else means your guests won’t see what a great place you have (assuming you have a great-looking campaign headquarters, and that's a bit of a stretch) – and that’s not a good thing.  You also want a date and time that will allow your target audience to turn out in force.   Tie your schedule to something that works for you, or find a way to make it work.  Most events should not be held during office hours (except for noon-time lunch-hour brown-bag rallies) – unless you can come up with a workable exception that makes sense. 

4.     Location or Venue.  The ideal location in most cases is your campaign office, because it allows you to show off your office (and because you've already paid for it).  But there could be a case made for having it off-site - especially if the space is donated.  Cash bars help cover costs and make people happy (and can "pay for" the room) - but be careful if you're in the Bible Belt (that's where I learned politics, and I learned that everybody drank, but nobody admitted it, or would do it in public).   

     Also, The location should be tied to the theme of the event.

5.     Master of Ceremonies. You don’t need a priest, preacher or rabbi to “officiate” the way you do at a wedding, but it often makes good sense to have a third party as your MC – this allows you to more effectively circulate with your guests and not have the pressure of being “on” every instant.  The MC can do double-duty if he or she also represents in some way the theme.  The key here is that the candidate is the only one who can close a deal (I don't mean this in a negative way) - the candidate should talk to donors, representatives of voter blocks, etc. - s/he is the only one who can make the assurance that yes, I'll vote for (or against) that legislation, which is what most voter-block group leaders and potential donors want to hear.  You're not for sale - but if your position and theirs coincides, they want to know this so they can support you.

Having an MC can be especially important if your event involves you making a presentation to your guests (and you'll certainly want to give an informal and rah-rah version of your stump speech).  The MC can hold their attention until you’re ready, then introduce you. 

Whomever you choose, you want someone who creates confidence, and who is glib on his or her feet.  Even better if he or she adds a little local celebrity buzz to the event.  Do not underestimate the importance and impact of local “celebrity,” and make use of it in attracting the guests you want – the ones who will become donors, volunteers or voters.

6.     Guest lists and invitations.  These perhaps should be two distinct categories, so let’s start with Guest Lists. 

a.      Guest List:  Your invitation list should include:

                                                    i.     Known supporters or donors

                                                  ii.     Friends of known supporters or donors (ask your supporters to nominate potential guests)

                                                 iii.     Prospective donors or voting block supporters

                                                iv.     Civic, Religious and Community leaders (especially those who might some day become supporters)
b.     Invitations and Promotions:  Your “invitations” should include mailed and emailed invitations that would be professionally designed and written, then mailed or emailed (or both).  This is important, and a professional should be called in.  Also consider phone banks, to both offer invitations and to serve as reminders - you won't be top-of-mind for the people you want, so a reminder helps.

However, the idea of “invitations” should also include other approaches; here again, professionals (PR, Social Networking, Advertising, etc.) should be involved as well.  

But be careful here.  Back in '78, a Texas senator, Lloyd Benston, was thinking about running for President, and was in South Carolina to talk to some local leaders. However, the event was publicized in the paper, so I went.  There were about 15 "suits" in the room - political professionals - then there was me.  Ol' Lloyd spent all his time talking to the voter (me), which was smart, but the meeting was a bust - all because it was publicized in the wrong way.  So, be careful.

Here's how to promote the event (though I'll address this in much more detail in a future blog post).

                                                    i.     Press releases posted via wire services (BusinessWire, etc.) announcing the event and giving a call-in or social network contact account link by which people can RSVP (and give you their contact information)

                                                  ii.     Social networking “invitations” posted on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc., and supported by blogs, photo spreads and other “content” that will make the right people interested in attending

                                                 iii.     Advertising in local political and civic media, both online and print/broadcast

                                                iv.     Posters at strategic allies – anywhere you can find supporting organizations that will let you post because they share a common target demographic audience
     Caterers and Decorations.  This means event decorations, such as bunting and American flags, blow-up photos of the candidate, etc – there may be catered food (or not) – but whatever you do, you will want to decorate the location – and offering snacks and beverages is almost always an excellent idea.  If alcohol is involved (always a risk, and a reward if you're careful), open bar makes sense unless you've got a financial donor.  Rely on your professional event planner here – she’ll have established business arrangements that should (if you picked the right event planner) get you premium services and discounts. 

However, do check to make sure that the events planner isn’t getting kickbacks from vendors – that kind of business arrangement does not generate superior quality (vendors providing kick-backs have to either cut corners or lose money), and it sure doesn’t get you the best prices, since if at all possible, the kick-back will be passed on to the event planner's client – you. 

8.     Entertainment.  In many events, you – the candidate – you are the “entertainment,” making a presentation about who you are, why you want to be elected and what you'll do when you're in office.  But think beyond the box.  A soft/light jazz combo could add class to the event. The MC might be a budding stand-up comedian who will lighten the event, but no offensive jokes - make sure of that.  On-the-spot entertainment, such as character-sketch portrait artists and even palm readers, can be used effectively - but only in the right event.  You can be serious or light, but you want the entire event to be memorable, and great food, great drinks and great entertainment can add to any event. But never forget - the bottom line - YOU are the event.

9     Campaign Hand-Outs.  These remind your guests that this is ultimately about electing the right candidate - you. It might include samples of custom/branded products - T-shirts, ball-caps, or even buttons and bumper stickers (though I'm not sure of their current value, except on eBay) - and it might also include a “gift bag” with free-service coupons and samples from supportive businesses.  Make them campaign-connected, or make them memorable

     Pre-Event Run-Throughs.   This is where most events run by candidates and their teams fall flat.  Practice.  No wedding goes forward without a rehearsal, and a rehearsal dinner. That’s part of what makes them special, and part of why amateurs (grooms) so seldom mess up on the big day. They rehearsed.  Then, and only then, they partied.

Make your event special.  Do a run-through the day before, or a few hours before - whatever you can make work.  It should be a “dress rehearsal” of the entire event. Make sure everyone on your staff, and every hired gun, is ready. Then, if you do it the night before, reward them by having an event “rehearsal dinner,” at a nice place, and pick up the tab.  That will put everyone in a confident and positive mind-set when they’re ready to move forward.

Bottom line:  A wedding is the beginning of the rest of their lives for the participants. It’s a big deal, and people who care do the planning, sub-divide the responsibilities and make sure everything is done right.  Your campaign event could be the beginning of the rest of your life - if you don't believe me, ask Howard Dean about Iowa.  Make it work for you, and you won't regret it.

No comments:

Post a Comment