The Lean Campaign Model

Note: If you haven’t yet, I recommend reading Campaigns As Politically Disruptive Startups. It will help add context to the proposed “lean campaign” structure below.

The Existing Campaign Paradigm

For those familiar with the political campaign process, you know that they are largely run the same way they were 100 years ago. For some things, like bolt-action rifles, secret family recipes and PBS programming that’s okay, but not for deciding our country’s political leadership.

Our approach to voter contact and campaign strategy should reflect the habits of the very people we are trying to reach.

So, for the last few years, I’ve been rethinking the optimal campaign structure, one more conducive to the idea of a political startup, with its unique focus on technology, rapid analysis and response.

Traditionally, campaign management starts with a senior consultant (often called a general consultant, or GC) and a campaign manager, with the former setting the tone of the campaign and focusing on strategy, while the latter executes that vision. But outside these positions, the structure can vary widely based on need and resources.

Since much has already been written about the various positions on a campaign I won’t go into too much detail about each one in this post. So if you need a primer, Wikipedia always offers a good start. In addition, Harvard Law School has a quick guide to working on a campaign.

As one would imagine, a billion-dollar enterprise for President of the United States is structurally much more complex than running for Cuyahoga County Executive in Ohio. So, in an attempt to make the broadest case possible, I’ll be largely generalizing, using my extensive experience with congressional races as a basis for the optimal campaign structure.

Like most organizations, campaigns will come in all sizes, but this is typically what you can expect an org chart to look like:

political campaign model

As you can see from the diagram (and I can assure you from experience), key campaign faculties often exist in silos. Rarely is data shared or referenced laterally across departments and the consulting class typically exists in near autonomy of campaign staff. Volunteer coordinators know little about how their actions affect campaign messaging, the direct mail vendors rarely talk with anyone in the digital team to test creative, and so on.

Ultimately, this means each campaign division runs independently of the other, being held together by loose strategic messaging and the gut experience of a senior, outside consultant. Such a structure puts unnecessary weight on the Mad Men-style decisions of the consulting class and hampers quality assurance among all divisions, including local staff and volunteers.

In addition, any sense of scale can only be achieved by building the downline of each department. This can create even more headaches in the data flow, strategic messaging, and accountability.

So, how do we begin to remove the silos and put in place a model that scales?

In With The New

Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time researching startup cultures, looking for ways to apply lessons learned to my client work. After spending countless hours visiting with startups in Los Angeles, ATX, NYC, and Washington, DC, I’ve come up with what I call the Lean Campaign Model.

Gratuitously taken from the business methodology made famous by Eric Ries in his 2011 book, The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, a Lean Campaign Model shifts the focus from seniority and titles to a results-driven culture of processes: Deploy, measure, learn, and deploy again.

In focusing on the process first, campaign size and staff responsibilities are free to fluctuate with need. What is important is that ideas can be quickly tested and validated through measurement.

Keeping many of the traditional positions in place, this new organizational structure initially looks something like this:

new campaign model

Under this new campaign paradigm, we seek to marry data analysis with rapid response in a fluid, but centralized fashion.

General Consultant & Campaign Manager: Under this new system the general consultant and campaign manager need to work in tandem, as internal leaders of the organization (think CEO & COO). Their shared responsibilities include strategy, execution, and internal communication between the primary and secondary positions in the campaign. The GC’s experience should complement the campaign managers proximity to key campaign staff, not dictate it.

Under this new model, unrestricted access between first and secondary positions is critical. In addition, removal of direct (or constant) communication with external vendors and consultants is limited, forcing campaign leadership to focus on the health of the organization and its ability to meet consistent goals.

Finance Director: Although the finance team will vary in size and makeup depending on the candidate’s network and campaign structure, we generalize that the campaign’s finance director will remain in charge of high-dollar donation efforts.

In practice, rarely does this position engage in fundraising efforts online or communicate regularly with the digital team tasked with that effort. So, they have been moved outside the core model.

Legal: The legal team on any campaign plays the critical role in keeping all activities kosher with the law. Often seen in an advisory role, they need direct contact with the candidate and top leadership, but have little need to speak with secondary or tertiary positions as well.

Communication Director: This position should serve as a type of “perception manager” for the organization. They need to oversee traditional perception channels, like press releases, media relations, and the planning of broad strategic messaging. Event scheduling and logistics may also be part of the associated tasks depending on campaign size.

They need direct access to campaign leadership and are tasked with communicating messaging objectives to the field and growth departments.

Field Director: The field director is still in charge of making sure the campaign gets its message out through direct voter contact. Their main responsibilities include, door knocking, phone calls, and GOTV efforts. The size of this department will be congruent with campaign needs.

Growth Director: Now this is something a little different. I’ve removed the often ambiguous role of political director and replaced it with a new position focused purely on growth. As mentioned in my article Campaigns As Politically Disruptive Startups, growth is a critical vertical and should really be considered it’s own department.

What defines growth? Things like email list building, online community building, increasing small-dollar donations, building volunteer lists, etc. are all examples of what this position should focus on daily. There will likely be some crossover with other departments.

Despite any variance in roles or responsibilities, this new model is built to ensure that each member of the team is in regular communication with each other. But, as you may have already realized, we are still missing one critical component needed to execute the Lean Campaign Model’s process of deploy, measure, and learn — the data director.

refined campaign model

Data Director: This critical role is the heartbeat of the campaign. To create repeatable and scalable processes, the communication director, field director, and growth director will need to push and pull data from this department (or position) regularly.

The data director oversees data management, data organization, and serves as the foundation for quantitative political strategy, i.e. he/she helps produce the metrics and models political staff will need to make smarter decisions.

Now, this position isn’t anything new. During his 2012 campaign, Barack Obama famously filled positions like a chief scientist and director of modeling (And now, gearing up for 2016, Scott Walker announced he has brought on his own chief data officer). But, we have yet to see the significance of a data analytics/data management role acknowledged across-the-board at lower levels.

As technology becomes increasingly democratized and communication channels personalized, a clear data-specific position will be a necessity for future political campaigns and so plays an important role in this new model.

Now that we’ve setup our campaign core, we can put it all together. Take a look at the complete campaign structure with the addition of department-specific consultants and vendors:

new campaign model

Consulting Class: The number of consulting firms and specializations will vary with the level of race and campaign finances. But, under the Lean Campaign Model consultants are kept to the outer perimeter of the campaign and divided by department. Their use is directly tied to decision makers in each department and can be scaled up or down depending on need.

Under a Lean Campaign Model, experience takes a backseat to iterative deployments and constant measurement. Because of this, the consulting class need only provide industry-specific experience, extra hands, and scalability in these endeavors when needed.

Returning divisional leadership to campaign staff builds in quality assurance and creates a better workflow between consultants running a business with multiple clients and campaign staff running a single election.

Thinking Differently

It’s important to reiterate that this is a broad generalization. Some campaigns will not be able to fill all of these roles and other campaigns will have multiple positions in each department. However, the philosophy and processes should remain the same.

The most important aspect of the Lean Campaign Model is not the size of the staff or the level of the race, but the adoption of an iterative deployment cycle, constant measurement, and adaptive learning. An organization built to learn faster is an organization built to win.

It should also be stated that this discussion is not meant to criticize or devalue current political campaigns and their operatives. Rather, this essay is meant to spark debate on how to best adapt to the changing times and better meet the needs of the constituents we seek to serve.

After all, it’s like Eric Ries writes in his book:

We must learn what customers voters really want, not what they say they want or what we think they should want.

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