Originally published in Campaigns & Elections’ Campaign Insider blog on October 17, 2011.
Road appearances are tougher than they look. Some tips to help your advance team pull off seamless events.
A well-planned advance operation ensures that, even with the chaos that can seem routine on the trail, your campaign will still be able to pull off seamless events.
If done right, events can be a powerful tool for your campaign to harness, allowing your candidate to appeal directly to voters and score some earned media. On the other hand, a poorly planned and executed advance presence shows your candidate in the worst possible light. It also leaves voters attending to wonder why, if your candidate can’t even get logistics right, should they consider entrusting him or her with elected office?
To ensure maximum effectiveness (and minimum hiccups) in your advance operation, here are a few pointers:
There’s no such thing as too early. Being the first on the scene, even if it is just one volunteer there to reserve a table, accomplishes three key goals: (1) Ensuring that your campaign has the best placement. (2) Intimidating the other campaigns and throwing them off their game. (3) Giving attendees the impression that your campaign, and by extension your candidate, is polished, professional, and ready to win.
All armies must have a general. So your team is on the scene and ready to go. Now what? When there are multiple people advancing, it is critical to have a designated leader. This leader is the person with the most experience and authority, whether it’s a member of your field staff or an experienced volunteer. Aside from directing other team members and ensuring that everything gets done, the advance lead is responsible for making the on-the-fly decisions that are so often required in these situations, and acting as the point of contact with the traveling staff.
Be the home team. A strong advance presence is as much for the candidate as it is for the event attendees. You want your candidate to feel like the star player for the home team, not a challenger playing a road game. This is true for all candidates, even those running as outsiders. Portraying the candidate as the outsider or underdog is a job for the communications team, not the ground operation. A candidate who walks into an event and sees a sloppy advance presence from his team, especially at events where the competition is present, is often left to believe that he has a lazy staff and unenthused volunteers. Not the best mindset for a successful performance at the event.
Use your eyes and ears on the ground to troubleshoot. Think of your advance staff and volunteers as special forces sent to conduct reconnaissance before a military operation. They are on the scene early, and are able to convey key information about the event to the candidate and traveling staff, such as any unexpected VIP arrivals or other candidates in attendance, issues with the venue, or changes to the format.
When the going gets tough, the tough get creative. Even if a campaign follows all of the above advice, there will still be times where directions are wrong or someone forgets to grab the box of collateral (campaign literature, signs, stickers, etc.). In instances where your advance team finds itself late to the scene, or unprepared, it can be a mistake to continue to plow ahead with the usual game plan.
Changes can be as simple as having staff or volunteers hand out palm cards at the doors as attendees enter instead of rushing to place them on each seat. If time allows, dispatch someone to pick up forgotten collateral (or a cheap and available substitute like small American flags) to pass out as attendees leave.
Relieve and reward volunteers. A good advance volunteer is worth his or her weight in gold. They are willing to perform a task that often requires getting up very early in the morning and tends to involve a lot of hurry up and waiting. Once the event is underway, encourage volunteers to step out for coffee or water, and make sure they get a big “thank you” from the candidate.
Amelia Chassé is an account director at Hynes Communications, where she advises political campaigns, corporations and advocacy organizations on new media strategy. A veteran of campaigns at the state, local and presidential levels, she currently resides in New Hampshire.