Tuesday, March 29, 2016

7 Common Pitfalls of First-Time Political Candidates [Abbott PR]

As first-time candidates throughout the U.S. begin to prepare for primary elections, it's a good time to take a look at some pitfalls these candidates often encounter.

1. Trying to self-manage a campaign. If you serve as your own campaign manager, you're being managed by a fool. Why? Because you cannot objectively make decisions affecting yourself. For example, you cannot objectively tell yourself that your wardrobe is inappropriate, that you must tone down your favorite diatribe, or that you're speaking too long. This is true for your spouse and other close family members, too. They cannot be totally objective. To run a winning campaign, it takes an outsider's clear view of the campaign to make these kinds of decisions - objectively. Sometimes it's hard to hear that you're approaching a campaign from the wrong direction, and you may even be upset, but better you hear it from someone who WANTS you to win, rather than from voters on election day. (Note: For some races for smaller offices with smaller budgets, a strong campaign adviser - or a communications consultant - may be fine as a substitute for a full-fledged, full-time manager. But the advice holds - get outside help.)

2. Failing to raise and spend the right amount of money. Speaking of money, if you don't have the cash, you must raise it. First-time candidates often delude themselves into thinking money doesn't matter. It does. Without money, there isn't a campaign. And it must be not only raised, but spent, wisely. Even if you think you only need a small amount of money, media and voters will be watching to see if you have the ability to raise more than you need. The truth is, candidates need professionals to help them to raise money - or force them to, if necessary.

3. Focusing on the wrong issues. You have 40 issues that you want to tackle in your campaign: abortion, the IRS, Federal defense spending, social security, etc., etc. But wait a minute, you're running for a seat in the state legislature! Much of this will be irrelevant to the office you're seeking. Spending time on issues you would have no control over if you're elected is a waste of time, and can unnecessarily give voters reasons to vote against you. A campaign must focus on a select few, relevant local issues, and not deviate from them.

4. Talking about the wrong issues ... to the wrong people. You should never lie or change your views to chase poll results in order to get votes. Voters can sniff out a phony. But it simply makes sense to speak to groups and individuals about things they care about. Making wildly irrelevant speeches to influential groups is a sure way of looking foolish - and irrelevant, yourself. Relying on speech writers, your manager and/or your communications consultant to direct your campaign's focus on issues is a wise move. It will likely keep you from looking completely out of touch, and will give your campaign a polished look and feel, without compromising your principles.

5. Steering out of the Mainstream. Okay, so you believe in UFOs and aliens, you  think flying cars can solve traffic jams, and that JFK was shot five times by CIA operatives, Castro and the Mob working together. Keep it to yourself. While some of this may seem "folksy" coming from long-time politicians, remember this: nuts don't often get elected. And if they do slip in, they frequently don't stay elected. Say something off-the-wall and it by very well be the only thing voters remember about you, and the only thing the media will focus on, and can easily destroy your chances of victory. In short, keep irrelevant views to yourself. A speechwriter will be able to "filter out" items that you may not notice in a first draft, and keep you from saying things that will "ALIENate" voters.

6. Running to lose. Sometimes, the better part of valor is not running at all. If you don't have the financial resources, if you don't have the support of colleagues and family members, or if you don't have the willpower, health, time or effort to run an effective campaign, don't do it. (And if you can't keep your head above water in one of these areas at any point in the campaign, consider dropping out.) If you do run, however, you must run to win, not to make a point. People don't vote to make a point, they vote for winners. And voters sense when you're just riding a hobby horse, and don't really care about winning.

6. Being Unprofessional. Failing to present your campaign as professional is a sure sign you haven't hired professionals to design your campaign. For example, you had better use professional design and printing, because if you don't, you may be viewed as not credible as a candidate. Independent candidates often get carried away with their message, filling a sign, website, or brochure with trite slogans and LOADS of text, resulting in unreadable nonsense no one will actually read. This is the sure sign of an amateur candidate - one who will not be  taken seriously. Keep it brief and keep it professional, and the best way to do this is to have it written by a professional.

A professional campaign consultant will help you to avoid these pitfalls, and many more, in the course of your campaign. Abbott Public Relations offers a wide array of reputation building and campaign consulting services for right-of-center candidates and future candidates in Florida and throughout the US.

Stephen Abbott is a public relations consultant and political messaging specialist, and the principal of Abbott Media Group, specializing in helping political candidates, business leaders, groups and start-ups craft effective messages. Visit Abbott Media Group for more information.

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