31 Aug How Strategic Planning Can Help You WiN
As seen in Campaigns & Elections.
In business schools around the globe, aspiring entrepreneurs are taught the importance of writing down their goals when launching a new venture. These ideas are then formatted into a business plan, which serves as a strategic roadmap. Having this document allows them to measure their effectiveness in real terms, such as the units sold against quota or the revenue achieved as compared to projected earnings.
Many new businesses fail because they lack proper planning, strong leadership or adequate funding. Many campaigns, meanwhile, win and lose for the same reasons.
Like any new business venture, a winning campaign must have revenue goals for fundraising; it must recruit workers. A campaign must also determine a budget for advertising and decide how many fundraising events to hold. Most importantly, however, it must have a strategic plan that’s effectively implemented.
Now, what’s this document look like? It’s simply an outline of processes, research and key objectives that help guide a campaign toward victory. First, a campaign plan must contain a finely tuned budget to determine if and when it can hire staff and vendors for things like polling, media production, opposition research, web design or direct mail.
Other elements of a strong campaign plan include an organizational structure, key policy issues, strategic imperatives, election history analysis, district demographics, timelines and defined objectives for grassroots outreach, fundraising and marketing (including strategic communications, social media, paid advertising and earned media). Finally, a campaign must also have a strong brand and a clear message that capitalizes on a candidate’s strengths and policy positions.
At our firm, 720 Strategies, strategic planning is a separate service that gives clients an 80-100 page document for a one-time fee. It’s always the first step in the process for any client we take on. We rarely agree to serve as the GC for a campaign unless they first invest in a strategic plan.
But once a campaign has paid the one-time fee for us to conduct the research necessary to write a custom plan, we’ll provide ongoing strategy consulting on its implementation as part of the GC retainer.
For instance, in 2012, I served as the chief strategist for Brian Brown’s North Carolina House campaign. We were running against Democrat Marian McLawhorn, an eight-term incumbent. Some five months before the general election, my client was down by 26 points in a mock ballot survey of likely voters.
Things looked hopeless. Brown, however, was a strong and energetic candidate with fundraising ability and excellent credentials. With these considerations in mind, I developed a strategy that focused on highlighting his strengths and driving home his policy messages to likely voters.
Focusing on Brown’s strengths was important, but we also needed to address McLawhorn’s weaknesses. We developed a strategy that emphasized her record and noted that it was on her watch that the district’s unemployment rate had soared. We used facts to make our case and proven information from authoritative sources, which we cited in each advertisement.
Ultimately, by focusing on a strategy that highlighted Brown’s strengths as a business owner and job creator while highlighting the area’s job losses over the course of the incumbent’s time in office, we won the campaign 52-to-48 percent in a legislative district where Democrats outnumbered Republicans two-to-one in voter registrations.
Moreover, by challenging the incumbent’s legislative record with facts, rather than insulting her service, we rose above the negativity associated with attack ads and caused voters to question what was most important to them: more jobs in Pitt County.
Still, we never would have known that job creation was the top issue in the district if we hadn’t polled. Developing a strategic campaign plan that focused on the identification of voters’ priorities was key to the Brown campaign’s success.
Those who win plan, and those who plan win.