Do you need a campaign plan?

This post is part of a ten-part series on preparing to run for local office. For the rest of the series, check out the links in the introductory post

Why is it important to have a campaign plan? Throughout the campaign, the candidate will be pulled in a lot of directions. 

You will get calls from radio ad salesmen, mail houses and phone vendors pitching their products. Each salesman can show you numbers that make you think their product is the key to victory. These can be hard to turn down, particularly when salesmen imply that your opponent is using their services. Nothing makes a candidate more nervous than thinking his opponent is doing something he is not - and that he might get votes for it. 

You will also get calls throughout the campaign from volunteers who want to host fundraisers. And you'll need to consider debates and editorial boards that want to interview you. Many of those are important to attend. 

All these requests for the candidate's time and money get ratcheted up in the final weeks of the campaign. That's why it's important to have a campaign plan. 

Here are a few elements of the campaign plan I think are most important, if the idea of a full-blown campaign plan seems daunting: 

1. Message
If voters are going to know what you stand for, you have to say the same thing, over and over. It's easy for candidates to want to change up the message because they get bored with it, but most voters aren't bored with it. They are barely familiar with it. When you write your campaign plan, determine what your message is. Then write a draft 'stump speech,' make sure everyone is on the same page and stick with that message. 
Minor tweaks are fine, but if your message is that the city needs to do more to bring business to town, your speeches need to focus on that. If economic development isn't discussed in every speech in the final weeks of the campaign your message isn't getting through. 

2. Schedule
The requests for the candidates time can be difficult to manage. He'll want to be at everything, but he can't. I once agreed to send a candidate to a coffee at a big supporters home. She promised about 50 attendees, including neighbors who wanted to get to know my candidate. 
As it turned out, there were eight people at the event, and seven of them were candidates for a different offices in the county. She had one neighbor there, someone I suspect she wanted to impress with all the 'hot shot' political people she knew. 
The lesson - plan out your schedule ahead of time. Don't let last minute requests trump what you're doing unless they're really important. The schedule should include weekly call time for donations and door to door campaigning. It should also include any debates and editorial board meetings and speaking engagements. Do your homework ahead of time and find out which events are scheduled for which days. You don't want to be scrambling with last minute changes. 

3. Budget
Planning your budget ahead of time may be the most important element of the campaign plan. It makes it far easier to say no later. People reluctantly accept "sorry, we created our campaign budget six months ago and we need to stick to it."
Planning it in advance will keep you from spending money on things you don't need, then coming up short in late October. 
Tip: write two budgets, one for what you expect to raise, and one for if you fall a little short - that way you can adjust if necessary. 

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