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You are definitely positively in the race, you have calculated your win number, and you have sifted the numbers and identified your target audience.  The next step is determining how you convey your message to the voters.  In other words, it's time to write your campaign plan.

In my first entry in this series, Campaign Manuals, I suggested some commonly available books that discuss aspects of the campaign trail.  If you are unfamiliar with some of the terms I use, you might want to get one of those books as a reference guide.  They will also suggest how to draft a campaign plan, but you are interested in this version as well, right?

One oft-quoted maxim states the key to a successful campaign is frequent, effective contact with persuadable likely voters.  By now you have identified the persuadable likely voters, and while this series will discuss methods of voter contact in detail later on, most campaign veterans believe the goal should be to contact each targeted voter in some fashion seven to nine times.  That is all types of contact: media advertising, direct mail, and personal contact either by phone or at the door.  In a low-budget, small district campaign, that may drop to five or six, but if you can't muster more than three total contacts with each voter, you are probably in trouble.

The basic tool for drafting your campaign plan is a calendar.  The occasional effort by Bush or Coleman aside, campaigns end on a date certain -- Election Day -- and all your energy is focused on that deadline.  Your campaign should be built toward that day, and a calendar is the best way to do that.

Start filling in the dates set by law.  Election Day is the most obvious one, but there are also the filing dates to appear on the ballot and the deadlines for filing campaign finance reports.  Some jurisdictions also set time limits on such things as fund-raising or the display of campaign signs.  My suggested next step is to note whatever deadlines are byproducts of those days.  For example, the campaign finance reports mentioned above cover periods that end a few days or weeks earlier.  As you plan your fund-raising, you might want to ensure your big event happens before the reporting period deadline.  (Or maybe right after, if you want to downplay your fund-raising prowess.)

Once the legal dates are marked in, start counting backwards from Election Day, and pencil in elements of your voter contact program.  Say your target universe is 17,000 voters in 12,000 households.  Of those, 5800 voters in 4000 households have been identified as absentee voters, with early voting starting four weeks before Election Day.  In the last entry, I referred to the start of the early voting period as Absentee Day, so let's keep that term.  Your plan must be designed to reach 4000 houses by Absentee Day, and all 12,000 houses by Election Day.  The trick is how to do it.

I start with the field efforts: door-to-door canvassing and phone banking.  Grab your precinct lists and calculator and follow along. I will save the details of the calculations for another day, but for this exercise assume each canvasser can reach 33+ houses in a shift, and each phone bank worker can make 50 calls a shift.  Your walking operation, therefore, requires 120 volunteer shifts to reach each absentee house, and 240 to reach the Election Day houses, while the phone bank team requires 80 and 160 shifts, respectively, for each round of calls.  At this point, you must assess the extent of your support, and your volunteers' commitment.  Can you generate 40 volunteers for nine days's worth of walking, or will it be 20 volunteers working eighteen days?  Will they be willing to walk twice a week or just once?  Similarly with the phone banks:  a 12-line phone bank operating five nights a week can make calls more rapidly than six callers working four nights a week, but it all depends on whether you can staff the lines.

Let's assume your calculations lead you to start precinct walking and phone banking August 15.  You pencil that date in, and then you pencil in the dates for preparation.  Precinct walkers will need maps, lists, and other supplies.  Make sure you have enough time & volunteers to prepare the precinct kits.  Do you need to buy paper maps from the county elections department, or print out online maps?  Make sure your voter list is up-to-date; how much time does your computer guru need to make sure it's properly formatted for walking, and how long does it take for the county to provide a list after it's ordered?  You may find your walk program has just created a deadline for placing a voter list order of August 1.

Your walkers will need campaign literature too; otherwise, what's the point?  How much time does your printer need to produce 5000 pieces?  What's the turnaround time after he screws up the first batch by mispelling your name?  That becomes your deadline for getting copy to the printer.  Add in another couple of days for in-house review of the walk piece, and that's when you expect your graphics designer to get a proof to you.  How long does it take her to create copy from your bright ideas and glowing campaign speeches?  There's another deadline.  Do you need to take campaign photos for the piece?  How long will it take to get both proofs and digital images from the photographer?  Do you need to make an appointment with the mayor of Bigtown for an endorsement photo?  And so on.  By thinking through all the steps to create your basic walk piece, which is one element of your precinct kit for canvassing, you now have a deadline of June 15 to make sure you have a nice haircut and several changes of clothing for your photo shoots the next day.  At the same time, you are fine-tuning your campaign's message and deciding what are the top three points you will spend the next four months repeating every chance you get.

Similar calendaring exercises will come into play with direct mail and broadcast media.  For a piece of mail, you will need to learn how long it takes for the piece to by printed, processed by a bulk mailing house, and delivered by the post office.  Each of those deadlines need to be in your calendar, as well as a reminder note to spend time designing each piece.  Broadcast media will require lead time for shooting the ad, editing it, and post-production for the nifty graphics.  Depending on the area, you may need to ad several weeks of production time into your plan for cable television ads.  

For both mail and broadcast, you will want to synch their content and delivery times in with your field operations.  Since in our example, you're starting walking August 15, you may want to send your introductory mailer around August 10, and make sure it complements, but does not duplicate, your walk piece.  That TV spot with the local police union endorsing you should air the same week your "sensible solutions for public safety" mailer drops, the weekend that the local chapter of IAFF shows up to walk for you in their union t-shirts identifying themselves  as firefighters in the community.

Sidebar: Notice how I casually included the notion of having two of thr groups endorsing you participate in your media and mobilization activities?  You need to find out when the major interest groups make their endorsement decisions and include that in your campaign calendar as well.  If the police & fire unions don't endorse until September 20, there's no point in doing a major public safety push on September 15!

Developing the campaign calendar will also help you develop your campaign budget, and determine when the money is needed.  This will set your fund-raising goals, and lead to the development of the fund-raising calendar.  Follow the same pattern as before.  Work backward from the date the money is needed, to the fund-raising event, to the steps needed to organize and host the event.  Developing your campaign & fund-raising plans in such detail also gives you the advantage of looking credible when you talk to the early donors to your campaign, the people you will be counting on to pony up the first $1000 ($5000; $10,000; $50,000) to get your campaign off the ground.

A final note: while having a campaign plan is definitely better than "winging it", remember that in the end, it is only paper and computer bits, not chiseled granite.  Be prepared to be flexible when (not if) events demand it.

Originally posted to CABlueDog on Wed Jun 10, 2009 at 10:02 PM PDT.

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