One of the many reasons I like Mike and his blog is that he frequently shares a pearl of campaigning wisdom that, in real life, can take many years and many campaign dramas to learn. Mike was one of many fantastic presenters at the recent 2014 Campaign Management and Political Marketing Workshop which Stephen Mills and Jennifer Rayner organised at Sydney University in July (and which I am still yet to blog about properly – don’t worry, it’s still on my to-do list).
I remember former NSW General Secretary John Della Bosca explaining at a media event that, in real life, it actually takes about 10 years of on-the-job-training in many (both winning and losing) campaigns before a state or territory party branch can confidently say it has “trained up” a competent and professional “Campaign Organiser”. I believe he was correct, give or take a couple of years depending on the intelligence, aptitude and good humour of the trainee. The more experience you have, the less mistakes you will repeat, because some mistakes are inevitable in politics and public life.
Well here is a blog where ANYONE can read and learn some real-life campaigning truisms. And this one is a pearler: Always have a strategy or plan (before you act).
Briefly and wisely, Mike explains: “When candidates are frustrated, deadlines loom, issues are urgent or crises threaten, then it’s so easy to be stampeded into taking quick action – under-planned and under-evaluated action. There’s nearly always time to devise a strategy and plan its delivery. There’s nearly always time to check whether ideas are truly good or merely appear so, whether they can deliver optimal outcomes, or whether a more considered approach can do better.
You must resist the pressure to start doing things before you have a plan. When you haven’t got the time to plan, you either need a plan in the bottom drawer ready to pull out – because you’ve already prepared a crisis management plan – or you need to find a way to defer the frustration, deadline, urgency or threat – even if it is just for an hour or two.”
It reminded me of another pearl of wisdom that I have often used (most recently in a 125-page ACT Labor Report about the 2012 ACT Election Campaign) which I love to share during training sessions. It’s a friendly warning to future campaign directors and candidates of the harsh judgement that they may be subjected to within the Labor Party, even when they win an election campaign.
To the many “armchair experts” we offer this advice from Theodore Roosevelt: “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing”. But for your own sake, at least base your decision on a rational strategy and plan!
And guess what? Occasionally a Campaign Director will make the wrong call! That’s the inevitable consequence of limited resources (time, money, people, information) and the inevitable chaos of a tough campaign. I’ve always quietly laughed at the CVs of professional “Campaign Consultants” (I understand there’s around 30,000 of them in the US) who proudly list all the “winning campaigns” they have worked on. Their CV’s and resumes rarely list “losing campaigns” or even “close calls where we were nipped in the final sprint to the finish”. Clearly they’re not choosing to fight many close or marginal contests. Science tells us if you regularly fight a close contest (i.e. polling around 50/50, give or take a margin of error) you will probably lose 50% of the time.
Anyway, never hang your head in shame if you lose or if you know you gave it your best shot and it still wasn’t enough to please the inevitable critics. Remember this: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the person who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; because there is not effort without error and shortcomings; but who does actually strive to do the deed; who knows the great enthusiasm, the great devotion, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement and who at the worst, if they fail, at least they fail while daring greatly. So that their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt