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« Profiles 'n' Courage | Main | Rima Campaigning in the Foreign Press »

How a Campaign is (and isn't) Like a Startup

As a result of the campaign, I've been invited to chat with the local IDEA Cafe, basically a support group for aspiring and recovering entrepreneurs. Since it's a decidedly non-political group, I'll be talking about process, rather than policy. Basically, a campaign is a startup, and the campaign and entrepreneurs probably have a lot to learn from each other.

How so?

Well, for one thing, you had better have done your research before you start running. Your product is a combination of positions and proposals. (To some extent, your product is also your positioning relative to other candidates, but more about that later.) If you think you're going to have time to do research and refine the product once the campaign is underway, good luck with that, as they say. Part of a campaign is working on and refining message, but the basic product, and the principles underlying it, had better be settled before you start to run.

Probably the piece of the campaign that people are most familiar with is the marketing aspect - segmenting the market, and then trying to position yourself into (and your opponent out of) favor with those juicy segments. Here's where your brand - i.e. party - can either help or hurt. Trying to get yourself in front of as many voters as possible also matters, and there are free forums and so-called earned media that are less available to entrepreneurs, by virtue of the process.

And then, there's funding. Like any good enterprise, a campaign needs to show the prospect of a return on an investor's money in order to raise funds. And like any good pie of investors, the target group can be divided into more and less risk-averse. The great risk-takers will help fund the petition drive. But many folks won't contribute until you're past the primary.

Here again, the value in funding a candidate can vary from race to race. An investor in a candidate in a safe district might be seen as looking for access once the person's elected. A contributor in a close race is looking to boost that party's prospects for control. A candidate in a more difficult district can still raise money by broadening the theater: after all, votes in his district count towards state totals on things like ballot initiatives and Senate and Presidential races. And every candidate can sell the longer-term, multi-cycle business of fighting the battle of ideas in the trenches.

And then there's the Exit Strategy. Campaigns usually have a series of well-defined exit strategies; they're called, "elections." Although, if you think of the operation in terms of a political career, and not just one campaign cycle, then it more closely resembles and ongoing operation. The problem is that way, way too many candidates and politicians do exactly that...

Exit Strategy - Election

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