Strategic Communications: Budgeting Your Resources to Win

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By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

In our last discussion, we talked about the importance of determining whether you can win before determining how much money you need.  Once you determine whether you can win, how much money you’ll need is based on how you plan on allocating your resources, which is one of the most difficult decisions to make.

For example, one of the biggest challenges that campaigns face is how much money to devote to field organizing since, as we’ve seen, this is the most effective form of voter contact .  However, it also the most labor intensive and expensive to employ.

Though there is no formula for allocating resources, you first must determine how many votes you need to win.  For a local land use approval, this entails determining a critical mass of voters based on political dynamics such as the predispositions of public officials, the level of opposition, etc.  And, for ballot initiatives and referenda, this involves determining your votes-to-win, or your 50-percent-plus-one, number.

With smaller campaigns, such as local campaigns in small communities where voter turnout is only in the hundreds, most of your resources are best spent on door-to-door canvassing to meet with voters individually.  In larger campaigns, such as statewide campaigns where voter turnout is in the millions, you may need to rely mostly on paid media.  For example, even though Jerry Brown was heavily outspent by Meg Whitman in his campaign for governor, his campaign utilized its resources more effectively (see “Jerry Brown nearly matched Meg Whitman’s campaign spending on TV in final weeks of race,” Los Angeles Times, February 1, 2011,  At the end of the day, suffice it to say, you want to reach as many voters as you can the most effective and efficient way possible.

The bad news is that there is no formula to allocate resources.  However, the good news is that there is a metric to help you do so.  This metric is the cost per voter contact ratio.  That is, every voter outreach method can be evaluated in terms of its cost per voter contact.  For instance, if it costs you $300 to reach 100 voters via door-to-door canvassing then it obviously costs you $3 per voter contact for your field organizing activities.  As another example, direct mail typically costs between $.65 and $1 to design, produce and mail depending upon the type of mailer and the universe involved.  And, paid media such as television advertising, though generally expensive, can cost far less in terms of cost per voter contact.

Budgeting for political campaigns is especially difficult due to constantly changing dynamics and limited resources.  So, although allocating resources for campaigns involves mostly political decisions, a little math can help.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for The Saint Consulting Group; email, phone (781) 749-7290  ext 7701.