Strategic Communications Part 7- Big Question: Can You Win?

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(The Saint Report has been publishing a series of posts about strategic communications in land use politics – Part 1Grassroots Organizing; Part 2 Public Relations; Part 3 Crisis Comms; Part 4 Corporate Social Responsibility and Part 5 Do the messages work?; Part 6 Your Message Should Target and Mobilize)

By Owen Eagan, The Saint Consulting Group

In politics, money doesn’t guarantee a win but you can’t win without it.  That is, the campaigns with the most money don’t always win but every campaign needs at least enough money to get their message and their vote out.  As a case in point, let’s use the recent gubernatorial race in California as an example.

In that race, former eBay CEO Meg Whitman, the Republican candidate, outspent the former governor and sitting Attorney General Jerry Brown, the Democratic candidate, by a margin of 4 to 1, only to lose 54% to 41% (see “Whitman lost, but payday was sweet for many,” California Watch, February 8, 2011, http://bit.ly/ecE8FK).  This also occurred despite the fact that Republicans made key gains nationally, taking 10 governorships from Democrats and taking back the House of Representatives for the first time since 2006.

There were many variables that contributed to Whitman’s loss, primarily the fact that she ran an awful campaign.  And, conversely, Brown ran a very good campaign (see “’Textbook example of how to run a bad campaign,’” California Watch, January 24, 2011, http://bit.ly/h136XT).  However, there are also plenty of instances where campaigns lost despite running a better campaign and spending more money than their opponents.  The reason for this?  Either they didn’t have enough money to get their message and their vote out or the campaign wasn’t winnable to begin with.

So, before determining how much money you’re going to need, the first question you need to ask is whether you can win.  This is true for both grassroots advocacy campaigns and ballot initiatives and referenda.  And how do you answer this question?  Well, every campaign is different and there is no formula for success.  When it comes to grassroots advocacy campaigns, you need to be able to identify a critical mass of voters that can be mobilized based on local political dynamics (see Strategic Communications Part 6: Your message should target and mobilize http://ow.ly/4D8aj).

And, generally speaking, ballot initiatives and referenda should not be pursued unless they are polling in the 60-70% range.  This is because you need a margin to account for a likely erosion of support due to the opposition’s efforts.  Only then can you determine how much money you’ll need to get your message and your vote out.  Of course, this presumes you hire the right people to get the job done.

Owen Eagan is a Senior Consultant for Saint Consulting, an international management consulting firm specializing in land use politics, email eagan@tscg.biz

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