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Building an audience for a blog might be a skill transferable to politics

At the moment, I work as the Political Director for the Rocks for Freeholder campaign. I’m still learning the job, but Michael McNamara’s description seems pretty apt to me:

The PD will work closely with the campaign manager to implement strategy and execute tasks. While directing campaign staff in the execution of events, sign posting, volunteer activities and other coordination, a good director also builds a rapport with other community leaders, allies to the campaign, volunteers and other people with whom the campaign comes in contact. Essentially, the political director can act as the “glue” for a larger organization….

The political director will be the face of the campaign with people when the candidate cannot be there. A political director must be a self-starter who can look at the playing field of the campaign, identify the important groups to meet and ally with and then bring them into the campaign fold…. As on of the chief intelligence gatherers in the campaign, the PD keeps a finger on the pulse of the people in the district (McNamara 23-4).

I’m not a good PD yet. Right now, there’s too much to do and the times we come together as a team to talk about strategy in the abstract are actually helpful. We can’t do everything, so meetings that help us list what’s important, evaluate what’s achievable, and then focus on those things that are productive. I never thought I would be sympathetic at all to generic advice which comes from books like “100 Leadership Lessons,” but I understand now why those things exist. They give starting points a team – a collection of individuals with very different ideas and backgrounds – can respect and work from.

In any case, I’m bringing this up because the staff wants some clear criteria for what is relevant to do without reenacting Hamlet. And what I’m beginning to realize is that we, as a campaign, haven’t learned a lesson that I learned early on in blogging. You don’t build an audience by doing every random thing. You don’t even build one by targeting people based on interests and preferences. There are times you do different things and are relentless with a few of those. There are times where you target specifically and you expect a certain result.

But none of that adds up to an account for why you do what you do. And the account is what you need: every blog, like every campaign, is a story. The story encompasses what you wanted to communicate, how you communicated it, how people listened and responded. It isn’t just shouting a lot and hoping something goes viral. It didn’t take me long to realize that blogging about Dickinson was a smart move. I got to talk about themes I liked in depth and the audience liked the poetry, read with me, started engaging the themes on their own.

Similarly, with the campaign, we’re looking for something specific: we’re looking for where people want to engage us. The communication is two-way, and there are things we have to say that won’t win the election, but make us responsible, make it clear our candidate is a leader, further communication on a deeper level. Right now, people in New Jersey are incensed about property taxes. With the current Board of Freeholders proposing an 8% rate increase in the county’s property-tax rate, this is an issue where Josh will get traction. It isn’t like the county has been managed well in recent years: change is probably a necessity. But it’s not the only issue we’re going to discuss. Nobody wants to think about the (mis)management of the jail in hard times. Law and order, the most basic function of any government, takes a backseat to the pain residents are feeling in their wallets. It’s still an issue Josh brings up, it’s still an issue we need to talk about.

A campaign isn’t fundamentally educative. It is designed to win an election. But a campaign shouldn’t promote ignorance, either, and a good campaign recognizes that it isn’t simply screaming for attention. What we’re doing, in the final analysis, is this: we’re finding people who want to listen. We broadcast to them and engage them; we also keep looking for more who want to listen. Eventually, the audience takes on a life of its own. People are attracted by the fact someone else is giving careful attention to something else. Our activities as a campaign have to be geared toward building a serious base to broadcast to. Information and time are premium, as are high quality statements by the candidate. He’s running, after all, because he had something important to say.

References

McNamara, Michael. The Political Campaign Desk Reference. Denver: Outskirts Press, 2008.

1 Comment

  1. Tell Him to Remember the Vets on Memorial Day… and their Families…

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