Should you hire a political consultant if you are running for office?
But it depends.
Before you decide, you should understand what a political consultant is for, because some candidates do misunderstand the purpose of a political consultant.
The role of the political consultant is fairly straightforward: they help candidates efficiently and effectively expend resources. That’s essentially it.
A word doing a lot of heavy lifting in that job description is “resources.”
If you don’t have resources – namely, money – you should not hire a political consultant. The first reason is that political consultants cost money – money that you don’t have.
The second reason is because if you have no money, the political consultant basically has no purpose. Sure, they could give “political advice,” but if the candidate doesn’t have funds to execute that political advice, the advice is extraneous.
So you should first determine if you’ll have resources. And then you should determine if you will have enough resources to justify hiring someone to help you spend them. If the entirety of your resources will go to the consultant, you should not hire the consultant.
Let’s say you do have money. You might be thinking: “I know a good amount about politics, why do I need to pay someone to help me do what I can do on my own?”
And occasionally this isn’t the wrong approach. But it is rare. If you are a well-funded candidate and you are considering bypassing hiring a political consultant, you should review the list of questions below, because they are merely a sample of questions you’ll have to answer during the course of the campaign.
Who is going to design my mail? Who is going to print my mail? How much should it cost to print the mail? How much should it cost to mail the mail? How do I mail thousands of pieces of mail quickly and easily?
Who am I sending my mail to? How am I going to get a list of registered voters? How am I going to filter that list to more effectively target voters? How am I going to identify who likely voters are?
How will I know what my message will be? What endorsements do I need to get? How do I get those endorsements? What should my budget look like? How much should I spend on mail? How much should I spend on signs? How much should I spend on bumper stickers?
(The answer to the last question, by the way, is almost always "Zero.")
This is just a partial list of all the questions your campaign will generate. And the more time you have to spend figuring out the answers or executing the answers, the less time you’re spending as a candidate. And the most important thing a candidate should be spending their time doing is candidate stuff.
This is where the consultant helping efficiently allocate resources further comes into play. A candidate themselves is a resource: if the consultant is able to execute all the consultant stuff, it makes the candidate more efficient.
The other benefit is psychological. Being a candidate is a very emotional experience. There is a lot on the line. You’re working tirelessly day after day. You may even have your own financial investment in the campaign. You want to win, badly. And all of these factors make you a very unobjective observer of your own adventure.
What does this mean? It could mean a lot of things. It could mean that a single random criticism from a single voter becomes an all-day crisis (it shouldn’t), or it means you walk around with rose colored glasses on, making it hard to accept or grapple with the idea your campaign strategy isn’t as smart as you think it is, or understanding that the negative news story about you really is a problem, or recognizing that just because the 12 voters you talked to today gave a positive response doesn’t mean “everyone is voting for you.”
A halfway decent political consultant will notice you are doing these things and say: "You are being stupid." (if they are mean) or "Here's a better way to look at it." (if they are nice), and inject some outside objectivity into your candidate brain.
So if you have an adequate amount of funding, you should hire a political consultant, even if you think you’re the most brilliant political mind in town. Because even if you are, there is a lot of "blocking and tackling" you probably haven't done before that the political consultant has experience with.
But more importantly, the emotional half of your brain will always be battling the analytical part of your brain, and more times than not, the emotional half wins. And so the analytical part of your brain needs reinforcements.
And so having an objective outside observer who doesn’t have as much on the line (emotionally) and who is willing to encounter hard truths is important.