The only problem when seeking advice from friends and family about running for office is you may get bad advice from people who have never done it before. In this video, 5 really bad pieces of advice you may have heard, what you should do before you do anything else in a political campaign.

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The Title of today’s presentation is ‘When you are running for office, the first thing you gotta do is…’

The reason I’m talking about it is there are many candidates who are new to politics, new to running for office, and naturally they are looking for help anywhere they can get it. But sometimes the advice you get from friends and family isn’t always good advice, even though it is well intentioned. And through my many years of working on campaigns I’ve had candidates share with me some of the advice they received that was just plain wrong.

Today we’re going to talk about some of the things they were told, some things you may have been told, and why bad advice can be very costly. In addition, I’ll explain what you should do first in a political campaign if you want to get it off to a good start.

As we go through this, feel free to leave your comments and questions. And if you are watching this on a replay, go ahead and post your questions anyway. I’ll be checking the comments going forward, and will respond to any questions you leave.

To help illustrate what I am about to share I’ll start with a story about a high school classmate I once had:

His dream was to own a BMW. That was a big deal in the community where I was raised, a small town in the rural Midwest where most were farmers and everybody knew somebody who worked with their hands.

He had a pretty good job and when he was 35 he decided that a BMW would be his birthday present.

Being the cheap guy he was, he didn’t want to pay for a new one. The one he bought had almost a 100,000 miles on it. Being the cheap guy he was, he did not buy a warranty.

Shortly after he bought it he started hearing a strange noise coming from under the hood. And being the cheap guy he was, he did not take it to a mechanic. Instead he talked to a few friends and neighbors, and of course they all had ideas and suggestions on what he should do. And because two of 8 people he talked to said it might be the timing belt, he decided that since 2 of the 8 people he’d talked to had said the same thing, the problem had to be the timing belt.

Being the cheap guy he was, he didn’t want to pay anybody to fix the car for him, so he went to the auto store and spent several hundred dollars on a new timing chain kit, and a couple hundred dollars more on the tools he needed to install it, and replace the old one.

He spent an entire day replacing the timing belt. And after he’d finished the work he hopped in the car and turned the key. The car would not start. In fact, the engine wouldn’t even turn over.

So there it sat in his driveway. Idle. Motionless. Collecting dust. While my friend continued to make car payments on a car he could not use.

Two months went by and my friend finally decided he was going to have to talk to someone who knew more about a BMW than he did. He called a mechanic, scheduled an appointment, and paid a tow truck to take it in so the mechanic could look at it.

The next day the mechanic called and said your car is fixed. And of course my friend wanted to know what he’d done wrong when he tried to fix the timing belt. “You didn’t need a new timing belt. The old one was fine. You needed a new spark plug. Which I could have done for $45 if you had come to me first.”

As you begin your journey as a candidate for office you will be very tempted to seek the advice of friends, colleagues, neighbors, and others you know. There is one pitfall in doing it that way. They may be well meaning and sincere in their desire to help you, but the trouble with asking friends who have never done it is that they have never done it before.


I’ve worked with many candidates who have shared with me the advice they have received from friends, parents, aunt, uncles, and even cousins. Here are a few of the things they have been told:

1. The First Thing You Gotta Do Is: Get Your message out.

All well and good if you have a compelling and coherent message, but that suggestion is a road to disaster if you don’t. I’ve seen that play and it’s a flop.

A few years ago there was talk in New York of a young Kennedy running for the United States Senate. Her name was frequently mentioned in the newspapers, and she sought the advice of several friends, many of whom told her, “get your message out.” The only problem was she had not given much thought to what her message should be.

She granted an interview to a television reporter and when asked why she wanted the job, she didn’t have an answer. “I just want to serve,” she said, “and do what’s right for the people in New York. Ya see, our family has always believed in public service and that’s why I am running. And I just want to make sure we do the right thing for the people of this state.”

That interview quickly ended her campaign.

2. The First Thing You Gotta Do Is: Announce your Candidacy.

All well and good if you have something to say about what you hope to accomplish, and what you are going to do for the people you represent. But if you have not given that any thought; if you have not spent serious time putting that together: your rationale, your reason for running, your announcement will be a speech about nothing, which is what you’ll get out of it.

3. The First Thing You Gotta Do Is: Get your Website done.

Great idea, once you have a good photo file, vetted and scrubbed your official biography, and come up with three concrete ideas on what you are going to do and how you are going to do it.

Until that time, messing with a website is a silly waste of time.

4. The First Thing You Gotta Do Is: Get on Social Media.

Using social media to advance a political campaign is a great idea. Doing it without a coherent roll out plan, a compelling message and strategic targeting is like getting in a car and driving somewhere without knowing where you are going. You waste a lot of time, money, and accomplish nothing.

5. The First Thing You Gotta Do Is: Attack Your Opponent.

Nope. If you go after someone without first offering people a reason to vote for you, you will have a very bad day in the court of public opinion.

What IS the first thing you have to do?

Think of the story of the iPhone. Apple created a product before they did anything else. An amazing product that improved the quality of life for a lot of people. And they created a product that people would want to buy.

Think of the platform, your rationale, your reasons for running, what you are going to do for the jurisdiction you hope to represent as your product. Before you do anything else, create something that people would want to support.

Once Apple had developed the iPhone they designed their marketing plan, their packaging, their slogan, and began advertising it to people that Apple thought were most likely to buy it. Think of your campaign the same way. Once you have developed your message, then design your advertising strategy and target the people most likely to vote for you.

Once Apple had finished designing it’s marketing plan, Steve Jobs did several speeches explaining the ‘why’ of what Apple had done—empowering those who bought it by saving them time, money, energy, and exercising more control over their daily lives with a device that lived in their fingers.

Think of your story as your ‘why’—that should be the heart of your announcement speech and a key component of every speech you give.

How do you come up with platform, a rationale, an agenda that will make people want to vote for you?

First, ask yourself this question:What are you passionate about?

1. If you could wave a magic wand and fix three problems in the jurisdiction where you live what would they be?

Too Few Jobs? Too Few Parks? Too Many taxes? Too many kids who can’t afford college? Too many people leaving and moving to other places? Too many people going without good health care?

2. If you could do three things that would improve the quality of life in your jurisdiction what would they be?

Cleaner streets? Less Crime? More Police? Nicer parks? Better Schools?

3. What Wrongs would you like to right?

Too many government officials doing the public’s business behind closed doors? Lack of transparency in government? Too many lobbyists writing the zoning laws? Is there corruption that needs to be stopped? Kids not receiving the education they should? Empty storefronts in deserted downtowns because taxes are too high?

4. What injustices would you like to correct?

Are there people in your jurisdiction not getting quality healthcare? Teachers not earning what they should? Developers who are running roughshod over zoning rules? Abandoned homes falling into disrepair that ruin the housing values of other people?

5. Is there a threat you want to mitigate. An evil you want to conquer? A villain you want to vanquish?

Once you have some ideas on paper, then review your work, and pick the three that you think will have the most appeal to the voters you need to win. Then figure out how you are actually going to do the things that are on your list.

During your campaign you will be asked the question, “How are you going to do the things you propose to do?” If you don’t have an answer, you will have a bad day.

This is what you do in a political campaign, before you do anything else.

We’ve started a new Facebook Group for candidates who are running this year or plan to soon. It’s a place where you can get help with your campaign, get quick answers to any question you have so you can win an election and advance a worthy cause.

Come Join the Discussion

New Facebook Group- For Candidates Who Want to run for office & Win an Election
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Political consultant Jay Townsend works with smart, passionate candidates who want to run for office, win elections and make a difference. He has successfully helped candidates learn how to run for the U.S. Senate, how to run for Congress, how to run for Mayor and develop a winning campaign marketing strategy.

How to win an election:

Running for office and knowing how to win an election is a challenge, especially for first time political candidates just learning how to run for office. Discerning the fine points of how to campaign, raise political contributions, and execute a political campaign strategy often requires the help of someone who has served as a political strategist or who has experience as a political consultant.

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