Choose a campaign manager who leads the enterprise.

The Role of a Campaign Manager

Every team needs a strong leader.

Campaigns are collective action. They require a team. Yet even the best team will struggle without a clear leader.

The leader of the next campaign must be the campaign manager, not the consultants.

The campaign manager makes the best leader. This person operates with high internal authority and low external visibility. The campaign manager is the full-time leader inside the campaign. She or he ensures that good, honest thinking and planning is part of every aspect of implementation. She or he has the authority to hold everyone—including top consultants and, directly or indirectly, all staff—accountable for outstanding work and measureable results.

The campaign manager is therefore NOT the campaign spokesperson. The manager is NOT the face of the campaign. The manager will neither appear in TV ads nor debate the opposition.

Instead, the manager manages. He or she focuses on the team. It is a full-time job for a campaign manager to recruit, motivate, supervise, coach, evaluate, promote, demote, and correct members of the team and to make sure that the team is doing a good job both thinking about and running the totality of the operation.

In this way, the campaign manager is responsible for follow-through. The campaign manager, either personally or through someone she or he supervises, makes sure a good idea matures into a plan, that every plan is broken down into tasks, that an identifiable individual involved in the campaign is responsible for every task and has a specific deadline for getting it done, that every task is completed with care and professionalism, and that all related tasks stay on a common timetable so that all of these tasks bring to life the original idea that inspired them. Then the accomplishment needs to be measured, evaluated, and, if successful, replicated.

The manager has to be more invested in creating and motivating a high-functioning team than in micromanaging all decisions and implementation of decisions.

Ultimately, projects like campaigns with a deadline (Election Day) that are not under our control have the best chance of succeeding if one person has enough authority to make important decisions and lead the campaign team in a particular direction on behalf of the entirety of the campaign.

The campaign manager cannot be the same person as the lead campaign consultant, even though many consultants may chafe at the idea of having to report to a campaign manager. Only if the campaign manager is independent of the consultants can the manager hold the consultants accountable for their performance.

As the author of this report, I recognize that the idea of a strong, central campaign manager is different from the typical way statewide campaigns are organized in California. More typically, much of the authority that I am recommending for the campaign manager would instead rest with the general consultant. The campaign manager would have day-to-day supervisorial and logistical responsibilities, a much more limited role in decision making, and no authority to manage the consultants. The advantage of having the general consultant serve as the decision maker is that the person at the helm will more likely have experience running statewide campaigns in California. But the trade-off is that without the manager actually managing the consultants, there is no way to hold the consultants accountable; the risk is high that the consultants will dominate any lay board or executive committee. Without ongoing guidance from an experienced campaign manager, the board is unlikely to understand until after the fact the implications of all of the consultants’ decisions, nor is it going to feel confident challenging the consultants’ decisions or evaluating the consultants’ performance.

Consultants end up with too much power unless the campaign manager is the leader. Most statewide campaigns in California, and many statewide campaigns in other states, choose someone other than the campaign manager to be the leader. For example, some choose a board chair, cochairs, or an executive committee of those focused part-time on the campaign as leader. Others, particularly in large states, hire a general consultant and treat them as the de facto leader. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. But the great disadvantage of having even highly capable nonexperts in the top leadership role is that too much power devolves to the consultants.

Nonexperts defer too often to consultants’ expertise—an expertise that is real and valuable but, as discussed elsewhere in this report, also reflective of experience in traditional campaigns that differs in some crucial ways from LGBT ballot measure campaigns.

As for having one of the consultants serve as the campaign manager or having an employee of one of the consulting firms serve as campaign manager, the problem of accountability is almost unsolvable. When a consultant is doing a less-than-outstanding job, it is not reasonable to expect that they will automatically self-correct. It is even less reasonable to expect that a junior person in the consultant’s firm will effectively call them to account.

In ballot measure campaigns where a very small number of funders donate most of the money, such as some campaigns on labor or education issues, consultants report to and are held accountable by the funders. This is a less plausible solution in a pro-LGBT ballot measure campaign, where many entities and individuals other than major funders see themselves as significant stakeholders, the fundraising burden is borne by a larger base of donors, and the major donors are not necessarily well equipped to evaluate the performance of the consultants.

Three other problems loom as well that are related to the simple fact that most consultants who we hire are not stakeholders. They are sympathetic to the LGBT community, but they are only peripherally and occasionally related to it, and they do not see themselves as accountable to it. Perhaps surprisingly to some readers of this report, this caution should be applied to all consultants regardless of their sexual orientation. Most consultants fall prey to one or more of the following serious problems if they are placed in the top leadership or decision-making position:

·         Consultants have multiple clients and many distractions; if no one in the pro-LGBT campaign is pushing for optimal performance and maximal time investment, it is understandable why other campaigns that do push will get that kind of attention instead.

·         The temporary nature of the relationship between consultants and the LGBT community leads most consultants to focus only on short-term goals. If they are driving decision making, longer-term matters get short shrift. This explains the temptation of all avoidance strategies. If only avoidance would work this one time, the consultant needn’t worry about the more perplexing issue (such as the anti-gay argument about kids) again. This explains a significant part of the appeal of the avoidance strategies, and it’s to the credit of the No on 8 general consultant that he was willing to confer with executive committee members during the campaign. This collaborative process made possible the “Thorons” ad and its use of the word “gay.”

·         I have not yet met the consultant who fired himself. The manager has to be prepared to fire the consultant if performance is seriously lacking.

·         All told, these are three additional reasons why having a consultant who also serves as manager is problematic.

The people who served as the two No on 8 campaign managers brought to bear impressive capability. But, in different ways they struggled to get the best possible performance from the consultants. When the consultants underperformed, there was no clear person in charge with the experience, temperament, and time to point out the deficiencies and demand immediate improvement.

The power-sharing relationship between doctor and patient gives a good sense of the kind of power-sharing relationship a future campaign should seek to establish between the general consultant and the rest of the campaign leadership. Consider how any smart patient manages their doctor(s). The doctor is the expert, but not the decision maker. A good doctor takes initiative diagnosing a problem and creating a treatment plan. But when options exist, and when there is uncertainty about what works and what doesn’t, the doctor lays out the pros and cons of competing approaches; offers an analysis of the situation in lay language, rather than medical jargon, and allows the patient to apply their own judgment to the situation at hand. That’s what allows the patient to remain the decision maker, not just in name but in reality.

This relationship places a great deal of responsibility on the patient. The patient has to learn a lot more about his or her medical condition than would be necessary if the doctor was just calling the shots. The patient may decide to do additional research—going online, seeking out a second opinion—because that may yield additional information and stimulate additional questions that the patient wants to ask the doctor.

This relationship also places a very specific kind of responsibility on the doctor. The doctor’s job is to help the patient make the big decisions rather than make the decisions for them. There are many relatively routine decisions that the doctor makes, but any decision with serious consequences is for the patient. After all, it’s the patient’s health and the patient’s life at stake.

In a medical emergency, the patient gives the doctor much more latitude to act; time is of the essence. On the other hand, a smart patient and a smart doctor try to minimize the number of emergencies. When a problem is foreseeable—and this is truer in elections than in medicine—preventive care is called for. Waiting until a problem becomes an emergency is bad medical practice as well as bad political organizing.

The analogy is not perfect in every respect. A patient often accepts a referral from a doctor without asking for alternatives to interview and consider. In the electoral realm, this can easily produce a poor result. It can lead to all the experts sharing too many assumptions and being accountable only to each other. To keep them each individually accountable to the campaign leadership, the leadership needs independent relationships with each of them.

But the value of the analogy is the way it makes clear that management of experts by lay people is possible. We do it all the time, particularly when the stakes are incredibly high.

The campaign manager has to possess many qualities, but the most vital is to manage the consultants. This requires being able to distinguish excellent, good, mediocre, and poor performance, and having the strength to insist on the best. These are not campaigns where anything less than the best will do.

The campaign manager has responsibilities above and beyond managing consultants

The job of the campaign manager surpasses managing the consultants. The performance of the team and the tone of the campaign are strongly affected by the leadership at the top. I suggest the following as part of the campaign manager’s job description:

·         The campaign manager is responsible for building a team where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

A good manager is a generalist and knows something about every aspect of the campaign. They have to know enough about each part to ask probing questions and to judge intelligently whether others’ thinking and work is good enough.

A great manager is not only a generalist, but also someone who enjoys recruiting and motivating a terrific team to work with them. A manager can’t know enough or work enough hours to do all of this management and assessment by themself. They need others who have complementary strengths and weaknesses, and complementary experience and expertise. And the manager has to get this group of highly capable people to enjoy working and thinking together in an environment where synergy is maximized and reflexive groupthink is minimized.

The campaign manager engages the largest possible swath of the LGBT community in the campaign.

The next campaign cannot be won solely by the LGBT community. The LGBT community is too small a part of the electorate and too small a part of our base of supporters for that to be true.

But broad participation by the LGBT community and our allies is essential for it to succeed. A large number of the earliest and most committed donors and many of the most dedicated volunteers are likely to be LGBT or people who care about LGBT people. Maximizing the participation of the base greatly increases the scale on which the campaign can operate and how quickly it can get going.

Yet some worry that one or two odd people could attract outsize media attention that would seriously detract from the effectiveness of a campaign. Some in a future campaign might want, at times, a containment strategy to maximize the campaign’s control of media coverage.

But the LGBT community is extraordinarily diverse. Its colorful image can’t be controlled by admonishment. Many in our community master self-expression at an early age and cherish its exercise throughout their lives.

The best way to resolve the tension is, in my opinion, to hire a manager who is committed to engaging the LGBT community in the campaign, who enjoys reaching out to each slice of the community to figure out with them how they want to help, and who is willing to take the time well in advance of Election Day to teach everyone with whom they interact the power of unified action with a unified message. Once those in our community realize that one clear message frequently repeated is our only chance for any message to penetrate, most are going to support it, particularly if they are approached early and with a genuine desire to include them in the campaign.

We will therefore have a better chance to win if the manager has the temperament and the time to meet with, present data and ideas to, engage, and listen to a wide range of LGBT community leaders. The reward will be deeper, earlier, and more consistent engagement by a wider cross section of the community, and increase the likelihood that people will donate their time and money generously.

The campaign manager is not the only one who needs to make this commitment to community engagement (more on this below, in the recommendation to “frontload democracy”). But the manager’s interest and involvement sets the tone and insures a more consistent application of this mindset to each part of the campaign.

This in no way diminishes the necessity that the manager and the campaign engage progressive allies in the campaign who are not LGBT. We cannot win without their vigorous participation. But nobody seems to worry that the conduct of straight allies will reflect poorly on the campaign. My point is that the manager may end up irrationally fearing large-scale involvement by members of the LGBT community if they don’t begin with a very strong desire to relate to that community.

·         The campaign manager manages and maximizes face-to-face interaction among decision makers and key consultants.

Regular face-to-face interaction among the campaign leadership is a challenge in a state as large as California, and the leadership will surely include people from across the state.

But decision makers will understand each other better, appreciate each other more, take more risks on being frank with each other even when it’s uncomfortable, and more easily be held accountable if they meet face-to-face regularly. It is not a substitute for them to run into each other at campaign fundraisers or focus groups. Conference calls and other advances in telecommunications are useful augmentation but no substitute.

To have a maximally united and high-functioning campaign, the campaign manager must have a physical campaign office and get the team to commit to face-to-face interaction. I recommend that the office be in Los Angeles for two reasons. One, enormous potential exists for improving our standing among voters in Los Angeles: it is where the largest concentration of voters reside (25% of all voters in the state are in Los Angeles County). Two, it has the largest number of organizations currently involved in the fight. Most LGBT and allied statewide organizations have LA offices and many significant organizations are based solely or primarily in LA. It’s possible to have some face-to-face meetings elsewhere, but one central location makes it much more likely that the meetings will be regular and well attended.

The manager should make sure consultants understand from the interview and selection process the frequency with which they will have to participate face-to-face. Their face-to-face participation is not optional. If it costs the campaign more money, it’s money well spent.

Without this investment, the key tasks of the manager—to build a team and to hold consultants accountable for outstanding performance—will be much harder, perhaps insuperable. Everything in my experience over thirty years doing this kind of work is that the quality of the strategic thinking and implementation of every tactic will suffer without regular face-to-face interaction.

·         The campaign manager sets the right tone.

What’s needed is someone who is often able to live up to the best of what we want in our leaders: someone who is respectful to others, forceful at appropriate times, and humble at appropriate times; someone who is able to listen to new ideas and suspend judgment; someone who is self-critical, constantly wondering how the campaign can do better, and how they can do better; someone who has a high tolerance of criticism, both fair and unfair, and is highly tolerant when others question their own assumptions and habits; and someone who is curious about data, history, polling, competing hypotheses, and even hunches. This tone encourages new thinking and more humane criticism. That’s what is needed for a campaign to exceed the best of the past campaigns—and we must exceed them or we will be consigned to their fate.

How to Hire

Hire the campaign manager first.

To find a qualified campaign manager, a group of people with the campaign must do a thorough search, consider competing candidates, make sure the campaign manager has the specific ability and temperament to manage self-confident consultants, and evaluate closely the campaign manager’s performance after their first two or three months on the job so the group can either remove the campaign manager or move them to a position more suited to their strengths if they cannot fully do this part of the job.

For the campaign manager to have the best chance of holding the consultants accountable, hire the manager first, before hiring any consultants. That order permits the manager to participate in or ideally lead the hiring process for each of the consultants. Each consultant will then know right from the start who is in charge. And each consultant will negotiate with the manager right at the beginning all of the terms under which they will be expected to deliver.

A smart manager will involve a team in every aspect of the hiring process. But only if the manager is involved from the get-go will they have the best possible chance to establish the ground rules for consultant performance and accountability, the services they will provide, the specific timetable for providing them, the manner of providing them, the backup plan if the consultant fails to perform in outstanding fashion, and the terms of their compensation.

Hiring the manager first in a campaign as complex as No on 8 means hiring the manager a year or more in advance of Election Day, not three to six months in advance. Few campaigns do this. Even fewer sustain this decision and have a manager in place over the totality of a twelve- to twenty-four-month run-up to Election Day. Yet without this investment or some equivalent, a future campaign will struggle to find a potentially qualified manager, evaluate whether they can really do the job, give them the time to recruit a strong team, and avoid having to do much of the job on the fly. It is much better to give the manager enough time to implement some of the ideas recommended in this report that will increase LGBT community involvement in the campaign.

Of course, hiring the manager early requires enough money to pay them as well as to pay for related costs. But this is a small fraction of a $40 million campaign budget.

Why we should set the standards so high; what we can reasonably expect

The price that we’ll all pay for a campaign manager not having an appetite for doing this work is predictable. If the campaign runs into difficulty, which it will; if it makes mistakes, which it will; if it loses, as it might even if it performs admirably in every way because, honestly, these are very tough elections; the price we’ll pay is community rancor and strife, some of which is avoidable. But it is only avoidable if more of the community understands what the campaign is doing—why it’s doing it, and what it’s up against—and has had a chance to participate in the thinking as well as the doing.

The manager and the board will not be perfect. The LGBT community has not yet sustained a ballot measure victory on marriage in a single state (our lone victory, in Arizona, was subsequently reversed two years later). Since 1998, we have lost ballot measures in hirty-one states. In a sense, no one is fully qualified to run such a difficult campaign in California, the largest state of all, and one that is very complex.

But some set of people must lead. Someone must serve as manager and board members or we will never win. As allies, the LGBT community and the progressive forces that support the campaign must empower a manager and board to move ahead in an accountable way. We must find people who have great strengths and yet are comfortable acknowledging what they don’t know and asking for help, people who can strike a balance between hiring capable consultants and not deferring to them so significantly that the consultants become the de facto decision makers. With all of these ideas as part of the mind-set among the campaign leaders, we will, as a team, ascend the steep learning curve before us.