Firing Your Political Consultant? Ask These Questions First -

by Ben Holse (He/Him)

Woman upset with head in hands

Fire My Political Consultant, - Is It the Right Time? 

Many experienced campaign managers or operatives can recall a bad experience with a political consultant. Perhaps the consultant didn’t deliver what they promised, they were unresponsive, or they didn’t hit deadlines. Depending on how far out you are from Election Day, this can lead to some tough decisions. 

Maybe you’re the candidate and you’re 100 days out from your election. Your campaign is behind in the polls, not getting press attention, and you don’t have as much money in the bank as you thought you would. You feel a ton of pressure, but you think your consultants are not working as hard as you are. Should you shake up your consultant team or just stick it out?

Sometimes folks panic and make mistakes, and sometimes because of those mistakes, it can be the right call to fire people. Other times you need to take a long hard look in the mirror and ask yourself if firing your political consultant will actually help to bring about a different result or if there’s some other change in behavior that’s really needed. 

How do you know its time to fire a consultant? 

Is this a consultant problem or a YOU problem?
The first step to deciding to fire a consultant is to really figure out the source of your problems and look inward. For instance, fundraising is hard for every campaign. Is your campaign fundraising problem one that stems from your consultant, or is this a problem you’ve created? Before you fire your fundraising consultant, ask yourself if you are really putting in the work. Have you been doing the calls? Are you raising money on the phone every day or have you been slacking off? If you are doing less than 20 hours of call time per week, don’t fire your fundraising consultant. Try stepping up the call time first.

Is your consultant disorganized?
There’s a number of fair reasons to get rid of a political consultant. Are they disorganized and this disorganization causes problems to occur? Did their disorganization cause you to miss your direct mail drop date and you’re concerned that the same problem could happen again? It’s also important to ask if this problem was the result of disorganization or if your consultant didn't have the support that they needed. For instance, maybe you didn’t like the way your fundraiser filed their reports. But broadly, a fundraiser's job should not be that of the treasurer or a compliance officer. Make sure your fundraiser has real help with reporting before you give them the boot.

Is your consultant dishonest? 
Theft can be a real problem for campaigns and one that should be taken very seriously. Unfortunately, there are times where campaigns have had money that was supposed to be deposited go missing. Campaigns at very high levels have been scammed out of thousands of dollars by dishonest consultants, so it can happen to anyone. It’s always hard to accept that someone you’ve been working closely with is ripping you off but, if you suspect a problem, you really do need to dig in and get to the bottom of it. Of course, it’s important that you make sure this a real problem and not an issue of someone forgetting a deposit. If you’ve done your due diligence and suspect there’s theft or dishonestly at play, get legal help and involve the police immediately. 

Is your consultant unprofessional? 
There is no place on campaigns for abusive or inappropriate behavior, such as punching holes in walls or causing fistfights. Campaigns tend to have a lot of younger people working on them and there’s also no place for behavior that’s abusive to your staff or makes them feel uncomfortable in anyway. People on campaigns tend to work long hours, so there can be a lot of stupid stuff that gets tolerated that wouldn’t in another type of work setting, but abusive behavior should not be tolerated and can jeopardize your campaign if you let it go on.

Does your consultant call you enough? 
A lack of communication between a campaign and consultant can be a real problem. At a minimum, your consultants should be doing weekly or biweekly calls with you, but there are going to be a lot of times during the campaign where you will need to do additional calls and get your consultant’s advice on the fly. Your consultants should be an active part of your campaign. Define the role you want them to play; they shouldn't have to be mind readers. If you don’t really think they’re part of the team and just going through the motions, it may be time to make a change. 

How do I avoid having problems?

Start your relationship off early
For campaigns, it’s never too early to begin a dialogue with a consultant. Depending on the service you’re hiring the consultant for and the payment structure that is in place, there often aren’t any additional costs associated with beginning the process early. Early on, consultants can be helpful in recruiting campaign staff, putting together budgets and developing campaign plans. Beginning early will give your consultant a better chance of gauging their workload, understanding their role and time investment needs, and can help to avoid steep learning curves.

Set clear boundaries for family/personal time 
Time management is tough for campaigns, but it is up to the candidate to spell out the time they need to be with their spouse and family. As a candidate, work with your spouse and campaign manager to dedicate the time you need to life outside of the campaign. If the candidate also needs to work a full-time job while campaigning, they need to do a really clear job of laying out when they need time to dedicate to getting work done. If you don’t have this conversation with your team and your consultants at the front end, then it is really your own fault. 

Develop open lines of communication
Keeping the lines of communication open with your political consultant is key. The best client-consultant relationships are communicative with a continual back and forth via email, text messages, and weekly check-in calls. You never know what connection your campaign consultant may have or when a second take on an issue can help bring a different perspective

Work hard and be responsive 
In order for your relationship to be a success, there needs to be hard work and dedication on both sides of the table. Campaigns rightfully expect their political consultant to work on tight deadlines with a quick turnaround. In order for the political consultant to hit deadlines, they will often need campaigns to be able to work hard and get the materials they need to get things done. 

Be responsive
Without a doubt, campaigns can be hectic and chaotic. While being responsive can seem like a given in any professional relationship, in the crazy world of campaigns it can actually be tougher than you think. Emails from your consultant tend to get put on the backburner when you’re putting out fires elsewhere. While your consultants will largely drive the train on setting deadlines and timelines, it’s critical that campaigns are responsive. Even if you don’t have the time to shoot your consultant an email, a quick phone call or text message will often suffice.

Set deadlines
In order for your relationship to be a success, there needs to be accountability. One of the best ways to set this accountability is by setting very clear deadlines. A good political consultant will ask for clear deadlines on when they need approval and feedback and will follow up if they don’t hear back by the agreed time. But the campaign should also feel empowered to set these deadlines and ask for first drafts and feedback.

Push back when you need to
It’s important that your relationship is strong enough that you aren’t afraid to step on a few toes. In order for a consultant to do their job, they need to push the campaign to think in ways that they may otherwise not. And anytime you are asking someone to step outside of their comfort zone, there presents the opportunity for confrontation. If a campaign doesn’t think that a given tactic will be effective or if there are on-the-ground considerations that the consultant doesn’t know about, the campaign needs to feel empowered to speak up and push back. The campaign-consultant relationship needs to be collaborative and that includes not being afraid to be open and honest with each other.

Don’t overpromise
Campaigns are almost always built on short timelines. Within the context of these finite time constraints, there can sometimes exist the tendency to overpromise. But it’s important to remember that the political consultant relationship is built on trust and there is no advantage to overpromising what you cannot deliver. This goes for both the campaign and the political consultant. Overpromising will only serve to throw off timelines and deadlines and leave everyone frustrated in the process.

Don't be a jerk
While this one should also seem like a given, in the crazy world of campaigns, anyone can be a little on edge on any given day. Campaigns should, of course, feel empowered to push their consultants and expect high-quality work. That said, for campaigns, there is little advantage to being a jerk to your political consultant. It won’t help move things along faster and it will only damage the relationship between you and your team.

Be upfront
The relationship should, in some ways, be like the client-lawyer relationship. In order for your consultant to do their job, the campaign needs to be totally open and upfront. You can’t hold back on things like not hitting field or fundraising goals just because they are embarrassing. Your consultant can’t help you fix a problem they don’t know exists. Not being upfront about any of the campaign’s potential negatives will only leave the team unprepared if and when these issues do come out.

So how do you know if it’s really time to fire your consultant? If all else fails but you don’t believe that anyone is listening to you, you may need to make a real change. If this is the situation you find yourself in, try and be as professional as possible. After you have made the decision, create a plan to get yourself back on track. Designate a point person to help you with a transition and move quickly to continue running your campaign as efficiently as possible. Figure out the holes you need to fill and be smart about who you recruit or hire. It’s important to remember while making these decisions, that you do not create the same problems you had the last time you hired your campaign staff.

If you're interested in the other end of this process, check out our tips on hiring a political consultant

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