Campaign staffers: Robinson’s Rules for Campaign Staff (and TCW)

by Joe Fuld (He/Him)

Campaign Staffers

Reflecting on Robinson’s Rules for Campaign Staffers

Will Robinson of the New Media Firm penned his rules for campaign staffers over 25 years ago and they are truly words to live by. 

Over the years, these rules have saved money, time and jobs for many campaign staffers who have heard and lived by them. Whether you are working on a candidate’s campaign, ballot measures, or independent expenditures, these campaign rules will help.  

Here is our interpretation and commentary of Will Robinson’s rules for campaign staffers, including some of our own campaign team rules for 2022. If you are thinking about going on the campaign trail, these are a great set of rules to live by. 

  1. If it’s not in writing it doesn’t exist. TCW: This is the classic rule and something folks have cited when talking about the need for a budget, field, fundraising, or campaign plan. 
  2. No such thing as “off the record.” Reporters are not your friends! TCW: Understand the boundaries needed in the campaign world. 
  3. Do not hold a private conversation in a public place. This includes cellular phones and planes! TCW: This is a mistake many have made and a good one to learn from. You can never be too careful here. 
  4. Don’t believe any number that ends in zero. TCW: Another classic - estimates have their place but often folks don’t replace estimates with a hard number.   
  5. Never turn down an opportunity to eat or go to the bathroom. TCW: Sounds obvious but forget this rule at your own peril. 
  6. Don’t spend any of your own money. Don’t even admit you own a credit card. Don’t spend money that is not yours. TCW: You need to look out for your own financial well-being.  Do not lay out your own money. Also, make sure how and when you will be paid is clear.    
  7. There is not always a “right” or “wrong” answer – “It depends.” TCW: Understanding ambiguity is part of leadership and part of campaigns. Being wed to exact answers that are wrong can create more problems than working through multiple options. 
  8. In a campaign, someone has to be in charge – Campaigns are a place to foster democracy, not practice it. TCW: As campaigns have evolved, this issue has not changed. When a chain of command in a campaign is murky, it makes for bad decisions. 
  9. Assume nothing. TCW: Asking real questions and having clear conversations make for a better team and a real action plan. 
  10. If you make a mistake, fix it before analyzing. Bad news doesn’t age well.   TCW: We try and foster a no-blame culture with the campaigns we work on. That means holding ourselves and everyone else accountable when things go wrong and pitching in to “fix” things when they do go wrong.

TCW New rules for Campaign staffers additions:

  1. Have a conversation. Email is a great way to convey information, but it is horrible at conveying tone. If you have something important to say, pick up the phone or talk to someone face to face. 
  2. You are not the candidate, but you are an extension of the campaign.  Clean up your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even your old Myspace, and be mindful of what you put out on the Internet. 
  3. Don’t break the law. Slashing tires and stealing signs is not only the wrong thing to do but also against the law. 
  4. Leave the community better than you found it. When you work on a campaign, treat your volunteers and the folks around you with respect.
  5. Get Insurance for you and the campaign… campaigns are fun, but they can be tough places. Make sure you have health insurance, car insurance, renter’s insurance or whatever is necessary to make sure your campaign is insured well. 
  6. Understand what you are worth. Ask around about comparable pay for similar positions – do not take a job without negotiating salary. 
  7. Sleep matters. Beyond health insurance, look after your own health. Hours are long on campaigns, but make sure you take time to sleep so you can get up and do it again.  
  8. Get a written agreement. No matter what your position is on a campaign, get your terms in writing. This will solve any confusion and make your salary and job roles clearer.  
  9. Check references on the campaign team and candidate – Ask around. It is good to understand the campaign, the team, how they work and what the chances of winning are. 
  10. Protect the screens - Folks can see your screens too. Be careful about working on memos and docs in a public place. Use screen protectors too. 

Thanks to Will Robinson and the new media firm, for sharing these rules. If you have questions about finding a job on the campaign trail or rules for campaign staffers – drop us a note.