Hiring Political Consulting Firms -The Ultimate Guide

by Ben Holse (He/Him)


Political Consulting Firms - A Step-by-Step Hiring Guide 

Picking a political consulting firms is not an easy decision. This is, after all, going to be your largest expenses, so it’s important that you get it right. Hiring the right consultants cannot guarantee you a win but hiring the wrong ones can guarantee you a loss. Below is a step-by-step guide on how to hire a political consulting firm.

Step 1: Figure out what you need

There are several types of political consulting firms out there that provide a variety of services and most firms these days specialize. So, it’s important that you know which of those services you specifically need because not all firms provide the same package. 

To start, identify the specialty of the firm you are hiring: pollster, direct mail consultants, digital consultant, general consultant, television consultant, etc. Do you need a firm for strictly direct mail, or you need a firm that could do both direct mail and TV? Do you require a firm that specializes in a particular issue area? 

Also ask yourself: what level of experience do we need to hire? Have they managed campaigns?  Worked on multiple races? Depending on your campaign, you likely will need someone who has a range of knowledge they can pull from in order to work with you and figure out how best to win your race.

Step 2: Send out a request for proposal (RFP)

Once you’ve answered these questions, you’ll want to include them in a Request for Proposal (RFP) memo to send out to a select pool of political consulting firms. Doing this provides potential firms with a foundation from which they can formulate their respective proposals and allows you to better compare each firm’s application during your review process.

At this stage you may ask: should I hire a local political consultant or a political consultant in DC? Some people will want to only hire a top Washington, D.C. consulting firm because they want a national perspective; others will only want to hire local because they want a consultant with their ear to the ground. In many cases, both perceptions are false and the value of why you think you are hiring national vs local is not as clear as you may think.  Every firm is different so you should send your RFP to a variety of types of firms. 

Now, once you have an RFP ready to send, you need to find political consulting firms to send it to. Whether you’re a candidate or an organization, you probably know other candidates or organizations that have done this work before, so ask them. They are going to be your first line of resources for recommendations on firms they previously worked with. Also, if you’ve been endorsed by, or partnered with a larger organization, they should be able to recommend firms for you to reach out to as well.

Step 3: Narrow down your list and compare apples to apples
After you have a critical mass of RFPs in the door, the next step is to compare them and decide who you want to put through to an interview round. 

It’s important to note that the way political consulting firms charge is different based on each firm. Not all political consulting firms charge the same rates for comparable services so you may need to do some math to figure out the total costs. Do they charge retainer? Is what you pay based on hours?  Based on a product?  Money is a very precious resource on a campaign, and while political consultants can be a great help, they should not blow your budget. At least 70% of your dollars should be spent on direct voter contact, so if a consultant’s fees are going to eat into that, rethink your plans. 

A political consultant asking for a percentage should give you pause. Media buying taking a commission on the percentage of the buy is standard, but we now see fundraising firms and general consulting firms trying to bill on a total percentage. If you hear a pitch like that, ask a lot of questions in the interview round. It is not to say that these firms are bad, but you should do the math and know what you are getting for the money you are spending. Don’t be afraid to try to negotiate a flat fee – you’ll likely prevail and it will keep your campaign budget much more manageable. If you do decide to move forward on a percentage-based payment system, make sure you understand the exact terms. Does the political consultant make a percentage of everything raised?  Only what they raise?

Step 4: Narrow down your list, set meetings, and ask questions 

After you’ve narrowed down the list, you’ll then want to do interviews with the top firms to help you make your final decision. Political consultants like to talk – so make sure you ask plenty questions about what they’re telling you. This doesn’t mean that you have to interrogate your potential consulting team, but you should be an active and engaged listener. Below are a few of the top questions to ask:

  1. Who will work on my account? Every political consulting firm is different. It is important that you know who you will be in contact with on a day-to-day basis. 
  2. How much will your firm cost? The cost of political direct mail, media buys, polling phones, etc. all vary based on the consultant.  Before this stage, you should have received a proposal and a price sheet before this detailing all the services the firms provide with a focus on the services you need. If you have questions about pricing, you should find out what each firms charges and what’s included in the cost.   
  3. How will we communicate? You need to set up a system of how you will communicate with your political consulting firm. Who will be in charge of managing their time? How often will they talk to the candidate or the campaign manager? Ask the questions so you have a system from the beginning.
  4. What will it take to win this race? Winning is the goal, and you are hiring a political consulting firm to help you win. You need to have an open and honest conversation about what it will take to do just that. Your philosophy may be very different than your consultants; better to know that from the start. Remember: just because a consultant has a different approach or perspective than you, does not mean they are wrong. Maybe you need a different perspective. if you hire people who are identical to you in though mindset, approach, and diversity, you run the risk of having a very myopic campaign.

Step 5: Check references and do due diligence

In my book, this is really the most important part when it comes to hiring political consultants. Not only should you have a thorough conversation with the perspective hire, but you should also do a little legwork. What’s their reputation in the business? Who do you know who has worked with the political consultant in question? Do a quick clips search, you may be surprised by what you turn up, and it’s better that happens before you hire a consultant. On the flip side, doing your due diligence may also mean that you realize you’ve found a really great political consultant, helping you to feel more confident in your choice and the advice they give you.

Once you’ve received a slew of proposals and narrowed down your options, make sure to ask for references. That way, you can talk to previous clients and get a sense of how potential firms operate with those clients. Are they responsive? Are they cost effective? Do they go above and beyond? What is their work style? These are the sorts of things former clients can tell you in order to give you a better idea if you’ll mesh well with a particular firm, or not.

Make sure to ask what is the reputation of the lead consultant? Is he or she honest, smart, easy to work with? Do they run cookie cutter campaigns recycled from the last year? Be sure to ask your consultants for references on losing races not just winning ones. This will all help you to make a final, informed decision. 

Step 6: Giving the results 
When it comes to interacting with political consultants, it’s best not to burn any bridges. Many consultants are well connected and just because you didn’t choose to hire them for one thing doesn’t mean you won’t need to go back to them down the road for another service or campaign. After you’ve made your final decision, it’s important that you let all the firms know that a decision has been made in a timely manner and don’t leave them on the hook for a long time afterwards. This will help these firms clear the decks for what projects they’re still trying to pitch and bring in the door. 

Some firms may ask who you went with and why. If you are comfortable and able to share this information, it can help the firm to prepare a better and more comprehensive proposal for their next prospective client. 

Have questions about  hiring  political consulting firms? drop us a note.