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Expert Advice: How to Hire a General Consultant

Expert Advice from Top Political Consultants

There is a cadre of incredibly talented, creative, savvy, and knowledgeable people in conservative and Republican politics. As a Republican digital consulting firm, we get to work with top GOP consultants, experts, and practitioners every day. These are experts in strategy, media, direct mail, research, fundraising, polling, and more. When our clients have questions that we way may not be best suited to answer, we reach out to this network to get answers from the top consultants in the political and advocacy industry.

With the help of these leaders in advocacy, campaigns, and elections, we want to help answer your questions. For those new to politics, experienced staff, incumbents, or advocates, we want to help you find answers.

Our new Expert Advice blog series seeks to answer your questions. We will take your questions and provide you with feedback from influencers in our industry.

Hiring a General Consultant

One of the most significant decisions that many Republican candidates make early on is hiring a general consultant. So, I thought it would be appropriate to kick off our Expert Advice series asking how to hire a general consultant.

We took the following questions to five influential Republican political consultants to get their thoughts on these questions:

  • What do General Consultants do?
  • When should a General Consultant be hired?
  • How should General Consultants be evaluated?

Experts: Brad ShattuckAaron BakerCharlie GerowTommy KnepperLee Neves

Brad Shattuck of Strategic Impact

General Consultants are one of the first hires any campaign should make, usually before they even officially announce. This key individual is typically responsible for guiding all messaging, budgeting, and strategic decisions of the campaign, and works with the candidate on hiring all other vendors and staffers the campaign will need: media, polling, digital, mail, and on-the-ground staff.

You want an individual who understands that particular region and what works and doesn't in terms of messaging and tactics. - @brad_shattuck

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Once brought on board, the General Consultant will work with the candidate and their kitchen cabinet on developing a budget, putting together the overall campaign plan, and developing and clearly articulating the campaign and candidate's message. Any solid General Consultant should have had senior level experience on a similar campaign (i.e. Campaign Manager) or have worked at a senior level of a statewide or national campaign. Understanding the district is also critical for any General Consultant; you want an individual who understands that particular region and what works and doesn't in terms of messaging and tactics.

Brad Shattuck of Strategic Impact Brad Shattuck
President / Founder
Strategic Impact
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Aaron Baker of Axiom Strategies

I'm the Missouri guy for Axiom Strategies. For the last couple of cycles, I've worked with more than 100 candidates in the state, from statewide elections to local school board races.

I live on a farm; often, this job is like keeping cattle fenced in and where they need to be. For a lot of small, down-ballot races, I'm advising candidates on how to save money and keep trains running on time. These candidates don't pay a retainer, but may use us for a few services like direct mail or digital advertising. I'm also "on-call" for the occasional fire drill.

Candidates should hire a professional to help them as soon as they start thinking about running for office. It is like hiring a general contractor to build a home... - @aaronbaker50

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Candidates should hire a professional to help them as soon as they start thinking about running for office. It is like hiring a general contractor to build a home – unfortunately, we are sometimes hired too late and we have to go in and fix the foundation that the candidate or a well-meaning volunteer has established for the campaign.

Candidates know when the folks they are working with are doing a good job when they give them frank advice and ideas on how to save money, especially early on in a race. A good campaign consultant cares more about winning than making money.

Aaron Baker of Axiom Strategies Aaron Baker
Vice President
Axiom Strategies
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Charlie Gerow of Quantum Communications

When choosing a general consultant there are several factors for every candidate to consider.

First, the consultant should have significant experience with the type of race the candidate is running. By looking at what they've done previously, candidates will get a pretty good idea of how they'll work for them.

Second, select a general consultant who will not only give sound strategic advice but who can also bring together the team to tactically accomplish all of the strategic objectives. Selecting a consultant with multi-media capabilities is a good idea.

...be sure that the firm or the individual consultant is not overextended and incapable of providing the personal attention vital to success. - Charlie Gerow of @quantumcomms

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Candidates should be assured that the consultant they select will be the person from the firm who actually works with the campaign. Too often there are complaints that the firm leader hands off campaigns to junior associates and isn't involved in meaningful ways for most of the campaign.

Campaigns should also be sure that the firm or the individual consultant is not overextended and incapable of providing the personal attention vital to success.

A corollary of this is to be sure that the campaign is going to get advice and material highly specific to their particular race and not generic, "cookie-cutter" material or advice based upon other factors.

When negotiating an agreement with any consultant, candidates and their committees should be aware of any hidden costs. Assuring that all charges are clearly set forth is a must.

Finally, candidates and their campaigns must feel totally comfortable with the professional style and individual personality of the consultant. It's going to be a marriage and better to not do it in haste. People are tested over time and under pressure. There will be lots of both in a campaign. It's important to be as sure as possible from the start that you'll be comfortable in the same foxhole.

Charlie Gerow of Quantum Communications Charlie Gerow
CEO
Quantum Communications
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Tommy Knepper of In Field Strategies

General Consultants (GC's) are the quarterbacks of the political operative class. They have campaign insight and expertise, learned on the job, over years of electioneering. They will typically have an area they are most versed in; field, mail, digital, fundraising, T.V. and will have a general knowledge of the other mediums of outreach, ensuring you get the best vendors and prices to fulfill each area. They provide oversight to your campaign operations and insight and training on your overall campaign pitch, your talking points, your elevator pitch and your path to victory. In addition to the above, a good GC will be able to plug you into the local/state/national donor and chattering class network you want access to in order to secure victory. In short, a GC is a professional campaigner who will help hone your overall campaign message, direct your team on who to target with what medium, and will connect you with the relevant power brokers you may not already have access to.

Because of the guiding nature of a general consultant, you typically will want to hire them early on. They will be one of your first three to four hires. You should always start with an accountant, a fundraiser and then either a day to day manager or a general consultant to guide you through the rest. If you're a first time candidate and don't know where to find the above personnel, a GC should be your first hire since they will be able to fill the rest of the positions for you.

You should always start with an accountant, a fundraiser and then either a day to day manager or a general consultant to guide you through the rest. - Tommy Knepper of @InFieldStrategy

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A good GC should be evaluated on several items:

  1. Their win/loss record and client base - Anyone with campaign experience can be a general consultant, but good consultants care about winning and don't shy away from competitive races.
  2. Their transparency – Good consultants will bring vendors to you, for you to decide who the best people are for your campaign. They will show you budgets and breakdown why you are spending money on certain mediums more than others. GC's more focused on making money than on winning will simply tell you to run everything through them and they will pick the best people. In those scenarios you don't know how much money is going to voter contact. Good GC's will be transparent about what their commissions are and it should be included in their contract.
  3. Their individual time commitment to you – Consultants representing large firms can be great. However, a GC who maintains their own smaller practice and book of business may be the way to go if you feel you will need more one on one time. Depending on the size of your race you may receive very minimal face time with your GC company and even less messaging guidance, which directly impacts your ability to raise funds and sway votes.
Tommy Knepper of In Field Strategies Tommy Knepper
President/Co-Founder
In Field Strategies
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Lee Neves of CrossCurrentsLLC

What do General Consultants do?

We're basically the "vision board" of a Campaign. From the ground up, we imagine what the campaign will look like. What is the best medium to talk to voters in the district in question. Which voters to target. Timeline of when and what a campaign should be doing. Ensuring the campaign is adequate for the current climate and change the tone and direction of the campaign if need be. We are basically the Head Coach AND the General Manager: We pick the talent to execute the plays we design.

When should a General Consultant be hired?

Ideally, your General Consultant should be your first hire. They are tasked with building the Campaign from the ground up, and they need to ensure a team is in place that will work well together for the client's benefit. To often a General Consultant is brought in at some point after the start of the campaign and styles/personalities don't mesh, only causing confusion and unneeded headaches.

Ideally, your General Consultant should be your first hire. - Lee Neves of @CrossCurrentsUS

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How should General Consultants be evaluated?

Election Day is the ultimate evaluation. Before you hire: look at Track Record. Depth and Breadth of Campaigns, work product and of course, meeting with them one on one to see how they react to you and get a feel for their thought process and style. During the campaign, things you want to look out for is responsiveness, how dedicated the General Consultant appears to be to the campaign, how does the Consultant treat with candidate (and vice versa by the way, many a candidate think they can "boss around" and micromanage, if that's the case a consultant should push the escape hatch ASAP). What's the consultant's style? Is it what I say goes, or do they take feedback from staff who are on the ground? Are their deliverables within the time frame or habitually always late? These questions should give you a good sense of how the Consultant is interacting with both the candidate and the campaign, their level of commitment and if the campaign is on the right track to do the best it can do (There are times you can do everything right, and you still lose on election day, it's just the nature of the beast).

Lee Neves of CrossCurrentsLLC Lee Neves
Owner/Principal
CrossCurrentsLLC
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Feedback

There you have it. That is a lot of great information from an incredibly talented group of people. Send @ProsperGroup a message and let us know what you think. Also, send us questions you have or suggestions for future editions of Expert Advice.

About The Prosper Group

The Prosper Group is an internationally-recognized, award-winning digital marketing agency headquartered in Indianapolis, specializing in online media, strategy, and fundraising for Republican political candidates, advocacy organizations, associations, and non-profits. The Prosper Group's best-in-industry work has been recognized for awards dozens of times by prestigious organizations such as the American Association of Political Consultants and Campaigns & Elections.

The firm has worked in tandem with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, Senator Ted Cruz, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik, Congressman Will Hurd, the National Association of Manufacturers, Fox News, and many other candidates and organizations.

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