I was talking with another consultant today and I made what I consider to be a very thoughtful point. Okay, sure I say lots of things. But, there are not very many worth remembering. For campaigns, I think this one is worth remembering.
You have to know where you are to get to where you are going. If a driver wants to go to Atlanta, he has to know where he is to get there. A driver driving from Middle Georgia down I-16 to catch I-95 will burn a lot of gas, but will never get to Atlanta. Directions matter and a beginning point is as essential as an ending point.
In the same way, knowing where a campaign is presently will help the campaign find its destination – victory. A campaign that does not know where it currently stands will be unable to navigate towards victory. A lot of gas may be burned and a lot of noise may be made and the campaign, through sheer luck, just might get to victory, but generally the campaign will lose. A campaign without a map and a starting point is dead in the water.
All campaigns are exercises in investments. The greater the risk, the greater the reward – if successful. The greater the risk, the greater the disaster – if unsuccessful. Likewise with little risk there is little reward or disaster. Unfortunately, too many campaigns have no idea where they are positioned to know if they should take a big risk or a little risk and, if so, in which direction that risk should be targeted to get to victory.
The worst possible confluence of all the various factors is when campaigns think they are winning, but are actually losing. Three weeks ago, the Note and all the punditocracy’s conventional wisdom was that the race was John Kerry’s to lose. His staff thought they had it in the bag. Going into the Democratic Convention, Democrats said they had the polling to show the voters minds are made up: Kerry was leading, undecideds always break for the opposition, ergo the Kerry campaign had already won. The Kerry campaign failed to look at where it actually was. If it is Kerry’s to lose, it looks like he isn’t disappointing.
Campaigns that succumb to rumor and speculation tend to lose their grasp of reality. If a campaign cannot objectively say it is at a particular point in the campaign, it will undoubtedly misdirect resources. Kerry’s campaign thought it was in the bag. They failed to respond aggressively to the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. The three week delay from the campaign and its lackluster response is a fairly good sign that the campaign succumbed to rumor and speculation, which has hurt it terribly. Had the campaign understood where it actually was, it probably would have better directed its resources in a more timely manner.
The teaching point is simple. Know where the campaign stands. If a campaign cannot be honest about its standing, it cannot determine what risks it should take. When it does take a risk or any action, the campaign, without knowing where it stands, will most likely not direct its resources in the most efficient way in the best direction. Honestly assessing a campaign, even when the assessment is bad, is better than no assessment or a false assessment any day of the week.
If the Kerry campaign realizes its mistake and objectively analyses its position, it can probably pull momentum back its way. It will be hard and will most likely depend on the other guy’s mistakes, but it is possible. Fortunately for Republicans, Kerry is locked out of the message this week and the Bush campaign does not make many mistakes.