Originally published in Campaigns & Elections
Picture a typical campaign office in your mind’s eye. You’re probably imagining a retail storefront situated on Main Street or maybe a strip mall sandwiched between a laundromat and a tanning salon. The windows are adorned with 11 x 17 campaign placards and vinyl banners cover the otherwise plain white walls. Plastic eight-foot tables and metal folding chairs cover a dark, durable carpet floor.
While the tradition persists, these office space selections and configurations seem odd, if not entirely inappropriate, in the context of today’s professional campaign operation.
Take a step back and consider the specific needs of individual campaign staffers and the activity that they’ll be involved in on the day-to-day. With so much of our campaign’s organizing, messaging, and fundraising being done online (or at the very least, utilizing web-based platforms and programs) a campaign office today should look much more like a startup office — and less like a storefront. Also, let’s dispense with this outdated notion that “free advertising” is a reasonable consideration for choosing one office location over another. Functionality should be the primary criteria for evaluation.
A major difficulty that campaigners face in finding workable office space is the terminal nature of the campaign cycle. Many property managers are unwilling to negotiate short term lease agreements, which significantly limits a campaign team’s options. Campaigns need affordable options with flexible contracts and amenities to suit the needs of today’s political startups.
It’s no wonder that co-working has become an increasingly popular solution for campaign field offices, pop-up-shops, or satellite operations. Political operations of all sizes, and at every stage in the campaign cycle, can make best use out of co-working spaces, with no commitment.
Many political teams already occupy WeWork spaces, and some co-working space marketers are actively recruiting political tenants. In recent examples, the Trump 2016 campaign utilized space at a CoWork Tampa, and Seth Moulton’s 2020 campaign set up shop in two co-working spaces, one in Salem, Massachusetts and one in DC.
Adequate, convenient parking or access to transportation is far more important than frontage. The kind of foot traffic you’ll attract in a retail location is probably not the type of visitors you want anyway.
Don’t Forget About The Environment(al) Impact
It’s true that a slide or ball-pit in your campaign office will not help your candidate better connect with voters.
Considering the long hours, including nights and weekends, that your team will spend holed up together, campaigners ought to consider setting up offices that are hospitable and conducive to productivity.
The tendency to outfit the space with cheap and uncomfortable furnishings is understandable. Subscription-based Swivelfly Furniture (furniture as a service!) acknowledge that durable goods, like furniture, are not a valuable asset to an organization like a political campaign. At the same time, paying rent on an empty office while the campaign waits for volunteers to haul in donated supplies is a penny-wise, pound-foolish approach. While it’s important to get up and running fast, it pays to explore more the creative outfitting options available like subscription-based services and consignment.
Pro Tip: Make friends in logistics. Many office furniture removal and consignment companies are flooded with used desks, work stations, and chairs, oh so many chairs. Much of this inventory that won’t quickly sell will waste warehouse space or eventually end up in a landfill. It may be a bit dinged up and dusty, but with a little 409 and elbow grease this used furniture still preferable over wobbly plastic picnic tables and cold steel seating.
Campaigns that care about their staff and volunteers wellbeing will understand the impact of the office environment on energy and productivity.
Think In Terms of Hardware & Software
You’ve selected a location and furnished the space. Now you need to empower your team with the tech and tools to get the job done. When selecting equipment and hardware, managers and consultants need to consider their burn rate, but also the campaign’s security, and ideally, factor in the value of tomorrow’s time in relation to today’s money.
Burn-rate-conscious managers and consultants might be inclined to implement a B.Y.O.D. (bring your own device) policy, especially in the early days of the campaign. This might work fine when the campaign team consists of a small, experienced group of professionals that can be trusted to adhere to basic-yet-critical cybersecurity practices. But as the campaign grows, and the office fills up with additional (less seasoned) staff members and volunteers, it’ll become far more difficult to protect the campaign from cyber vulnerabilities.
Instead of relying on junior staff and volunteers to supply their own equipment, and hoping for the best, eliminate these contingencies by installing hardware in your campaign office. No need to break the bank, of course. Used devices will do the trick. Google’s Chromebooks, for example, are simple, relatively inexpensive, and naturally encourage a number of good security habits. Plus, they and can be configured with enhanced security features, giving you more control and some peace of mind.
Time becomes more valuable to the campaign as the cycle progresses. Don’t shortchange yourself. By outfitting your office with proper tools and tech, you’re making investments in your campaign operation that’ll save you time and headache in the future.
Dante Vitagliano is a partner and co-founder at Pinnacle Campaign Strategies.