Well, things are heating up in the quadrennial political circus: Our presidential election in the United States has begun. We are approaching the time when the public portion of the circus really cranks up, with lots of rallies and events that will need massive audiovisual support.
I have done a lot of political events in my time, for both winning and losing candidates and parties, and for those of you who see this potential volume of business on the horizon I have a few tips.
Call me John Miller, and this is a tremendous opportunity. Just tremendous. But, all kidding aside, there are also some pitfalls.
First, when you are approached by (or when you approach) a political campaign, it is important to know who you are dealing with. There are local, state, and national parties and campaigns. Then there are political action committees (PACs and Super PACs). Each of these is a separate organization, even though their first identification to you will go something like this:
“Hi, I’m John Miller, and I’m with the Bob Smith campaign. We are having a big rally on the second (usually only a few days away) for which we will need giant LED walls, a massive sound system, 300 automated lighting instruments, and gee, do you know anybody who does pyrotechnics?”
These calls usually come from some well-meaning, enthusiastic (or, depending on the campaign, not-so-well-meaning but still enthusiastic) campaign volunteer, who may not even be aware of the unfortunate truth. And the truth is this: Their organization, and its checkbook, may vanish on the morning after the election. That is, if they don’t vanish immediately following the event.
You see, most political organizations are separately incorporated in each state or district. Their ability to get their message out is protected both by local laws and the Constitution of the United States, and in many cases this includes their right to run up bills which they may never pay. These organizations are dissolved when their purpose is met. And it is important to note that they often do this even when their candidate wins.
So, when dealing with a political rental, the first thing to determine is the nature of the organization that you are dealing with. When they say they are with the “Bob Smith campaign,” ask them for the formal name of the organization. And here is the big clue: Political parties, whether local, state or federal, are permanent organizations. The RNC and DNC aren’t going anywhere. Campaigns, on the other hand, are by their nature temporary organizations. If you’re in the position of doing multiple rentals, or a tour, it is really important at the outset to determine if the organization that you are dealing with will be there next week.
Next, have realistic credit policies for dealing with political organizations. Most companies that I am familiar with demand the CIA be involved. No, not the Central Intelligence Agency, but cash in advance. Don’t worry, if you are not used to dealing with political organizations, they will expect this. Oh, maybe not the starry eyed local volunteer, who won’t understand why you are not just overjoyed to give the Bob Smith campaign credit, but if you ask to speak to someone senior, especially one who has done this before, they understand.
Short of that, think about the midterms. No, not midterm elections, but midterm collections. If they can’t pay in advance, or for some reason doubt that you will deliver, insist on collecting the bill somewhere midway through the show.
This may seem a bit harsh to those of you who have not done a lot of political work. But, in many ways, political events are like rock ‘n roll. The tour bus will leave tomorrow morning, and it will be very difficult to collect once they have left town.
That is not to say that some of you don’t have political enthusiasms, and may want to support events because you truly believe in the candidate. If so, have at it. There is a lot of power in what we do, especially in communicating with the public, and if you are in a position to do so it is fine to support your candidate.
But for those of us who are doing this for a living, remember that our Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech. So when confronted with a political event, just hold out your hand and say “speak to me.”