Running a Political Campaign: What Are the Steps and Operations?

running a political campaign

Internal Relations

When viewing political campaigns from the inside out, they can appear as a type of product marketing with one very important distinction: the products being “sold” are the candidates and their policies, principles, and philosophies in what economists and politicians refer to as “the marketplace of ideas.”

Individuals considering a career running political campaigns as campaign managers need to know the combination of skills, experience, and characteristics needed when crafting and implementing a successful campaign strategy. Often it requires an advanced degree to gain further skills such as those offered in a Master of Arts in International Relations program.

Steps for Running a Political Campaign

Once the candidate and the target office are confirmed, the work begins in assembling and operating the mechanics of a political campaign.

Assemble a Campaign Staff

Engineering a political campaign starts with determining the roles of the campaign staff and their duties within the operational structure. The following roles serve in a campaign roster:

  • The campaign manager devises and directs the overall strategy of the campaign, hires and manages staff, coordinates fundraising, and oversees day-to-day operations.
  • The finance director/fundraiser works with the candidate and campaign manager to determine a campaign budget and identify sources of capital.
  • The communications director/press secretary manages all interactions with the media, including the identification of media opportunities for the campaign.
  • The field director/voter contact communicates the campaign’s messages directly to voters by coordinating teams to knock on doors, make phone calls, and register voters.
  • The campaign treasurer handles accounting and other financial aspects of the campaign, including monitoring campaign contributions for regulatory compliance and maintaining necessary financial records.
  • The volunteer coordinator works with the field director to recruit and manage the campaign’s volunteers by matching volunteers’ skills and talents with the campaign’s needs.

Build an Effective, Efficient Campaign Strategy    

The major responsibilities of the campaign manager involve setting goals as well as strategies for the management of the campaign in terms of all parties’ duties and responsibilities. Primary tasks include:

  • Devising a catchy campaign slogan that creates a clear contrast with opponents in eight words or fewer. The slogan is the campaign’s marketing tagline that appears in all ads, events, and promotions.
  • Managing financial and other regulatory compliance issues to ensure that all paperwork and fees are handled in a timely manner.
  • Identifying potential sources of funding for the campaign and developing a plan for tapping into those sources.
  • Preparing a plan for collecting and analyzing voting data to help meet the campaign’s goals.
  • Creating a campaign schedule and design logos, literature, signs, and social media material.

Communicate the Campaign Message

Once the campaign decides on a message, the campaign manager must build a communications strategy to relay that message to voters. The communications strategy should:

  • Base campaign goals on no more than three issues of vital importance to voters.
  • Keep the message simple, consistent, and strong, while making it personal and positive.
  • Prepare the candidate for speeches and media interviews that emphasize the campaign message.
  • Work with the campaign’s information technology team to ensure the candidate’s website is informative, up-to-date, and consistent in look and feel with the campaign’s other material.

CauseVox emphasizes the need to create a “communications calendar” to schedule meetings and contacts with supporters. For each event, a campaign manager should specify these characteristics:

  • The purpose of the message.
  • The message’s target audience.
  • The communication method.
  • The date and time of the message.
  • Who is responsible for managing the event.
  • Specific topics or goals to be covered in communication.

As the campaign progresses, the campaign manager and staff members need to monitor these activities to ensure that messages delivered in person and through media, campaign literature, and social media engage the target audience.

Economics and Operations Behind Political Campaigns

One of the most daunting aspects of planning a run for political office is financing a campaign. The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) estimates that nearly $14 billion was donated to candidates for Congress and the presidency in the 2020 election, which is more than double the amount donated to federal candidates during the 2016 campaign. Candidates for House and Senate races collected twice the amount of campaign donations in 2020 than was garnered in 2016 Congressional campaigns, according to an analysis conducted jointly by CRP and the National Institute on Money in Politics.

For local political races, however, the typical campaign is a fraction of the amount spent on congressional campaigns: About 3 out of 4 campaigns for local school board races cost less than $1,000, for example.

While raising campaign funds is an important component of any political contest, spending those funds wisely is key to maximizing a candidate’s chances for victory.

Techniques for Campaign Fundraising

Political fundraising begins with a financial plan that sets the budget to run a winning campaign. The budget typically is based on the average cost of previous winning campaigns in the target district, as the campaign technology company, NGP VAN explains. This information is available from each state’s board of elections office and the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s (FEC) database of campaign filings and reports.

With a finance plan in place, the next step is choosing the fundraising tools and tactics for the campaign such as:

  • Direct mail.
  • Online fundraising.
  • Fundraising events.
  • Calling and texting potential donors.
  • Telemarketing.
  • Finance committees.
  • Fundraising networks.

To ensure campaign finance deadlines are met, campaign managers must create a fundraising calendar as part of the overall strategy that schedules all activities and includes monthly fundraising goals for each method.

Handling Campaign Finances

The first rule of campaign financing is separating personal funds from campaign funds. Federal, state, and local laws restrict items that can be claimed as campaign expenses, as author Dan Gookin explains on the Dummies website. While not all campaigns are extensive enough to require a treasurer, a person with fiscal responsibility must oversee the process and follow established rules, as outlined below.

  • When fundraising, deposit all checks and cash in a campaign bank account, many of which are available for free or low cost.
  • Never commingle campaign funds and private funds.
  • Pay campaign marketing costs and other expenses electronically using a bank debit card rather than a credit card to avoid incurring lingering debts.
  • Use PayPal or another online payment service to accept donations online and pay for campaign expenses electronically.

Key Skills for Running an Effective Political Campaign

Running a political campaign is similar to managing any other marketing campaign, as noted by PayScale. Both entail similar skills and experience:

Develop, plan, coordinate, and implement large-scale projects involving diverse teams, media outlets, and technical skills.
Use data gathering and analysis to monitor the campaign progress and make the required adjustments to ensure its focus on outlined goals.
Work with market researchers to assess the campaign’s strengths and weaknesses.
Manage the campaign budget and ensure compliance with all election-related regulations.
As campaign managers wear many hats during a political campaign, they also possess skills in project management, communications, data analytics, marketing strategy, and public relations. Other characteristics associated with a successful campaign manager include:

  • Creativity
  • Resourcefulness
  • Ability to delegate
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Analytical competency

Acquiring the skills and depth of knowledge necessary to work as a campaign manager begins with an education program such as Norwich University’s online Master of Arts in International Relations (MAIR). By teaching political theory, foreign policy, economics, and cultural awareness, an advanced degree such as a MAIR helps individuals gain the knowledge needed to run effective campaigns.

Develop Talents That Help Campaign Managers Craft Winning Campaigns

The old saying that all politics is local has an analog for the 21st century: All politics is global. Decisions made by local governments have a wide-ranging impact far beyond the borders of their jurisdiction. Being ready for the challenges and realities of managing today’s political campaigns requires a well-rounded background as provided by the curriculum of Norwich University’s online MAIR program.

Learn more about how the online Master of Arts in International Relations degree from Norwich University can help budding campaign managers pursue a career leading successful political campaigns.



How to Run for Political Office, Ecanvasser
A Complete Guide to Campaign Slogans, Campaign Workshop
How to Run for Local Office: Campaign Basics, State of Alaska Division of Elections
12 Absolutely Essential Things You Should Know About Running for Office, Cosmopolitan
The $10.8 Billion Election: 2020 Campaign Spending Is Smashing Records, CNBC
Lesson #4: Promoting Your Campaign & Maintaining Momentum, CauseVox
Tips for Managing Campaign Finances, Dummies
Unprecedented Donations Poured into 2020 State and Federal Races, Center for Responsive Politics
Campaign Finance Data: Filings and Reports, U.S. Federal Election Commission
Average Campaign Manager Salary, PayScale
Social Media and Politics: 10 Best Practices for Campaigns to Know, Sprout Social
Amid Pandemic, Campaigning Turns to the Internet, The Conversation