Learning from @Nenshi – If I was going to run for office…

Science, Bitches!

Three separate local politicians asked me this month what I’d do to market a political campaign.

Aside from the obvious: “keep your promises and try not to be an utter dick”, I do have some useful advice that could help. See, for the last few years I’ve thought about what it would take to run for Mayor of Fort Collins. I’d never campaign in earnest – I don’t like following the rules that much.

Even so, I’ve been paying attention to Naheed Nenshi – he’s the Mayor of Calgary and he connects like a crazy bastard. Even if you didn’t vote for the guy, you get him. And he’s got the right ideas for how to run a political office in 2014. In two words: approachable human. It got me thinking, if I had to reverse-engineer his campaign, what would it look like?

So, here’s how I think my campaign would go, start to finish.

#1: Identify (guess) the 3 most pressing problems in my community and write down my best guess at solutions.

If I’m going to talk about my ideas and solutions, I’d better make sure they have merit. I’d hit the library, the Fort Collins Museum of Discovery archives, and anywhere else I can find information to research the issues, current solutions, past solutions, and the whole timeline of events – weekly. Then I’d invite every person who currently deals with or works in the problem to lunch and pick some brains.

This sort of hands-on research accomplishes two things: it educates me on the “official” side of the story and it makes me a known player to the folks responsible for working on the problem.

Politicians are very rarely directly responsible for doing the hands-on work to solve a problem – they’re generally indirect players who guide the rules and resources to where they need to go.

#2: Get the word on the street

I’d identify the movers and shakers on Twitter in my community. A simple “near:City” search pulls up tweets from users in that city. I’d tweet out and invite anyone I could in my community to a pizza party. I’d coordinate through NextDoor with HOAs, or even just go door-to-door if I had to.

At the pizza party, I’d listen to what folks had to say about the problems. I’d listen very carefully for the words they used. How they described the problem. How they wanted to talk about them (if they wanted to talk about them), and what was really important to them – which might not be even one of my predicted problems at all. Before everybody left, I’d thank them personally and ask them if they would mind getting their picture taken for my website. Then I’d invite anyone who cared enough about the problems to give me their email address so I could follow-up with some ideas.

#3: Make my technology + message as simple as possible

I’d take what I’d learned and write up a really spiffy position description on my website – crafted in a WordPress site for easy updating and blogging. I’d pick a really simple, mobile-friendly theme, throw my photo up there, and include three important bits of content:

  1. Who I am and what I believe in
  2. What the problems are in our community (each problem would be listed accordion-menu style on my site so folks only had to read about the issues they cared about. Each problem box would have the solutions I was proposing, a donate button, and a downloadable PDF case study based on my research and interviews)
  3. How to get involved with helping me solve the problem

I’d also include a “keep in touch” subscribe option (via MailChimp) and a “donate” button. Add a blog, and you’ve got all of the content on my website. No contact page is needed, since my Google Voice phone number and email address would be in the header on every page.

#4: Make myself as accessible as possible

I’d hold regular, recorded Google+ town halls and Q+As on what I’d learned from my research where people could also attend in person, blog on a regular basis, I’d skip Google Ads because that’s pretty obvious. I’d go for the humor angle in my writing, or the Penn + Teller Bullshit-style debunking of political nonsense. I’d be available on Twitter and responsive within 12 hours.

I’d avoid being preachy, head straight to conversational/educational and cite all of my sources. I’d openly correct my opponents – and expect them to do the same – with stats and figures that anybody could get access to, with my interpretations vetted by my local newspaper, graded, and displayed proudly on my website (even if I was totally wrong).

I’d blog weekly – via YouTube, uploading straight from my smartphone, and transcribe my videos – I’d also post weekly to Vine or Instagram whenever I found prescient information on an identified problem.

I’d attend MeetUp groups and contribute. I’d literally walk the streets daily and get to know people.

#5: I wouldn’t actively campaign

I’d avoid spending money on ads/signage/whatever – because my research and blogging would do the majority of my advertising for me, and if folks agreed with my solutions – they’d share it for me. If business owners agreed with me, they’d post my stuff to their audiences.

Instead, I’d raise money to pay local work-study Colorado State University students to do research and write about the issues. If I raised extra capital, it’d be re-invested into my community (the Food Bank or the library would be getting a check).

Win or lose, those problems would need to be solved once the campaign was over. All of my position papers, case studies, research – the whole bit – would be available for free on my site for anyone to use. I’d make it a point to share everything I had with my opponent during the campaign and afterwards.

I’d probably lose.

Placing zero dollars into campaigning isn’t exactly a winning strategy, but it does cut out most of the things voters think of as annoyances. No money for negative ads (or ads at all). No money on wasteful flyers and business cards and signs that just get recycled afterward. No money on pins and buttons and pens and door-to-door knockers and petitioners and… well, you get the idea.

I’d start one hell of a conversation, though. And that would be enough.

What do you think? If I ran a campaign like that, and assuming my values lined up with yours, would you vote for me?