Campaign trail tips for B.C.’s rookie municipal election hopefuls

I am in possession of a few tips.

It isn’t as if I have been asked for them. Nor necessarily will I be. But when I ran for the mayoralty in 2014, I learned much about candidacy and campaigning. As I see the race today of mostly first-timers – and no municipal campaigners of much experience – I think I have a few tidbits to impart.

First off, beware of your bubble. You will have no trouble meeting people who already like you – some will cling to you like barnacles – but it will be hard work to meet people you want to like you. Chances are, if you’re not in at least one room of people daily whom you must win over, then you are unlikely in the hunt for the job. Your bubble will pop.

Second, be confident about your stamina. When I ran for office I didn’t get a chance to run for pleasure. I lost weight and gained fat. My blood pressure amped up. When we reviewed my campaign to file our finances, we realized that I’d participated in 469 events over about four months – not including the life-shortening beers, wines and coffees with fellow party candidates. If you’re out of shape now, you are in trouble, because in the weeks ahead it only gets more difficult. Your days need to start at 7 a.m. and end no earlier than 10 p.m. to give you a chance. Are you ready?

Third, related to point two: self-care. A former mayor told me to book several events in my calendar as “meetings,” when in fact it was to exercise, decompress, nap or hang with the family and friends. It is nearly impossible to be “on” at all times, so have a batch of friends with whom you can just be yourself and not the candidate.

Fourth, be sanguine about your value. Know that to some seeming supporters, particularly the professional organizers, you are more or less just the latest piece of meat. Their alliance might be predicated on an eventual favour, a position or a contract. And if you value integrity, make no commitment. (I’ve already heard there are some pending.) You will have some terrific people around you, but consider victory as the starting line and not the finish line. Keep your options open on whom you will meet once you’ve won, not just who committed to that win. In other words, two can play this game.

Fifth, any effort to articulate a platform has to first communicate values. In the queue of priorities, few successful campaigns are launched without a first focus on candidates’ values – their authentic beliefs, the foundation of their narrative, what matters and what doesn’t, how events shaped who they are, why they want to lead and how. Ideas and a platform are important but rarely connect if values haven’t already.

Sixth, successful politics is like successful advertising, in that it finds a simple way to communicate complexity and works when it’s repeated to the point of personal nausea. Among the many mistakes I made was in trying to find new ways to say the same thing, even when the audience was different. I was thinking more like a journalist than an advertiser. You’re far better off connecting with an audience – and boring your handlers – with a well-honed message that is rehearsed like a fine piece of standup comedy or a violin solo. It is too acrobatic to find variations on the theme, tempting as it is to not drive yourself crazy.

Seventh, the media will matter a little less than you think. Sure, a gaffe can kill your candidacy, but a great profile or nice commentary about you isn’t going to deliver the mayoralty. Media flattery matters little.

Eighth, there are only two essential, hard-working ingredients in victory: identifying your vote and getting it out on election day, and an organization is required to do that.

Ninth: yes, there are social media to help, but nothing beats the wildfire of meeting people and using them as mavens to tell others. Great tweets and posts do not rival a great speech – even in a small room – that spreads the word.

Tenth: last but not least, have a profound reason to do this. Surprising numbers of candidates can’t answer the question of why; they’re better at answering how. The quality of your reason will become the quality of your administration.

You’re welcome. 

Kirk LaPointe is editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver Media Group and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.