Campaign Planning Considerations: Strategy vs. Tactics


Today’s election landscape is changing quicker than ever before, and you cannot rely on shooting from the hip.  There are too many variables,  communication channels, social media platforms to just throw something at the wall and see what sticks. To help make sense of it all, let’s explore the differences between strategy and tactics, and why you need both.

Is there an overlap between strategy and tactics? If you think of the strategy as the brains behind your campaign and tactics as the brawn to do the heavy lifting, it’s easier to separate the two concepts. The important thing is not to confuse the tactic or tool with what you are trying to accomplish using that tactic or tool.

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat. Sun Tzu (~500 BC)

Think back to some recent campaigns. Were they a lot of noise, with no clearly defined platform or goal other than to win? Not having a strategy signals you don’t know what you are doing. Nothing will sink a campaign faster than a lack of ownership and authority. Or did the campaign have a strategy of sorts, but no plan to get from the idea stage to concrete action? A bunch of disjointed tactics strung together does not a strategy make. 

Keeping those campaigns in mind, what is strategy and how does it differ from tactics? A strategy looks at all the possible outcomes and considerations, the combination of all of the factors in play, and comes up with a holistic view of a campaign. Strategies take a long-term view of campaigns that allows you to think and plan ahead. Think of strategy as to why we do what we do. Strategy gets you to your destination, whereas tactics are the how, the actionable items. Tactics are the steps you take to achieve your goals, a strategy further refines the process to the best steps to meeting your objective. Strategies identify who the campaign is trying to reach, why getting that particular audience buy-in is key, what do we want to communicate to that audience, how do we want to communicate with them, and identifies how we measure success.  

Something else about strategies. All strategies should contain actionable items. Those actionable items are limited by time and money and human capital. Your resources will help set the scope of your strategy.. 

A good strategy has measurable objectives. . When setting those objectives, they need to be ones you can achieve with the resources you have available.. Make sure they benefit your cause, your campaign, your candidate; otherwise you are wasting resources. Ask yourself, are these objects achievable and manageable with your current resources? You may need to adjust your strategy or budget to achieve your objectives. 

If a strategy is what we do to achieve our objectives, tactics are the tools we use to implement the strategy. Tactics are a way to realize our objectives. Tactics are actions, methodologies, the steps taken to execute the strategy. Tactics are the methods we use, be they press releases, town hall meetings, social media posts, blogs, geo-targeting, and the like. Just like there is no one-size-fits-all strategy, different tactics are deployed depending on the audience. Tactics also depend on your goals. If your goal is to attract and inform a younger audience about your campaign, perhaps the best tactic is to use Instagram or Tik Toc as your key social media platforms. Trying to reach older voters who still get the newspaper and watch local TV news? You’d use different tactics to communicate the same message with different audiences. 

Tactics should flow out of the strategy,  neither are carved in stone. As variables change, the strategy may need to be revised. When strategies are revised or modified, different tactics may need to be implemented. Case in point, just look at the impact the coronavirus pandemic had on absentee voting. Traditional election strategies needed to be adjusted as early voting via absentee ballot jumped in popularity; door-to-door campaign canvassing had to shift to virtual events, phone banking, and text messaging.  

When kicking off a campaign, be it for a candidate, cause, or ballot initiative, these are a few of the key concepts that you should understand and embrace. They all fit together to form a cohesive process that will allow you to optimize your resources, be they time or money, or both. By starting with a strategy and implementing a variety of tactics along the way, you can increase your exposure, build grassroots support, and win the vote. 

In short, think strategically, act tactically.




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