Campaign opportunities

Preparing for potential political event customers

Elections will take place in the United States in November. Whether you live in a 100-person town or a metropolis, you and your customers will have the chance to flock to the polls to have your say.

In the meantime, rental stores can take advantage of the political climate by being prepared for local, state and national events that may take place in their communities. As the fervor builds, last-minute speeches may be made and festivals may need an extra booth for a campaign. Supplying these last-minute customers may plant seeds for future rentals and events.

Those who have been involved in political events have found the experience to be rewarding and offer the following suggestions on how to do it and what to expect.

  • Get involved. For rental stores, getting involved with political events may mean contacting the local chamber of commerce as well as local event managers who may be contacted by campaign managers on the road. Or, rental stores may get a call from a local campaign organizer or public relations person directly.

“It’s all about relationships,” says Ray Imbro, president, Party Time Rental and Events, Ark. “If you are involved in the community and are seen to be a community supporter, then this type of business will come to you. Get to know the PR firms and the campaign people in your communities who host these events. We work with all of the above. You must be detail-oriented and have to be able to speak their language and be flexible. Many times these people need you to come to them instead of them coming to you.”

“We have been involved in presidential, congressional, gubernatorial and local elections,” says Woody Thomas, Magic Special Events, Richmond, Va. “In addition to the campaigns themselves, many politicians have regular events in their districts or states, as well as constant fundraising opportunities. We have worked with one politician who has a huge annual picnic every year with thousands of attendees,” he says.

“One of the best ways to get into this market is to stay informed of all the potential elections in your area and know the cycles,” Thomas says. “Although 2012 is a presidential election, other years also have a variety of elections from gubernatorial and congressional to state delegates and senators, not to mention your local elections for city and county positions. Most states should have an office for both the Republican and Democratic Party of that state. In addition to connecting with someone in that office to make them aware of your services, they can be a great resource to find the individual candidates’ names and the offices for which they are running. They can then be contacted directly. Of course the Internet is another valuable source for contacting the various campaigns. Usually your local chamber of commerce events are attended by politicians. Many are accompanied by a staff person that you could contact later.”

  • Choose your events and donations wisely. Rental stores handle neutrality many different ways. Some rental stores may stay out of political events altogether, while others make sure to do events from all political parties, so as not to introduce bias.

Imbro, for example, says he chooses to handle many different events. “These are clients and you must be politically neutral in your business,” Imbro says. “We do fundraisers for all parties and platforms. Make sure you’re careful with your social media postings as well. We do not hold events for politicians at our store as I believe this would show partisanship which can harm our chances of continuing to work with both sides of the aisle.”

Thomas says he has donated to various events and has made business connections through those contacts. “I have not held any events for candidates at our location, but one of our local politicians has a monthly event down the street from our office. I regularly donate a few items to her events. The direct cost to me is small, but I can assure you when I have an issue and call, her staff is right on the ball. She also has been a connection to other politicians.”

How to handle political neutrality is up to each owner and also may depend on geographic size and location.

Some campaigns may not be able to accept donations and may, in fact, need additional paperwork to file the costs of the campaign event.

When David Smiley, CERP, owner, Alpine Party Rentals, Gypsum, Colo., rented materials to the John McCain presidential campaign for a fundraiser in 2008, he received just such a request. “What happened was an acquaintance of ours became involved in the fundraiser and volunteered our services at a discount, unbeknownst to us. When it came to meeting with the campaign staff, they were very adamant that they couldn’t accept any discount of any kind, regardless of what we would or would not have offered, because of legal ramifications. In addition, they wanted verification that the campaign was paying rate prices, so we gave them a price list in addition to their itemized bill.”

  • Have items — and people — on hand. While pipe and drape, and jumbo-sized country, state or provincial flags, are usually the standard for political-type events, don’t forget everything else from the usual suspects to novelty items. All candidates are unique and may require different items depending on their location, theme or soapbox message.

“Our first introduction was through balloon décor and balloon drops. This was a spring board for lots of American flags. The other rentals followed,” Thomas says. “All campaigns are different as to their needs, but one of the things that has brought a lot of business to us over the years has been our balloons, confetti and our flag inventory. Most politicians love balloons. Many times this can be the call we get to start building the order for tents, chairs and staging. A good idea would be to put together a ‘Campaign
Items’ flyer that can be sent to each political group or campaign.”

Imbro agrees and says to not forget the amount of employees needed to deliver, set up and strike the event. “We have provided tents, tables, chairs, staging, pipe and drape, rope and stanchions, fencing, security barricades, and also lots of setup and strike labor,” he says.

  • Be aware of security concerns. Speaking of employees, remember that security at these types of events is very strict. Many campaigns, especially presidential campaigns, will require names and potentially a Social Security number of those involved in the event. In addition, employees may need to have a photo ID on hand just in case.

Imbro says being flexible is important with security. “In the last six years we’ve worked for three presidents, two governors and many local politicians. We do almost all of the work for one former president and his foundation just about daily,” Imbro says. “You have to execute in a timely manner. There are usually narrow windows and major security issues. When you work out the logistics with the Secret Service present, things go smoother.”

Smiley says it helps to have someone checked in case the store needs to be on-site. “We had very little notice, maybe two to three weeks before the event. Security clearance was required for anyone who would be on-site for the event. As it turned out, we weren’t on-site, but I had a background check done on me in case we needed to respond to an emergency during the event.”

Darren Kershaw, general manager, Special Event Rentals & Sales, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, agreed.

““Special Event Rentals provided rentals for several sites visited by the Royal Family when Prince William and Catherine were in Canada for their tour. Our rentals ranged from stanchions and ropes for crowd control to staging for media to pipe and drape,” says Kershaw. “Security is tight for high profile visitors like the Royal Family. We were required to provide the names and photo I.D. of each employee involved in the deliveries and pickups. And no one was allowed to remain on-site during the events.”

Kershaw says to plan for stand-by time for deliveries and pickups, and time to handle paperwork on security clearance, whether for high-ranking executives or government officials. “Plan for the unexpected — extra time onsite for changes, additions and extra deliveries, time to complete all the forms — and charge accordingly.”

  • Get paid upfront. When campaigns are ongoing, organization is at the optimum. The entire organization is focused on one goal — getting the candidate elected. When the campaign is over, the organization can quickly disband. When candidates are national rather than local, tracking down a contact can be nearly impossible once the campaign is finished. As a result, those who have handled political events suggest getting paid before the event to avoid any issues.

“As with any other events that we do, unless someone has a credit account with us, everything is paid upfront. There are campaigns that still owe vendors nationwide for years,” Imbro says.

Thomas agrees. “There are so many people involved in a campaign and many come and go so quickly that you could spend months tracking down your money,” he says.

  • Last-minute is the norm. Campaigns are living, breathing entities and often change venue, times and content based on responses not only on political polls, but also on candidate needs, unexpected meetings and the ever-present game-changer — the weather.

“The major issue with a lot of these events is that there is very little notice at times. You have to be nimble. My experience has been that no matter how well-organized the campaign appears the events are always last minute and so are the changes,” Thomas says.

As a result, when doing a political event, expect changes and more changes for things like delivery times, quantity counts and everything else. Many times campaigns are operating on the fly, so another best practice is to try to get all changes in writing, because usually two or three people have their hand in the
event and one doesn’t necessarily know what the other is doing.

“Don’t be surprised if the event is cancelled at the last minute and don’t lose your cool,” Thomas adds. “Working with campaigns can be stressful.”