James Hartman is an at-large member of the St. Tammany Republican Parish executive committee in Louisiana, and president and CEO of James Hartman and Associates, a political consultancy that has helped candidates win elections in nine states, Europe, and even Africa. James’ career in politics has involved roles with the media, as a legislative staffer, a campaign staffer, and political consultant before opening his own firm from being a reporter, to a legislative staffer, to a consultant, to running his own consultancy.
Craig: It's my pleasure to have with me today James Hartman, at large member of the St. Tammany Republican Parish Executive Committee in Louisiana, and president and CEO of James Hartman and Associates. While we've spent a lot of time on this podcast talking with elected officials, James is a political consultant that I've had the great opportunity to get to know. He's helped candidates win elections in 9 states, in Europe, and even in Africa. He's grown his career in politics from being a reporter, to a legislative staffer, to a consultant, to running his own consultancy. He's absolutely seen it all, and I really can't wait to dig into his story. James, welcome, and thank you for being here with us.
James: No problem. Thanks for the interest.
Craig: James, how you've grown your career in politics is kind of fascinating to me, as it’s almost identical track to mine – starting in the media, then working on campaigns, and then ultimately becoming a political consultant, yourself. Do us a favor and take that intro I gave you and kind of fill in the lines and tell us a little bit more about yourself, your experience, and how you've gotten to where you are today.
James: After college, I spent two years as a reporter at a small newspaper and a radio station, and then I was asked almost simultaneously by two different politicians to come work for them. One actually said he would rather me answer questions for him, than ask questions of him. The job of those two that I took first was as a press secretary, which these days we generally call communications director, in a US Senate race here in Louisiana. That candidate was unfortunately not successful, and then I went back to the other person who had asked me to work for him, who had been elected. He asked me to come handle his communications for his government office, which I did for nine years. During that time, I focused a lot on public affairs, public speaking, and of course, a ton of media appearances, again, answering questions for him instead of asking them of him as a reporter.
After Hurricane Katrina, life kind of turned upside down, and I was ready for a change. I became a disaster recovery consultant for a while, and in 2007, 9 years ago, I went back into state politics again as a communications director in a governor's race.
During that campaign, actually, is when I started my company and began taking on clients on the side. In nine years, we've gone from 3 clients, essentially, that first summer we formed, to having about 30 to 40 active clients at any given point right now. While we do primarily political work and at all levels, I like to say we've done everything from justice of the peace to prime minister which is true. We also do a little nonprofit work and we handle some commercial advertising and promotions as well. We're kind of diversified. But the politics is our bread and butter.
Craig: That's a great line – “from justice of the peace to prime minister.” I've been on your website and I've seen the array of logos of candidates that you've been able to help. Take us back to the very beginning before you even got into media and then politics. What sparked your interest? What had you going down this path?
James: I grew up right outside of Washington DC, and the news was something that was always on in our house, which was before the age of cable so it was only on for a couple of hours a day. It was also the only broadcasting we were allowed to keep on the television while we had our family dinner. My parents were news junkies as were my grandparents, and of course being in the nation's capitol, the most powerful city in the world, where what is local news is also national and international. By the time I was nine years old I was reading the Washington Post. I was aware of cabinets, secretaries, and other things, what they did.
My father was a federal employee at a fairly high level, and the interest in not just politics but in public policy started in me very young. Of course, my parents also instilled in us the utter importance of voting. I remember my mother taking me to vote every election she could when I was a very small child. That's something that I think just put it into me when I was very young, the importance of not just the politics of it, but the public policy that results. That's something that we kind of do in tandem at my firm, because many of our clients we help win their elections, and then they keep us on to assist with the policy side. Some of our candidates that are our clients were already elected before they hired us, and we assist them with both PR and with the policy analysis, and the decision making processes.
Craig: We are wholehearted believers that the authenticity of a candidate comes directly from their purpose for running for office in the first place. As you talk about winning an election, but then what are you going to do with election once you get into office? The fact that you make that a key part of the campaign process is absolutely critical.
Take us back to that first election. You've been asked, you're in the first election, what did you learn? What challenges did you face, what surprises did you come up against, and how did that first election that you ran shape where you've gone from there?
James: The first campaign I did professionally was 20 years ago when I was press secretary in a US Senate race. Of course I learned a whole great deal about the operations of a large scale campaign, what professional positions are involved, what sort of volunteerism is required on the outside, and all the elements of it. The volunteer coordinating, the policy research, the PR and media relations, the strategy, the polling, etc. One of the biggest challenges we've had in that race, to be quite candid with you, was the consultants who had been hired to work with us I found to be very disengaged and not terribly interested in good policy as much as they were interested in their winning bonus. Twenty years later, doing what they do, I take a very different approach to it. I'm not just a hired gun. I'm very much in tuned to who my candidates are as people. I have a rule, that I won't work for you if I wouldn't vote for you.
Craig: Right. Absolutely.
James: Obviously I can't vote for all my clients, because I can't vote in Europe or Nigeria, but I'm very selective. I interview my potential candidates, those clients, just as much as they interview me. I'll be honest, an unfortunate situation, but in a couple of cases I have walked away from clients in the middle of the campaign when they did or said something that completely changed my, to be candid, my willingness to vote for them. There are certain lines that I will not cross.
Craig: We’re talking about a senate race 20 years ago, and candidates that you're running today – different styles of campaigning, different media, different technology available, different attitudes of voters. Talk a little bit about how campaigning from your perspective has changed over the last 20 years.
James: Oh gosh. My very first campaign working as press secretary we were still using a FAX machine to distribute press releases, and it took hours to get something out to the media all over the state. These days, of course, it's the touch of a button. There are many different ways to reach people now, through social media. The traditional news media has become an electronic outlet as well, so what you used to do strategically, putting out a press release at a certain time of day so it would be in tomorrow's paper, you now expect to be on that newspaper's website within an hour or so. It's out faster. Certainly there are those changes.
There are always demographic shifts and every election is unique. Every campaign has the same basic elements as you know, but you're dealing with different populations and different areas of concern. Even here in Louisiana, some of the campaigns I worked in at the state legislative level, cross Parish lines. The concerns of people in one Parish might be very different from the concerns of the people just across the Parish line. You have to deal with your messaging, and your decision making, and policy development from that perspective as well.
Craig: Because you've run an array of campaigns of all sizes, a lot of the folks listening to this podcast they're going to be folks thinking of running for the first time, or have made the decision and are engaged in their first campaign. What do you see a difference in what they may see happening in a presidential race as they are looking for ideas as to how campaign the presidential race, or a senatorial race, or something that's being carried out on television in front of everybody, versus them running a local campaign?
James: With local races you have the opportunity for much more direct voter contact which is, of course, crucial. As the size of the electorate and in particular the office becomes larger, it becomes increasingly difficult to have that direct sort of contact, and you rely more on broadcasting in particular, computer outreach, social media, etc. and less on the direct hand-to-hand contact. Despite those differences it ultimately comes down to the same element. You want to have a better message than your opponent, delivered better than your opponent, in a more timely manner, and a more professional appearance than your opponent. That's the level of service we provide to candidates of all levels.
Craig: That's a great takeaway, as you're watching larger campaigns unfold. Throughout your career has there been, relative to your campaigns or your business of running campaigns, has there been a mistake that you've made that you significantly learned from, and implemented changes as a result of?
James: Nothing comes to mind, which is not to say I haven't made mistakes, I'm sure I have, but I don't think there's anything that leaps out to me that says this was a turning point in how I run my company or my campaign. You learn something from every race.
I think the biggest thing, the mistake I might have made a couple of times, is not vetting my clients well enough to start with. I would say I've never lost a race when I had three things: The time I needed, the money I needed, and a candidate who did what I told them to do. I've won races with only two of those elements, but when I've had all three I've never lost. There have been times when I didn't properly vet perhaps the candidate's fund-raising capability, or the candidate’s commitment to actually doing the work required, or the candidate’s willingness to hire a professional and then listen. There are a whole lot of people who run for office, and will hire the best, and then only tell the best how to do their job. It's like going to a car mechanic and telling them what's wrong or going to the doctor and telling them what to prescribe. When you hire a pro, listen to the pro.
Craig: You can create the greatest campaign plan in the world, but if the candidate's not willing or unable, to implement it, it doesn't have the effect that you envisioned at the beginning. What's your biggest challenge now?
James: I think the challenge, which is probably a double-edged sword, is simply ambition. Being a business owner, I'm constantly recruiting clients and keeping myself not in the public eye, but in the political eye. Our business has grown by word of mouth, and by winning elections. I win elections people don't expect us to win. People ask the candidate how he won, and he or she will point them to me. It's that constant ... You know, when you're in business you eat what you kill, so recruiting candidates and looking forward to the next cycle is never something you can stop doing.
Craig: Takes a tremendous amount of time to build those networks.
James: Right, and fortunately I've been in the right places at the right times. I've had a good staff. I have an excellent staff, and we've worked hard and have a good win rate. The clients tend to come to us, but then I, fortunately again, have a great staff, and the way we pretty much structure things I deal with the client, and my staff handles implementation of what has to be done. That's a model I've learned from some of the best in this business, too. I don't worry about paying the bills or checking the mail, or even invoicing clients. I'm just out and about. Sometimes I'm only in my office 4 or 5 hours a week, because I'm out and about dealing with those 35 clients that we have in all areas.
Craig: That's a great place to be. You have candidates coming to you all the time, and whether they are going to engage you or not, they at least inquire of you. Talking directly to our listeners here who are considering running for office, what's a piece of advice that you would give them as they are trying to make that decision.
James: Any consultant, well first of all, I can only speak for myself in this regard, because I do some things on business levels differently than others in this field. Most significantly for me is that my fee schedule is based on the size of the office and the relevant power of the office. I actually had a client a year ago that I reached out to and said, "Hey, you have a tough challenge ahead, I would like to work with you. I'd like to help you," and his first response was, "I can't afford you." I just looked at him and said, "Yes, you can." And he said, "Why?" This is how I structure my fees and such.
What I would tell potential candidates is one, if you can, find a reputable consultant, no matter what size office you're running for, find one, but always ask about hidden costs. There are other people in my business who have very low monthly fees, but then nickel and dime clients to death, whereas I have it set up in the opposite direction. I have very mid-range flat fees, and then my clients don't pay for things like website updates, or additional press releases, or graphic design, or things like that. Where some other consultants charge much less on a monthly retainer, but then charge a whole lot to do what actually has to be done.
I've had people come to me who in the past have hired consultants like that. I've even had clients who still have consultants like that, but hire me or engage me and my firm as well to get better bang for their buck. That's what I would encourage people to do. Don't think you can't afford it. Find somebody you can afford, if there's somebody available, and once again I have to do a shameless plug, I work all over. No matter where you are, and no matter how big the office, you can call us, and we'll be willing to work something out. Always look for hidden costs.
Craig: That's great. From my experience, too, it's so great for the candidates to have that certainty, because when you're running a local election, especially on a limited budget and the costs are changing on you, and you're trying to make your plans for September and October and right before Election Day, you can't have that uncertainty.
You've had some success, you've won campaigns, you've built a business around it, what factors, what is it about you that you attribute that success to?
James: Wow. Again, I think surrounding myself with a good staff. I think choosing good clients, and I think really doing, really engaging with my candidate. I don't just do this for a paycheck. I have to sleep at night, I have a conscience. I don't want to help somebody completely unworthy get elected simply because he or she can write the check. I'd rather work for a candidate who pays less, but his heart is in true public service. I think that certainly has a good deal to do with it.
You treat people like you want to be treated. I think we interface well with people, and we're very organic in our approach. Again, all of it has to come back to my staff and how the company is structured. To have somebody who specializes in ad placement, somebody who specializes in graphics and web, and somebody who specializes simply in operations, and getting it done. The vice president of my company is actually someone I hired away from John Boehner three years ago. He's young and brilliant, he keeps things moving for us.
Craig: That's great. I also tell my clients that politics is definitely a people business, and surrounding yourself with the right people is an absolute key. We like to talk about inspiration. We talked about what got you into politics in the first place, but is there a book or two that you've read that has impacted your political career?
James: Oh gosh. Probably more than one or two. I wouldn't even know where to start with that. My degree is in sociology, so I've read quite a bit of academic tomes on group behavior, which is what politics really comes down to – group behavior, and predicting it, and controlling it, influencing it. I know I'm going to kick myself when we're done, but off the top of my head any one or two books would be hard to identify.
For pure reading pleasure I really about a year ago actually on the plane on the way back from Nigeria, I read the first volume of House of Cards, which was really interesting. I'm sorry, you kind of stumped me with that question. I wasn't expecting it.
Craig: You're sociology point is critical, because when we think about books like the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and others like that, this is what you're doing. A lot of those kind of get attributed to sales. Salespeople read them and teach them in sales courses, but this in many ways when you're in politics, this is what you're doing. You're selling ideas, you're selling yourself. It's not a point that is definitely lost. Let's talk about every day. You run your own company, you're working with dozens of clients. What do you read on a daily basis to make sure you have an idea of what's going on in the world?
James: I read multiple news sources every day, all day, every day. Obviously I read the local press in whatever jurisdiction I'm working in at that time, but then I also, of course, read the multitude of sources for the area where I live so that I know what's going on here, which is of course, for many of our clients to date. I read the Prague Daily Monitor, I read the Nigerian News Desk, I read the Times Israel, the CNN discuss, the Economist Desk, probably the best thing in the world for me to read, is The Economist. I look at it online every day. Reasons. Reasons website, and Reasons Magazine. Very, very insightful, and being from a Libertarian bent, so the diversity of perspectives.
I think what I always challenge myself to do – actually I don't have to challenge myself – I just do it. I challenge other people to seek out news sources that are not ones that they are not necessarily going to agree with, because you have to expose yourself to a diversity of perspectives and opinions to understand your own and to be able to better articulate your own. For me, I think that I'm absolutely addicted to reading news.
Craig: What a great point at the end there, that's one of the biggest challenges for candidates getting their word out is that largely people have decided where they want to get news from and how they get their news, and it's not the same as it used to be, where you say your message and you can broadcast it out there. It's very easy for people to close the door on you at this point. What is next for you and for your company?
James: We're just going to keep doing what we do. In a nutshell. I like to say we help good people do good things, and I just want to keep doing more of that at all levels. I would love to do some international work again. I've done, as we mentioned, some in Europe and some in Africa as part of a team through one of the best political consultants in the world, if not arguably the best. I'd love to do some more of that.
The bigger a footprint we can acquire the happier I am. It's funny a little, perhaps self-deprecating humor, a few years ago someone in an anonymous online news forum, referred to me based on some races that I was working at the time. This person wrote, again anonymously, "Hartman is a cancer on St. Tammany Parish." I never respond in these forums or anything like that, but I actually got my dander up, and I wanted to reply, "Excuse me, I'm a cancer on a much bigger area than St. Tammany Parish. Don't underestimate.”
Craig: That's great.
James: Obviously I don't think of myself or my company as a malignancy, but I would like to just continue growing our footprint. I don't want to just make a living, I want to make a difference, and the more people we can help through good politics and good public policy, the happier I'll be when I meet my maker.
Craig: That's fantastic, it really is. James, if our folks want to learn more about you where should I send them?
James: My website is JamesHartman.net. J-A-M-E-S-H-A-R-T-M-A-N dot net, or they can pick up the phone and call me on my cell. 504-458-4600. We try to speak all over the place. We're happy to talk with anybody interested in running for office anywhere at any level.
Craig: James, it's been really great, really great. I really appreciate you taking some time to talk with us today. I've enjoyed the chat, I've enjoyed your insights, definitely. It resonates with me because I feel the same exact way. We can all run campaigns, and we can win them, and we can make a business out of it, but you really want to be doing this to be getting good, worthwhile, forward thinking, positive candidates out there for voters to choose from. When you do that, it makes everything you're trying to accomplish better. I wish you the best of luck in everything you're doing for the future for political, for professional, personal. Definitely want to stay in touch with you. For our listeners you can connect with James and learn more about him at www.jameshartman.net. James, I appreciate it, thank you so much.
James: Not a problem. Thank you Craig, I really enjoyed it.
Welcome to the Campaign Coach Podcast. Craig Turner is a nationally recognized political consultant who has managed campaigns for two decades. On the show, Craig interviews politicians and political experts to share how they get elected, stay elected, and make a difference… and you can too. For a free copy of Craig’s new candidate’s guide, “How to Avoid the 7 Biggest Mistakes That Can Keep You From Getting Funded, Getting Votes... And Getting Elected” o to http://www.TheCampaignCoach.com