Political Campaigns and the Personal Protection Specialist
by Russell J. Wilson, PPS, (Class 38)
President, Wilson and Associates, Washington, D.C.
Many neophyte personal protection specialists desperately want to break into the profession, but do not have any idea how to get that first assignment. One of the most difficult yet rewarding ways to get field experience is to volunteer for a political campaign. Campaign volunteers are usually unpaid, work grueling hours and often see candidates for public office at their worst. Yet this is precisely the environment which can help you determine whether or not this thankless profession is for you. Exposure to influential politicians may also help you secure long-term employment with municipal, state and federal agencies.
Protocol is Essential
For those who decide to pursue this route, the first step is to write to the politician for whom you wish to work. When you write to these politicians, make sure you address them by their correct title. For example, address letters to elected officials as "The Honorable John Doe," and remember that in the salutation, do not write dear "Senator Doe" if the person is a Representative, and vice-versa. Politicians hate to be addressed as something lower than what they are almost as much as they hate to be reminded of what they are not. For a Member of the House of Representatives, "Dear Congressman Doe" or Dear Congresswoman Doe" is always an acceptable form of address.
If you write to a politician and don't get the address and salutation correct, that individual probably will not want to entrust you with anything as vital to them as their campaign. For your first attempt to contact politicians, I suggest that you aim no higher than a Member of the United States House of Representatives. U.S. Senators are simply too difficult to reach. I also suggest you not limit your search to incumbents. Often a strong challenger who triumphs on election day will be most grateful for your efforts. That gratitude might translate into a permanent job.
If national level politicians seem unresponsive to your efforts, start with state representatives or in small municipalities with mayoral races. Those individuals can often help you gain the entree you need to work for the national level politicos and if you do a good job for them, most of these people will be pleased to introduce you to their friends.
It's important to remember that while security for sitting Members of Congress is the responsibility of the U.S. Capitol Police, Capitol Police officers almost never accompany Members of Congress on the campaign trail. That even applies to Members of Congress who have medium to high threat profiles. As a rule, Members of Congress have enormous egos and will probably salivate over the idea of having their very own personal protection specialist available.
If you are selected to provide security or advance work during a campaign, several critical rules apply: First and foremost, these people often have multiple events scheduled at the same time. They will usually try to make all of those events. That means that when the principal indicates it's time to go, he/she does not want to be looking for you. Make sure that you are within sight of the principal at all times.
The second important point is to be dressed perfectly in business attire with comfortable dress shoes (I recommend Rockport Dressports). If there is even a possibility of rain, have an umbrella handy to keep you and your principal dry. Impressions are everything in politics. If you or your principal look sloppy, it could cost your team votes. Also, most politicians loath "Secret Service" detail-type operations. Such details can often make a politician look weak or timid. They can also make a politician appear to be too self-important to care about the average voter. That combination can be fatal to a campaign.
Third, if you are fortunate enough to work on a political campaign, never, ever drink alcohol on the job. Don't even have one glass. Alcohol on your breath will affect other people's perception of you and your principal. It will also reduce your reaction time. This seems like common sense. It's important to remember that a political campaign will take you to many rubber chicken dinners. Wine will often be served at these events. While it may seem tempting to have a glass or two, don't do it.
Fourth, review the next day's schedule the day before. You can help your principal greatly by making sure his American Legion hat is in the campaign vehicle if you will be attending an American Legion event. On the five congressional campaigns I worked, I took great pride in making certain that my principal had his American Legion hat for the 11:00 a.m., the VFW hat for noon and his rotary club pin for dinner. These small things can have a dramatic effect on the candidate's ability to project an image of familiarity and comfort to the potential voter.
Fifth, become intimately familiar with your principal's position on issues. People will often look to you for answers to their questions. If you are not familiar with an issue, write down the person's name, address, telephone and FAX (212) 563-4783numbers and their question or problem. At the beginning of the next day, FAX (212) 563-4783that information to your principal's chief of staff.
Sixth, if you are not able to ride with the candidate, the most interesting and useful function for you to fulfill is by performing the advance work. An effective advance person can often get a sense of the opponent's personality and tactics before your principal arrives. You can also ascertain if a particular event may be different in reality than it was in its description. This feedback to the principal or to the campaign manager may help those people decide whether it makes sense to change the schedule, cancel an appearance or change the text of a speech, based on the attendees at the event. If the secret of executive protection is advance, then the principle applies ten-fold in the campaign venue.
Is it worthwhile?
Campaign days are long. They often begin at 7:00 a.m. and end after midnight. Make sure you eat whenever you have an appropriate opportunity. You never know when the next opportunity will present itself.
In conclusion, life on the campaign trail can be interesting, fun, stimulating and rewarding. It can also be an outstanding place to gain experience and to hone your skills. During the course of your work, you may see candidates and politicians at their worst. Remember - no matter what you may see or hear, keep it to yourself. Rumors started on the campaign trail take on a life of their own. There is no quicker way to ruin several careers, including your own, than by relating confidential matters you learn on the campaign.
Copyright © 2003, Executive Protection Institute