On September 30, I had the unique opportunity of interviewing Christian Idicula, a local man who is front-running the campaign for the Liberal candidate, Randy Boissonault, in the upcoming federal election. Christian provides us with a unique, behind the scenes perspective of being a campaign manager.
Kayle Sieben: How does one become a campaign manager? What education or work background helped you get here?
Christian Idicula: In this particular case it wasn’t necessarily the work background, it was actually more of the personal relationship with the candidate. In terms of my work background I have a marketing/communications and a finance background. I would say the marketing background and the skillset of taking complex ideas and crunching them down into very understandable pieces is probably more of what I’ve had to rely on, because I don’t have any formal political science background.
In terms of how I became the campaign manager, it was actually very organic. I’ve known our candidate for almost 13 years. He went through the process of debating if this is what he wanted to do. We had the conversation ongoing for some time, and when the mayor got elected (Don Iveson), because we both had volunteered, we both learned and were able to absorb. We enjoyed it, and were able to view interesting ways of approaching things. We got to the end of that, and the mayor had won, and we looked at each other and I said, ‘ So what do you think?’ and he said “Yeah. I could do this.” So I said “Well I’m on board to help out,” and that’s pretty much how it started.
KS: What did you like from Don Iveson’s campaign that you’ve incorporated to this one on the federal level?
CI: There were a few things we committed to off the top; one was to create a campaign that people enjoyed being a part of, and that’s tough because you’re talking party politics where that sort of surrounds the individual unlike civic politics. It’s also tough because it will be 2 years within a couple days of the election, so it’s hard to maintain momentum for that long period of time, and it’s volunteer-run, except a few people who are technically staff.
We knew that if people enjoyed being part of the process, it would make it easier to not be frustrated by the challenges.
One thing that’s not usually taken into account is leadership styles. Our leadership style is different than the others, and that doesn’t resonate with everyone off the top. But one thing that has come out as true is that there’s a bit of a generational change, and that is something that we really liked about what happened at the civic level. It happened in both Calgary and then Edmonton. That sort of generational change notion: that there’s a group of people ready to step up and take on leadership roles and take on challenges was an important piece for us.
KS: What would you say was your biggest success as a campaign manager so far?
CI: [Laughter] Well ask me after the 19th, depending how things go! I think the thing I feel happiest about is what we’ve been able to create with our team. I was fortunate enough to have a good team of people who are hard-working and committed to both what we’re trying to do in the larger sense, and also here personally with Randy. We have this diverse group of people, who, for the most part are new to running a campaign. They all come from diverse backgrounds and are invited to bring their experience, skillsets and professional backgrounds to the table. So every day is a learning experience. We make mistakes, but we’re energetic and determined enough that we can move past it and learn what we need to do next time.
Ks: How do you identify which of your candidate’s qualities you’d like to highlight?
CI: This will probably sound completely odd. The way I approached it was kind of like the way I approached the brand of marketing that I used to do. The first thing was to understand what it is we’re dealing with, which depersonalizes the candidate a bit. Like when I used to do brand marketing, I would first focus on understanding the brand, the company, the product, and all those sorts of things. So if you take that basic framework and tweak it, you’re getting to know the candidate. You get to know their resume, their personal stories, who their friends, family, and colleagues are. I had the advantage of knowing Randy for a long time, so we had a lot of the same network.
There are two branches of campaign managers, ones who come in to help out because they’ve been told to or hired to, and then there’s the ones who know the candidate personally. The angle I took was to have a clear image of who this person was, because I needed to make decisions on things like speeches and content, what’s on or off the table, which events to attend, all those types of things. You’re making these decisions on their behalf, so you have to know the person well enough to know what makes sense. What’s the right voice, tone, and delivery? You have to build a level of trust, and they need to trust that you know their story, you know who they are. So when you make a decision you’re confident they won’t have to worry about it. You’re basically attached to the candidate.
KS: What would you say is the biggest difference between civic and federal campaigning?
CI: I’ve volunteered on all three levels in different capacities, whether it’s door-knocking or communications or fundraising. The biggest difference is the party politics. Party politics, party brand are all pieces of the puzzle. When you look at the platform, you’re trying to figure out ‘how do I place this into the proper context.’ We’re constantly looking at the platform; how do we translate that for people here? We have to figure out the parts of the platform that folks need to hear about based on what we’ve heard from various communications to show them how ‘this will help you.’
KS: On your about.me page you state “Never Idle,” so what do you do in your spare time? Is it fun and games or is it business as usual?
CI: Well for the last two years, whenever I’m not working or with my family I’ve been on the campaign. I actually refused a lot of other volunteer activities in favour of doing this. In large because doing this was more out of my own personal motivation to see my candidate elected, because I believe that he is one of those people that should be in government. He’s smart, motivated and very much involved in the community. He’s someone who is an advocate, who will stand up for our city. I would be proud to see him on the national stage. I dedicated all of my spare time to doing that.
Aside from that I’ve got two small kids who keep me busy. That’s really it, when I’m done this, I’m sure I’m going to find other things to fill in the vacuum of time. I still enjoy business, and I love being in the business world so I’m sure I’ll find something else on that front. Or maybe a volunteer thing or two.
KS: Bonus question: Any plans for post-election?
CI: (Laughter) Immediately post-election, other than the teardown, I’ll be taking off a little bit of time. Afterwards, it’s back to work. But it will all depend on what the outcome is. The natural question would be ‘would I run his next campaign,’ and the answer is ‘I don’t know.’ I would certainly be involved in some way, shape, or form. One of the things I actively tried to do when starting this was to essentially develop my way out of a job, which has always been my attitude towards anything. To create a team where one or more people can take over for me. I’ve always believed in having a strong team. The bigger picture was always to get more people engaged. You only get generational change when that next generation steps up. I want everyone on my team to be able to either step into my role in the next campaign, or help other campaigns across the city.