Is it out-house if it's in-house?

In one of my prior jobs, I worked for a bank system where I listened to the CEO coin the phrase "If it isn't in-house, it's out house" to express his disdain for outsourcing things. (I though it was a pretty clever zinger.)

But in politics, I'm not so sure that the opposite isn't true. If you're spending your time on things because you have created an in-house resource to save money, you might be cutting your own throat while trying to patch a minor scrape.

One group I'm familiar with bought equipment to perform a task that they were spending lots of money on. I'm sure the thinking was "Saving money? Hey, that's a great idea."

Now, about a year later, some people have left, and new people have come. There's equipment where a significant investment has been made, and there really isn't anyone on hand who understands it completely. Yet the equipment is sitting there nearly untouched and in need of maintainance. Supplies are piled up. And this good investment is suddenly a material asset that's depreciating fast, and has little or no resale value.

It's not exclusive to politics. Many associations get themselves into this trap too. Having been an auctioneer for over fifteen years, I can't count how many times a local association in Pierre brought super expensive office equipment out to the auction because nobody used it. Then they'd get $20 for equipment they blew thousands on. For a political organization or a campaign with limited funds, it's especially not a good idea.

Yes, I've been guilty of it myself. When I was out in Rapid City, I had someone give me a working printing press. My thought was "COOL! I can get this thing to freaking sing, and print flyers and newsletters, etc."

6 months later, this massive albatross was still sitting in the office. Untouched. And the person I was training for my job said. "Before you leave, we're getting this *%(*&#@ thing out of here." Yeah, it seemed like a good idea at the time. And then it took the two of us to haul this monstrosity of steel and plastic to a storage area, where it likely sits to this day. Lesson learned.

It's more common than you might think in political organizations. I've seen other people making similar mistakes. One campaign this last election had bought one of the expensive button makers to make their own political buttons. OK, they're about $1000 for the unit, plus extra for supplies. You might save $.15 - $.25 per button if you make your own. Ok, lets figure out the hourly cost of an employee to sit there making buttons. You might get 100 buttons done in an hour if you're lucky. So, was saving $15 in an hour worth the $1000 material asset outlay, plus the labor cost for the employee?

I'd rather have the employee canvassing, raising money, or something that made sense to do for a campaign. $1000 would likely buy all the freaking campaign buttons you're going to need for a statewide race.

Yes, admittedly, learning how to do some of this stuff has a little bit of a coolness factor. As much as I'm tempted, I'm trying not to commit this sin again.

I did teach myself screen printing as a hobby because I thought it would have a political or business application sometime, and thankfully, I'm doing it every week or so, and I even have a paying client or two. I built my own equipment at next to no cost, so it's not an albatross around my neck. I'll keep that end of things as a personal business and not drag it into an office, unless it's a paying deal.

But, I still have to keep reminding myself about my own advice.

During the last campaign I worked on, I found myself surfing eBay to look for one of those little envelope printers that will address 1000 envelopes in less than an hour. Yes, it might be quicker than calling Qualified Presort in Sioux Falls, but you know what? If I got one of those, then I'm stuck dealing with about 8 ink-jet cartridges at a time ($30 each), dedicating a computer to the project, and then hoping to heck that it doesn't break down.

Screw it. I called QPS, and then it was out of my hands, and I didn't even have to remember how to fill out the bulk mail forms.

When you consider purchasing a material asset for a campaign, don't just think about what it can do. Consider how labor intensive it might be. Consider the learning curve for the item. Will it require a dedicated staff member? Can it easily be repaired? And can you get your money out of it once the campaign is over?

If you're still stuck with it after the campaign, come talk to me. I've got a trailer to haul things, and an extra $20 laying around. Just don't tell my wife.


Douglas said…
Interesting. Too many years ago when SD last had a Democratic governor, I was working for the SD Democratic Party. There was an offset press sitting in the old St. Charles Hotel office backroom.

For a hundred bucks or so, got that old dog running. Wrote up a fundraising brochure that took a few shots at the GOP in SD and suggested that changing that might take some contributions. I even ran the stuff through the printer a couple times to bet a couple of colors.

Ah, but first..Dan Bucks and the Kneip organization had to check it.

Too controversial. They were afraid their pisspoor mailing list languishing on about the only private computer in those days might have a few Republicans in the list and they sure would not want to offend them.

Well, wife and I were young and stupid. We got phone books and cleaned up the mailing list.

I still may have a few of those brochures that never ever did get mailed. Not sure what happened to the offset press.

Hey, I also have most of a photographic darkroom. Kodak has stopped making photographic paper..I think. Another paper maker went bankrupt.

Damn, I really want one of those Epson printers that print tabloid size with pigmented inks..of course, that would require a digital camera with high resolution and... well,

Oh well.. interesting topic. Technology changing so fast makes the in-house idea even more risky.

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