I don’t care about your burn rate

A few minutes ago, a friend of mine tweeted this and it caught my attention.

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I’ve been circling around a similar thought as we’ve rolled through the most recently quarterly FEC reporting deadline, and I think Steve’s right. The “burn rate” is a silly metric.

For those unfamiliar with the term, a campaign’s “burn rate” is the rate at which they’re spending the money that they’re raising. It’s good to have a low “burn rate” — the conventional wisdom goes — so that you have more cash-on-hand. More cash on hand means you’re “stronger.”

Like Steve, I don’t buy it. Campaign’s cost money, and — as Steve says — there’s no prize for having the most money and losing.

Spending a lot money means nothing more than that you’re acting, rather than laying in wait. But an irrational fear of low cash-on-hand can lead you to forego crucial early investments in digital and field that’ll lay the groundwork for success down the stretch.

The truth is that I don’t care about your campaign’s “burn rate.” It’s a vanity metric that the media focuses on because it’s easy to grok. But campaigns aren’t businesses, and the goal isn’t profit. The goal is victory.

If you’re spending what you’re raising on smart, forward-thinking investments in critical campaign infrastructure, more power to you. If you’re blowing it on non-essential things like expensive hotels and branded tour buses, that’s a leading indicator of deeper problems within a campaign. But either way, don’t just sit on the money in order to get a positive press story because while you do your opponent — the one with the huge “burn rate” — is laying the foundation to beat you.

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