Just as campaigns and groups have adapted to a cycle now certain to be defined by the coronavirus pandemic, consultants have also changed how they work over the past three months.
From defining new work-life boundaries to on-the-fly adapting their platforms for clients’ changing needs, practitioners who have built careers being adaptable are finding growth in new areas.
“The boundaries of where the workday starts and ends have gotten very fuzzy,” said Savannah Woolston.
Speaking at CampaignTech at Home on the opening panel Wednesday, Woolston described how, as the digital director of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, “a lot of work has shifted onto my plate.”
She’s not alone. Several practitioners raised a similar issue at the start C&E’s technology conference which, for the first time, is being held completely online through July 9.
During the opening panel on Wednesday, Woolston described how her office was adapting to the greater strain. A group text check-in thread is one tool.
“We can’t just work twenty-four-seven, even if we feel like we can,” she said. “It’s really unhealthy when there’s a lot of trauma external to the work.”
Drew Ryun, founder and CEO of GOP tech firm CampaignSidekick, said his team’s pressure hasn’t come from having to go remote 24/7 — they were a Slack-centered virtual company before the pandemic. Instead, the pressure has come from the need to adapt the company’s outreach platform in short order.
They went from “being more of a door-to-door app with a phone component,” to being primarily the latter. “We have taken several quantum leaps forward with our platform,” said Ryun. “It’s the virus that has provided that opportunity.”
He added: “Virtual is here to stay.”
Going virtual has added benefits for events. Specifically, consultants say it makes it easier to attract better surrogates who have the benefit of not traveling for an in-person appearance. But when it comes to fundraising, donors don’t want to open their wallets as much when attending a virtual event. That’s one reason consultants are anticipating lower budgets this cycle.
“It’s a really tough time for a lot of people and budgets are going to be impacted by the fact that low-dollar donors have really really important other things on their minds,” said Cassie Doyle, associate director of media at Democratic firm Rising Tide Interactive. “High-dollar donors are also focusing on the bigger picture.
“I can see a world in which this cycle, we’ve got a lot more happening on digital, but potentially overall lower budgets.”
As voter contact goes entirely no-touch, there’s a risk of burning out a campaign’s lists, particularly when it comes to peer-to-peer texting.
“We have to be so cognizant of how we have to avoid burning through lists quickly,” said Krishna Ghodiwala, co-founder of Text Surge, a firm specializing in texting that works with campaigns on the left.
Ghodiwala also said that messages must be tailored to the recipient in the current environment: “You can have the best tools, you can have the best data, but if your messaging seems like you’re out of touch, you’re not going to be successful.”
That tailoring is part of what consultants are calling “intentional” strategy for 2020 — communicating with voters in the channel they prefer and on the topics they’re interested in all while being sensitive to the impact of the ongoing pandemic.
Christine Bachman, a vice president at SBDigital, suggested that if a candidate does a Facebook Live, the campaign shouldn’t just leave the entire video on its page.
Instead, the video should be edited down by topic so voters can pick and choose clips to watch. “Create a thread that has morsels,” she said. “Don’t just throw the whole thing up there.”
Consultants are also working with candidates on more unscripted digital video than ever before.
Bronwyn Haltom, a principal at GOP digital firm Acquire Digital, recalled how one client used a video to talk about going through a job loss related to COVID-19.
“You’ve got to be honest with people,” she said. “Whatever that authentic moment is for your campaign [get it up that day.] If you’re two or three days behind, you’re totally behind the conversation.”