Think of two-way communication between candidates and supporters as one way to reduce a campaign’s reliance on consultants.
For instance, Patrick Ruffini, co-founder of Echelon Insights, noted that social media platforms can act as a kind of informal focus group.
“We’re moving away from this model where we [consultants] tell you what your message should be. Now, the Internet is kind of a focus group,” Ruffini, a GOP pollster, said Nov. 13 during a panel at the Campaigns & Marketing (CAM) Summit in D.C., which C&E co-hosted at the National Press Club with Potomac Tech Wire and Capitol Communicator.
“If nobody shares [your content] and really wants to repeat that message, it’s power is very limited.”
Moreover, Ruffini argued that monitoring social media channels can help pollsters overcome the growing challenge of reaching voters. “People aren’t answering their phones very much anymore, but people are giving off this data on their social channels,” he said.
Meanwhile, Jen O’Malley Dillon said social media gives every campaign, regardless of size, the opportunity to employ a data-driven strategy. “At it’s core, it’s about getting insights from your base — understanding more about them — and that’s through directly communicating with them,” said Dillon, a partner at Precision Strategies. “Fundamentally, every campaign can build a data-driven communications strategy that isn’t cost-prohibitive.”
Dillon was a deputy manager on President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, which was lauded for its technical sophistication compared to challenger Mitt Romney's team. But Republican digital strategists have now reached parity with their Democratic rivals with both sides racing to keep up with emerging social media platforms.
Ruffini noted that the RNC went from two digital staffers in 2012 to around 40-50 today. “I don’t think either side is missing a capability or knowhow,” he said.
Dillon agreed that Republicans have matched her party’s digital outreach ability. But while Democrats try to regain their lead on the cutting edge of technology, they should be wary of messaging to voters on new social media platforms.
“There is, every single day, a new platform, a way to communicate,” said Dillon. “There is a challenge on the Democratic side to be cutting edge, but we have to cut through the clutter of that and communicate with people on the platforms that they’re on.”
Having first-party data points will give campaigns an edge for reaching voters who are increasingly drifting away from the two major parties. “Never before have we had so many people with such little affiliation with the parties going into a presidential campaign,” Mark Penn, a Democratic pollster turned venture capitalist, said during a separate address at CAM.
Penn’s venture capital firm, Stagwell Media LLC, last month acquired Democratic public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker. He’s now looking to leverage up to $750 million in acquisitions with $250 million in capital, but on Friday he gave few hints about where his next deal would come from.
He said he’s looking for marketing and entertainment “companies we can help grow into significant entities.” He added: “I believe in companies that have direct client relationships.”