CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Political technology companies are in abundance this week in Charlotte, working the Democratic convention crowd against the backdrop of one of the hottest debates in the campaign world—partisan or nonpartisan when it comes to political technology.
The Democratic software provider NGP VAN has members of its sales team on the ground at the DNC, interfacing with current clients and prospecting for new business. Along with Winning Connections, a Democratic phone vendor, the company hosted a welcome reception for state Democratic Party chairs and executive directors, and NGP VAN is promoting its updated Social Organizing tool at events throughout the week.
“We meet a ton of clients here,” says NGP VAN’s Toby Quaranta, who was demoing Social Organizing at Facebook’s “Apps & Drinks” event on Tuesday. The company launched an updated version of the tool earlier this summer, which lets users sign in through Facebook Connect and match their friends to the voter file, creating targeted walk or call lists.
For tech companies like NGP VAN or the recently founded DSPolitical, partisanship is at the heart of the pitch, making Charlotte the perfect place to engage potential clients already gathered for what amounts to a weeklong political rally.
“It’s really about visibility, and it’s not just that we have clients here” says DSPolitical’s Jim Walsh. “There are some really important decisions being made this week about what happens in the next 60 days and I think it’s a disservice if we’re not here.”
Walsh has spent the week meeting with clients in Charlotte and talking up his firm’s voter-file targeting services.
“There’s also a camaraderie aspect to this,” he says. “We’re here in support of a common cause and that’s important to our clients.”
Some tech providers have publicly clashed in recent weeks over whether clients are best served by a strictly partisan approach to political technology, and it’s a debate that’s intensifying in the campaign tech world.
Right alongside the fiercely partisan technology firms in Charlotte are the nonpartisan ones. The data firm Labels & Lists has its VoterMapping technology on display for members of the House and Senate in attendance this week just as it was for members at the RNC in Tampa.
For Michael Loy of Intermarkets, it’s the second straight week on the ground at a national convention. Loy had his Republican sales team in tow last week in Tampa; his Democratic team this week in Charlotte.
“I think our approach is similar to Google or Facebook,” says Loy. “We take a nonpartisan approach to technology, but there are partisan aspects to the staffing we’ve developed. It does allow our reps on the ground to interact with clients at a partisan level.”
At Facebook’s DNC event on Tuesday, Joe Green of NationBuilder was making his software pitch just across the room from reps with NGP VAN. Green contends that his company’s nonpartisan approach hasn’t been an issue with potential clients he’s spoken to either this week or last.
“It hasn’t come up yet,” says Green, arguing that campaigns are much more interested in how the technology might help them win.
“I was at the Republican National Convention last week talking to all sorts of people about our software,” says Green, who previously worked at Facebook and on John Kerry’s 2004 campaign. “If you look at my resume, it screams liberal. But nobody asked about that.”
John Phillips, CEO of the political software provider Aristotle, says his company made the choice not to have a major presence at either convention this year instead focusing on its own marketing efforts, noting recent partnerships with Intermarkets and Square.
“We think it’s much more effective to buy TV time,” says Phillips. “We’ve actually bought time on MSNBC and found success with that.”
While he doesn’t think it’s tougher to prospect clients around an event as staunchly partisan as a national party convention, Phillips says his company has plenty of confidence in its approach.
“Everybody’s got their own marketing strategy,” he says. “Ours is to emphasize the quality of the product. We provide the tools to deliver the message.”