It’s soul searching time for Democratic campaign consultants. There are a multitude of lessons to be learned from the past year — lessons that can help us further our dream of social justice, of equality and, sure, of making a few dollars, too.
It’s time for the consultant class to stop using the same tired, old playbook while expecting different outcomes. It’s time for folks to stop pontificating about change and actually start looking inward. To help get next year’s self-improvement started, here’s a list of 10 resolutions. Let’s pledge to:
1. Get a better education. Take advantage of an “off year” to learn more about the affordable targeting technologies available to drive a more effective campaign, like cookie matching your voter file. It’s not just for big money national campaigns anymore. Cookie matching and other targeting used in digital ads allow campaigns to reach voters precisely. Too many campaigns have continued to throw too much of their budget at guesswork TV or radio buys without getting any conversion metrics back. If you’re in a transient suburban district with a ton of working-class commuters under the age of 50, why are you still sending them direct mail that they don’t open. Even many political consultants don’t check their own mail more than once a week.
2. Lose the excess weight of the uber consultant class. We don’t need 20 consultants on conference calls anymore. Let’s move campaigns faster and more effectively. Let’s trim the fat in the New Year and only allow people to be on the call who are actually focused on the campaign. If you haven’t read the poll or even the morning newspaper, put your sandwich down, do your homework and pay more attention in 2015. If you’re squandering finite campaign resources, you might as well be handing your paycheck over to the Koch brothers.
3. Volunteer more big ideas. Today’s polls tend to be formulaic head-to-head match ups with tons of demographic questions for crosstabs. Unfortunately, the messages being tested have been just as formulaic. Without creativity going into the campaign messages, how can we expect to run a winning campaign? Being on the right side of the issues isn’t enough if our campaigns are not communicating those views effectively. If we really listen to what voters are saying and invest some time in message development, we’ll be that much stronger in upcoming campaigns.
4. Quit smoke n’ mirrors campaigning. There’s no better way to dampen enthusiasm for your campaign than by coming across as wishy washy, evasive and deceitful. Choose what you stand for and stand tall. We saw in the midterm results that trying to play both sides and hide behind smoke and mirrors just doesn’t work. Those progressives that stood tall and encouraged their base to come out and vote won. Those that never worked their base voters lost.
5. Live more honestly. Stop perpetuating the myth that we have top-secret technology that’s too sophisticated for the GOP to figure out. They’ll catch up — technology swings both left and right. The corporate and venture capital worlds are inventing technologies that’ll go to whomever is willing to pay the fee. Let’s work to advance our technologies while expanding access to existing tools to down-ballot campaigns. After all, today’s down-ballot candidates may be tomorrow’s Barack Obama. We’ll all benefit down the line from today’s investments in tomorrow’s technology and tomorrow’s candidates.
6. Apologize less. President Obama and congressional Democrats have done a great job pulling us out of a horrible recession, yet too many want to hide their heads and just worry about the Affordable Care Act. Sure, it was a less than perfect rollout, but stop apologizing for everything else progressives stand for. You never saw President Bush apologize for getting us involved in two wars, or President Reagan apologize for trickle down economics that never seemed to trickle down. Stop being weak and be proud of our economic accomplishments.
7. Save money. Buy digital ads early. It’s tactically smart and stretches your campaign dollars further. Too many campaigns didn’t start buying and running digital ads until early voting was already well underway. The lollygaggers lost cash by failing to reserve ads a few months earlier — not to mention losing the opportunity to define candidates out of the gate with digital audiences.
8. Enjoy life more. Boring TV ads with block quotes under newspaper mastheads and the same voiceovers of “he said/she said” make voters yawn or worse. Have a little fun with your ads and your voters will too. Does your opponent make you want to gag? Is he or she a puppet of special interests? Put those visuals in your ad. Too many ad firms are billing for buying ad time and failing to invest in the ads themselves. Let’s get creative and give voters something to talk about.
9. Take a trip, go mobile. Nearly half of visitors to campaign sites we managed in the run up to the 2014 midterms visited from a mobile device. Embrace today’s on-the-go world and make sure you’re giving mobile voters and donors a rich experience. Please promise to stop building websites that don’t work on a mobile phone in 2015.
10. Help others. While some campaign alumni sell their targeting, creative or technological skills to the highest corporate bidder, we pride ourselves on making presidential campaign-quality tools affordable for progressives up and down the ballot. But it’s not an all or nothing choice. You can take on a corporate client and still help a down-ballot race. You can donate your time and expertise to a worthy cause. So in 2015 let’s not just fight for our ideals — let’s live them.
Scott Goodstein is the founder and CEO of Revolution Messaging.