Consultants naturally stake out organizational turf and many are guilty of driving their flag too deep into the ground. While having a static budget for these territories worked 10 years ago, now most races must look at the allocation of ad dollars more fluidly.
We should be quantifying the number of times we touch individual voters, and tabulating that cost to the cent. Beyond that granularity, campaigns should be tracking how voter scores or models change with advertising and communication.
Accountability is not always a fun thing, but it’ll produce better results on Election Day. Here are seven ways to help keep your advertising dollars fluid this cycle.
1. Determine your turnout universe
The first step is identifying the likely turnout universe by looking back at comparable elections. Humans are creatures of habit, and turnout tends not to swing dramatically from comparable election to comparable election. But take into account environmental factors like a higher number of well-funded candidates, an exciting top-of-the-ticket race, or voter angst over a particular issue.
It’s preferable to run a baseline survey to determine where voter interest stands comparably and what issues have the ability to persuade a low propensity voter to participate. Several pollsters conduct hybrid phone surveys (live to cell or automated to landline), which can give you the same results at a lower price point if your budget won’t allow for a traditional polling firm.
2. Identify communication mediums
Write down all the voter communication mediums available to you, whether you can afford them or not. Think broadcast television, cable, addressable TV, direct mail, digital, social, live phones, automated phones, et cetera. Next, determine what the waste is on each medium. In other words, the dollars spent touching voters not in your district.
3. Calculate cost per touch
Contact vendors that specialize in each of the identified mediums and gather costs to reach the targets in your turnout universe. Most importantly, standardize your cost calculation so it can be uniformly applied to all communication mediums. We like to use cost per thousand (CPM).
You can also apply a weight to each CPM. For example, 100,000 display ads don’t have the same effect as 100,000 mail pieces, which doesn’t have the impact of 100,000 completed phone calls. Multiply each weight by the corresponding medium CPM to determine how many display ads, for example, you might need to equal the impact/touch of 100,000 mailers.
4. Establish frequency with efficiency
Using your weighted CPMs, look back at each communication medium to prioritize ad (and touch) spending. Choose two-to-three foundational mediums. For many this is mail, TV and digital. These will be the “big three” that receive the most resources because they have the strongest reach and the highest efficiency. Then pick a frequency booster, something that isn’t crazy expensive but hits your target audience with solid frequency. Calculate how many times you plan to touch each voter through each medium and what that costs you.
5. Write three budgets
Craft three separate budgets. For instance, your Chevy budget is if you’re just getting by. Your Cadillac budget is the achievable dream with hard work. The Rolls-Royce budget is aspirational and exists in a perfect world. In each, use the uniform, preferably weighted CPM to reach your established individual voter touch frequency. Prioritize the big three and your frequency booster.
Optimizing campaign advertising spend really begins in earnest after you start cutting checks. When your volunteers are doorknocking, add a question about where and what they’re hearing about the campaign. In your polling, add information flow questions to find out where voters are hearing/seeing your ads and what is moving subsets the most. Don’t just drop $100,000 on TV and $50,000 on digital, cross your fingers, and hope it pushes you across the finish line in first.
Whatever the feedback is from those questions, make spending adjustments accordingly. You should also be watching your opponent’s TV buys and finance reports to see where they’re investing resources. Be aware of their battle plan and spending pattern. Don’t let their plan dictate yours, but a little bit of research can keep you from being blindsided.
Still, your campaign advertising pie will not be the same as anyone else’s, or at least it shouldn’t be if you look at cost-per-touch and weighted CPMs in determining the budget. Constantly look for ways to work with your vendors to lower CPM or improve frequency. Being smarter with your advertising allocations means you have to make tougher decisions, but not viciously protecting turf will also give you an important edge.
Brent Buchanan is managing partner at Cygnal, a national GOP communication, research, and advertising firm.