The 2011 Reed Awards are well underway in Washington, D.C.
The day began with a series of panels conducted by some of the most knowledgeable political professionals in the country. The first panel, moderated by C&E Executive Editor Costas Panagopoulos, focused on lessons learned during the 2010 midterm elections and how those lessons can be applied to 2012. Ginny Badanes, political director with CDMI, and J.J. Balaban, a principle consultant with The Campaign Group, were the first speakers.
Balaban recounted his experiences creating widely praised ads for Joe Sestak’s Pennsylvania Senate campaign, including the Belle ad, in which Sestak compares cleaning up after his dog to cleaning up after George W. Bush and other Republicans in Washington. Balaban began by recounting how he was surprised by the rout that Democrats experienced in 2010, but took heart in that the dynamics driving 2012 are likely to be distinctly different and better for Democrats. He saw the Republican focus on tying Democrats to Nancy Pelosi being mirrored by Democratic groups in the future, this time with the increasingly unpopular Sarah Palin as the anchor used to sink Republicans. He also shared his three must-dos for any ad: Dthe candidate, define the opponent and define the stakes of the election. Balaban’s critique of ads run, including his own, in the 2010 cycle was extremely informative.
Badanes, a self-described FEC “compliance nerd,” spoke next. She focused on the dynamism that Tea Party candidates and voters lent to the 2010 cycle and how they will continue to impact elections. She also recounted President Obama’s unmatched 2008 fund-raising totals and how McCain, partly due to his championing of campaign finance legislation, was boxed in and forced to accept federal funding and the spending restrictions that go along with it. How fund-raising related to the outcome of the election, she would not speculate on. She looks forward to the technologies yet to be developed that will play a role in the next election cycle.
The second panel, introduced by C&E Managing Editor Daniel Weiss, focused on making the Internet work for you. (The stated topic did not, however, preclude the occasional cautionary tale of about how the Internet can work against you.) The panelists were Steve Castleton, managing partner of The Political Insider; Dr. Mark Drapeau, Microsoft’s director of public sector social engagement; and Kurt Luidhardt, vice president of The Prosper Group.
Dr. Drapeau began, discussing Microsoft’s TownHall software and the company’s partnership with Election Mall to create a scalable plug-and-play service that allows candidates to start and manage their online presence. TownHall helps candidates and their staffers raise funds and communicate with voters, among other features. It also makes updating easy and allows campaigns to keep some information segmented so it is accessible by select staff only.
The colorful Castleton took over from there. He started by bringing out the late-night infomercial products we are all familiar with: ShamWow, OxyClean, BluBlocker Sunglasses. He pointed out that these are products and campaign fund-raisers are likewise pitching a product, although they have an added obstacle in that there is no payoff for the consumer once a purchase is made. How do you overcome that? Hook the consumer with a simple and compelling tag line. “This stuff [infomercial products] works because they follow an impulse,” said Castleton. Also, optimize your donation link—ensure that link opens in a new window, reduce the number of clicks required to make before the consumer can enter in their credit card information and avoid Pay Pal. (Too many clicks—each of which will lose you 20 to 25 percent of your potential donors.)
Finally, Luidhardt gave a very informative series of Internet dos and don’ts: Do incorporate your Internet team into your general media strategy. Do not simply hire a twenty-something to manage your social media strategy and assume that it will work. When organizing a “money bomb,” make there is a comprehensive online donation strategy already in place. Capitalize on the twenty-four-hour news cycle. If something is in the news now, use it now—that, more than anything, Luidhardt says, helped to increase his clients’ daily totals. He added that campaigns should watch out for subcontractors and make sure your Web team has an easy to use content management system in place so it can make regular updates to the site. Otherwise, he says, you’ll end up paying $150 an hour t outsource the work or, more likely, end up with a stale website that is rarely updated.
The final panel of the morning focused on microtargeting. It featured Jordan Lieberman, managing director of CampaignGrid and former C&E publisher; Bob Blaemire, director of Catalyst; and Eric Frenchman, chief strategist with Campaign Solutions.
Frenchman began by recounting his success in 2010 with online social media tools. “What I love about Facebook ads is you get fans,” he said. “You get fans at a great clip and you get them for twenty-five cents a fan.” He also discussed his work with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) and her press-garnering advertisement criticizing her Democratic opponent, Tarryl Clark for taxing the standard fare, bacon and corn dogs, among others, at the Minnesota State Fair. (The ad was targeted to all mobile devices in the vicinity of the fair.) The earned media he received from that ad alone was enough to justify the cost of the advertisement.
Lieberman described how CampaignGrid had pioneered technology that allows him to target ads to users in a single building, provided that it is large enough. For instance, during the credit card reform debate, he targeted users in the U.S. Treasury building with his client’s messages. He also discussed his firm’s work for Chris Christie’s 2009 run for New Jersey governor, for which it targeted ads countering claims that Christie had opposed covering mammography scans for women to run alongside online articles on the topic. For map lovers, his “redneck map,” which is exactly what it sounds like, was a graphically appealing way of disseminating data to potential clients.
Finally, Blaemire, a thirty-year-veteran of the targeting industry, gave a dazzling presentation that showed how deeply you could target Democratic voters in a given area. From space, the camera zoomed in on Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—there Democratic households with likely and weak voters, respectively, were shown with clear graphics. He compared voter contact strategy with results and showed data that showed a clearly correlation between voter targeting and turnout.
The day is still young and there are three more panels to be conducted before the Reed Awards ceremony gets underway tonight. Stay tuned for further updates. If you are in D.C., come down to the Marriot on 23rd St. NW and join in the excitement.
Noah Rothman is the online editor r at C&E. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org