With ad spending for the 2016 cycle now expected to reach $6 billion it’s no wonder that non-political firms are trying to break into the campaign market. Digital is one avenue where firms with traditionally corporate clienteles are trying to carve out a niche, and it could be a lucrative one.
Digital outlets are set to attract roughly $650 million in spending by Nov. 8, 2016, according to one estimate. That has companies ranging from Snapchat to little-known digital marketing firms staffing up with former campaign professionals in an effort to establish a bridgehead in the industry.
Rich Schlackman, who thinks the cycle’s digital spend could climb as high as $1 billion, warned that it takes more than just hiring a political salesperson for a firm to break into the industry.
“This is going to be a game of musical chairs, and when the music stops those without political experience are screwed,” the San Francisco-based consultant told C&E.
Now, many companies without political experience profess to have their own secret sauce when it comes to reaching voters with targeted messages. The question is, how do they get campaigns to buy it?
The campaign industry’s business culture and the demands of its customers are different from consumer brands. That puts outsiders on a learning curve that some companies can’t overcome, according to Paul Westcott, director of marketing and business development for L2, which fields requests from digital ad companies for its data.
“The biggest obstacle some of these brand-centric companies have in breaking into political is that they're speaking in a different language,” Westcott said. “Some, not all, of these companies are pitching their size, powerful platforms and success on the brand side without understanding the needs of their potential political clients."
Those needs are something that Ray Kingman, CEO of Semcasting, has thought long about. His digital marketing firm recently unveiled a product it calls Political Data Suite, an IP-targeting service that incorporates voter and donor data. It’s a service Kingman hopes will compete with the kind of cookie targeting provided by firms like DSPolitical.
“The Washington digital scene is one big social club with everybody talking to everybody,” said Kingman.
Semcasting, which primarily works in the corporate space, has been attracting political business since 2008, according to Kingman. But the company recently hired Matt Hedberg, a former GOP campaign staffer, to push its products to campaigns.
“We work with both sides of the aisle on this,” said Kingman. “We’re pretty well connected in terms of who the agencies of record are for the parties. So we view ourselves as a supplier with a unique offering.”
Kingman said his outreach in the campaign industry has mimicked how the company attracts corporate business. “The kind of sell we typically do is through the agency of record,” he said. “If it’s not Targeted Victory then it’s Carnegie in the education space. The benefits of our offering really play well.”
Other firms rely on word of mouth to bring campaign business to their doorstops. Ran Ben-Yair, CEO of Ubimo, which is based in Tel Aviv, said his mobile marketing firm has attracted political business through referrals.
“We haven’t really announced anything,” Ben-Yair said. “We have clients who are coming to us because we’re known to be a very good mobile-marketing platform. That’s why agencies who specialize in digital marketing come to us to use our platform.”
Still, Ubimo recently hired a PR agency to help promote a new offering that features precinct-level voting history layered into its existing data for mobile targeting.
“We’ve been seeing more and more demand from political campaigns,” Ubimo said. “[Mobile] is where most of the budgets are going now.”