C&E: Will the Millennial generation have an outsized impact this cycle?
Harrison: They’ll definitely be voting in larger numbers than they do in midterms. But the senior population, which is healthier and more vibrant than it’s ever been, as well as the near seniors will also turnout. I’m not really interested in drawing out one generation over the other. I think the broad generalizations are made at the presidential level. When you get down to a Senate race or a congressional race, you’ll be amazed at the different coalitions we’re looking at putting together.
C&E: How do you do Millennial persuasion?
Harrison: We want kind of a layered approach between broadcast methods and digital-based premium content guys like Hulu. We believe that you’ve got to have a variety of different plans to get to them. Some of it’s completely voter-targeted and cookie-based or IP-based and others are based more on, “you consume this kind of content.” So we’re using a variety of techniques to really surround them because we know that the average voter is just inundated with ads all day long. We have to make sure we stay with them. They could be watching TV in the morning on their phone as they’re riding the bus into work. If they’re in the car, we could be using a radio ad with Pandora.
C&E: Does the creative targeted to Millennials need to be different?
Harrison: I know the Democrats feel that way. Our voters have a little bit more
consistency. It’s not a collection of a bunch of groups of people; it’s more of a center-right coalition. Do I think that gender and age matter in how you’re going to tonally come after them? Yeah, but I’m a little bit broader than a Democrat consultant would be.
C&E: Between the committees and digital firms, what’s the ideal base for ambitious tech staffers?
Harrison: I feel like the campaign tech world is very focused on the fundraising side and the social side and not necessarily the ad side. If you’re learning the traits of email fundraising, you need to be at the committees because that’s who’s doing the best on fundraising. I think the NRCC has had a tech focus since I’ve been involved with it.
My feeling is, yes, there are a lot of jobs at consulting firms. But for staffers to move up in the process most people are going to see some committee time or run an actual campaign. We’re also going to see the explosion of more in-house digital teams.
In our Florida race [Gov. Rick Scott’s 2014 reelection], we had a digital director and there were 10 digital staff underneath him. But he also had us, as the vendors, who were very plugged in as well. I think that’s the perfect scenario for how to run a campaign: you have in-house working with the outside advisors so you can focus on the day-to-day. The good campaigns are focused on their campaign architecture, the bad campaigns don’t.
C&E: What’s the ideal placement for persuasion ads?
Harrison: I want to be in a place [like a live sporting event] where people are going to talking about it the next morning. That’s the goal on a persuasion side. Persuasion is a blend between art and science and we’ve got to stop being so logical about it because those [holdout] voters aren’t that logical. They’ve had plenty of opportunities to decide.
I think it’s a uniquely Washington perspective that you should be logical in your political views. That you should align completely with one party or another. I think average Americans are all over the place. That’s what makes life interesting.
C&E: Should media consultants do away with the commission system?
Harrison: We don’t have a problem with commissions. With our clients, we tell them we have multiple ways to have this set up. On campaigns, it would be dumb to go into a retainer system because cash-on-hand is so important. The natural inclination is to not be spending money too early.
I think the commission structure works very well, but there are plenty of campaigns we’ve set up where we’ve just gone straight to retainer. The most effective conversation between vendor and campaign is, "how much money do you need to be making off this campaign for us to get this amount of brainpower?" If you set up from there, it’s much easier.
C&E: Should Super PACs be run more like campaigns?
Harrison: Having been in both worlds, I’m a firm believer that creating a general con-sultant/team structure is the way to go so it’s not just a pollster and a media person out there by themselves. There is something to the idea of having someone who’s helping them go through the process. Just being told, "hey we need an ad in 24 hours" without knowing the ebb and flow of the race is not the way to get the most effective TV or digi-tal ad. Rather it’s having a team structure where there’s someone who’s watching the race, who understands campaign architecture.
Campaign architecture is something’s that’s really missed a lot. One of the things I would give the NRCC a lot of credit on is that they really built a good campaign infra-structure for their I.E. and frankly it’s been running circles around the DCCC for along time.
C&E: What’s your prediction for ad spending in 2016?
Harrison: I think the digital campaign has already eaten up a lot of the radio budget and it’s starting to attack the cable budget on a one-to-one basis. The best campaigns are going to be the campaigns that have a strategic construct where the creative guys, the data guys and the polling guys are all sitting at the table building a campaign infrastructure at the front end that’s built to withstand the pits and valleys of the cycle.