Zac Moffatt is the digital director for the Romney for president campaign. A former associate chief of staff to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Moffatt has also served as the RNC’s director of political education.
C&E: How has online strategy evolved on your side of the aisle over the last four years?
Zac Mofatt: You can only be successful as a department if you have a seat at the table and you’re considered a core, day-to-day member. The difference between the Romney campaign and the McCain campaign in 2008—the digital director here is a senior staffer, which is the same level as a political director or a communications director. That means you become a proactive member of the team, as opposed to a reactive member. If I spent the entire day focusing on what every other department wanted us to focus on, things would look very different.
We’ve been very fortunate between Matt Rhoades, Beth Myers, everyone else and the governor. We have the resources necessary to be successful and the staffing necessary to be successful. From a data perspective, we’ve sat down and tried to determine what we learned in 2008 and made it a data-first component, but had a standard, centralized data management platform that powered everything that we did. So everything got fed into one location, and all of our online targeting determinations are based upon that. Standardization allows us to create alignment from our mail programs to our phone programs to our volunteer programs to online. Historically, they probably would be more siloed; you’re always pulling lists and compiling lists, and that would become very problematic.
C&E: Any bumps along the way in integrating digital so fully into the campaign hierarchy?
Moffatt: The execution was always going to be the challenge because this is the first cycle. Every time we write an organizational plan, it’s not like we can go back to 2008 and build on that when we look at how to structure it. You’re making structural changes; you’re not making tactical changes. In many ways we have a blank slate, which is kind of the best way to do it because you’re not tied to how people have done it before. On the flip side, it means it is quite difficult. You’re always having to think through elements you haven’t experienced before. That’s something you really have to be cognizant of as you’re building out your plan. You don’t have a lot of other things to compare against. We built a pretty successful firm in the 2010 cycle; we did over 40 campaigns. But even in running Marco Rubio’s digital effort as a company, we probably saw a third of the traffic on election night that we saw yesterday on the Romney campaign. There’s just no comparison to the size and scale of a presidential operation.
C&E: To what do you credit this shift in digital philosophy?
Moffatt: It happens when technology becomes a part of people’s everyday lives. There was an “aha moment” during a conversation with Beth Myers about how you reach people who don’t watch live television. Everyone still thinks the most powerful weapon on a campaign is television, which it definitely is, but what happens if it’s less powerful than it was last cycle? What happens if it only reaches 70 percent of our voters? How do you talk to people who are of the grid? Luckily for us, Beth and her team don’t live their lives that way. They don’t watch live television. They watch DVR. They watch Netfix. They watch Hulu. So it was a very easy argument to make, and it would have been a much harder argument to make if they hadn’t had that experience in their personal lives.
C&E: What was the approach when it came to building out the digital team?
Moffatt: We’ve made strategic strides when it comes to bringing people in with specific skill sets. We are now able to give a lot more attention to the blogger and Twitter community; that’s kind of a structural change. We have the ability to augment and amplify what we’re doing with our field programs. We’re also bringing in very talented people from the previous Victory programs and integrating them into our digital teams. The Republican National Committee brings us a huge value add on this because there are a lot of skill sets there that we can leverage. With the primary you’re very much on your own because you need to make it through. When you move out of the primary, you get to leverage all of the talents of the party.
C&E: With online advertising taking of this election cycle is there a fear that quality inventory space will become scarce?
Moffatt: Oh, no. Buying out everything is going to be hard because people will make YouTube reserve buys. If you’re targeting, you’re never going to run out of inventory, and that’s the reason we moved to a data management platform. We are no longer buying sites. I don’t mind if you come to me and tell me that site X is sold out because I’m not looking for site X. I’m looking for the audience on any of these sites. I know who I need to talk to in order to be successful, and I don’t mind if I find them on Yahoo, Town Hall, Drudge or a local newspaper site. I’m looking for the audience; I’m not looking for a site. Now, some people put a premium on that. That’s part of the vanity campaign. The Obama folks do this a lot. That’s why they feel it’s a necessity to be on The New York Times political section. I get why they do that, but that’s a reflection of a campaign that had to go through a contentious primary that cost close to $100 million. We have to be much smarter about our resources, and that’s why we have to target audiences.
C&E: Is there a fundamental difference in the way the Romney and Obama campaigns are approaching data capture and interpretation?
Moffatt: There is a fundamental difference; everyone is collecting the data they need. The challenge for the Obama folks is whether they think they have enough voters out there to win. Unfortunately for them, it’s not like last time. The rhetoric is not enough. Now they actually have a record to run on, and that’s why they’re finding the numbers are crumbling around them. I don’t know how much you were paying attention during the Affordable Care Act, but look at what happened on Facebook. I feel like the Obama folks talk a lot about vanity metrics. They say, “Look how big our Facebook list is. Look how big our Twitter lists are.”
Well, OK, they’ve got 27.4 million people on Facebook, and we’ve got 2.6 million people on Facebook. But you look at healthcare; we had 494,000 engagements on healthcare and they had 464,000. So 1.7 percent of their list thought it was important enough to engage, but 23 percent of our list did. What’s more important, the engagement number or the vanity number? For us, it’s engagement every single time, and we’re seeing that not just online but offline.
C&E: Can we look ahead to the 2016 cycle? Where is this all headed?
Moffatt: This is the first cycle that digital advertising has become a persuasion and mobilization tool. You will actually engage with people online and they may never see a TV spot. They will not come to your website, but they may engage with you on Facebook or hear something on Twitter. That’s a fundamental shift because now you can totally redefine how people consume content and where they’re actually targeted to get that content.
In 2016, the budget will probably be double of whatever it is this cycle, and by then mobile will become a much, much larger component of it because everything will be built into your devices. You’ll have a more powerful device and your data network plan will allow for a far more robust relationship. Whether they’re using Facebook Connect, or Twitter or some new technology that may come out, people will figure out how they like to log into systems and what preferences and attributes they pull through these things.