A few critical guideposts for online budgets and plans…
Mark Twain once said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it.” The classic quote could be altered for online campaigning: “Everyone talks about ‘new media’ but almost no one has mastered it.” Just like jazz, improvising with new media can be thrilling. In either arena, however, pushing the creative envelope without the fundamentals leads not just to improvising, but wild and erratic actions. Erratic campaigns can prove politically fatal due to lost time, squandered resources or careless mistakes.
The hard part is de%uFB01 ning those fundamentals for the campaign world. Most candidates, campaign managers and consultants do not agree on guidelines for new media budgeting and staf%uFB01ng. In fact, online strategies in nonpresidential campaigns sometimes have a Wild West feel of anything goes. As a result, basic questions confront campaign professionals:
• What new media strategies are essential in every race?
• What are budget and staf%uFB01 ng guidelines for online campaigning?
• How are the tactics and strategy different in races with wildly different budgets?
Interest in online campaigning ranges from irrational exuberance (many staffers under 25) and lethargic indifference (most candidates over 55) to unknowing curiosity (most everyone else). Instead of focusing on groundbreaking new media strategies, I will play the role of the new media “fun killer” and focus on some fundamentals that apply to all races.
One of the greatest and most innovative basketball coaches ever was UCLA’s John Wooden. Two of Coach Wooden’s famous techniques were to teach elite college basketball players the “proper way to put on their sweat socks to avoid blisters” and he urged players to “never look at the scoreboard.” These approaches are not sexy, but they won hundreds of games and 10 NCAA Championships. Likewise, many of the keys to new media are basic fundamentals.
Online Campaigning is the same as every other part of a campaign: A good message, a speci%uFB01c budget, a detailed timeline and a written plan are
essential. And, good timing can make the difference between winning or losing and success or failure. Online Campaigning is different from every other part of a campaign: Breakout online campaigns experiment until they hit the red of the target and become a sensation. In many campaigns experimenting with paid communications, %uFB01eld staff and budgeting is not an option. That said most breakout online campaigns nailed the fundamentals of solid campaigning well before they caught %uFB01re (a good website, strong e-mail program).NEW MEDIA FOR CANDIDATES NOT NAMED “BARACK OBAMA”
A quick note about the most lauded campaign of the 21st century: Barack Obama’s campaign can be a daunting model for how to structure a new
media campaign. Asking campaigns to do what Obama did is like asking a %uFB01 fth grader play like LeBron James. The Obama new media team was masterful—they were also incredibly well-funded and fully staffed. Unlike your next campaign, Team Obama spent $25 million on new media. They had more staff members just working on new media (hundreds) than you may ever have on a campaign. They had more volunteers just working on new media (hundreds) than you may ever have in a campaign.5 GROUNDING QUESTIONS ON NEW MEDIA
You have to keep the goals of your new media campaign to scale with your district. Ask yourself these questions before getting started:
• How wired is the state or the district? You may invest differently in Seattle vs. Selma.
• Is it a higher turnout general election or a low turnout, off-year primary election?
• Who are your demographic targets? This will impact your buying strategy and what channels are used.
• Are you using online channels that will persuade non-supporters and the channels most effective at inspiring supporters?
• Are you differentiating between tactics and strategy? You will invest more or less time and money if an online approach has a greater upside.BUDGETING & STAFFING FOR NEW MEDIA
Most political pros agree on basic fundamentals of campaign budgeting for communications, research and polling, %uFB01eld and administrative staff and overhead. Few campaign managers have a grasp on how to budget fundamentals for new media. The grid to the left recommends a model for campaign budgeting, staf%uFB01ng and priorities. There will be exceptions to these guidelines. That’s %uFB01ne. This is a starting place. Keep in mind the “playing of jazz”—or creativity—in online campaigns rarely happens in the budgeting and staf%uFB01 ng process, but happens in developing tactics once your people and budget are in place. (See table below)TIMING & PRIORITIES
With 10 to 15 new media tools or “channels” available, the %uFB01 rst priority is to develop a good website, a growing e-mail list and a solid e-mail distribution system. This happens before Tweeting, blogging and posting YouTube videos. It’s usually impossible to maximize other online channels until your website and e-mail are operating at a high level. An online plan is about ef%uFB01ciency and creativity. In a critical scene in the %uFB01lm “Apollo 13,” the crew at Mission Control guides the astronauts through assembling a speci%uFB01c set of materials in a certain order—for maximum ef%uFB01 ciency—to get the job done. That creativity leads to maximum ef%uFB01ciency.
One crucial difference with new media: “Failure is not an option” is not the best mantra. Few campaigns have written online plans that actually
integrate with their paid media and online plans. The grid below will help you map out a schedule for the last %uFB01ve weeks of a campaign to synch paid
and unpaid messaging with “new” and “old” media.ONE LAST THOUGHT
Some of these budget numbers will change going into 2012, but they will not go down in terms of a percentage of the communications budget.
If you disagree with these recommendations or %uFB01nd a better way, great, let me know (email@example.com). We are all writing the book on online campaigning as we speak. We all have learning and experimenting to do. Let’s play jazz. John Rowley is the president of Fletcher, Rowley & Riddle and has served as a media consultant on more than 200 Democratic campaigns.
A few critical guideposts for online budgets and plans…