Precision, the new firm founded by three top Obama campaign staffers, can offer clients their hard-won expertise but not the data or algorithms that the president’s team used to target voters.
Teddy Goff, who together with Stephanie Cutter and Jen O’Malley Dillon founded the firm, says that shouldn’t matter to clients, who wouldn’t be able to use that information even if they did get access to it.
“The fact is that that data wouldn’t be as valuable to any other organization as it is for the president’s organization anyway because these people are Obama people, that’s what they signed up to do,” Goff tells C&E.
For months now strategists have wondering about the future of the president’s campaign data. In April, Organizing for Action, the latest incarnation of OFA, agreed to start logging all of its outreach efforts using the Voter Activation Network software and database. That was the first sign of a shift of OFA’s resources — specifically its software choices — to VAN. But as Obama-alumni firms continue to sprout up, competitors have wondered if they’ll have unique access to OFA’s treasure trove of data.
Goff says campaigns are better off gathering data from publicly available sources rather than spending heavily on partisan or non-partisan data.
“I think this is one of the misconceptions of the 2012 campaign. We didn’t use a great deal of corporate data. We weren’t looking at what websites you go to or whether you own an SUV,” he says. “The most important sets of data for us were what people have told us, either at doors or online, and what’s publicly available and that’s the voter file. The voter file is downloadable on Google.”
Obama built an epic digital organization, which included some 200 staff at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars. That sort of effort can’t be replicated by down-ballot campaigns, but Goff says Precision can accommodate a range of clients by offering services to candidates, non-profits and corporations on a sliding scale.
“We’re offering a range of services from top level organizational strategy down to individual domain expertise that the three partners have,” he says. “Hopefully we’re not going to be too expensive.”
The firm’s three partners have varying expertise. Cutter, who made frequent television and online video appearances in 2012, and O’Malley Dillon, an organizational expert, were deputy campaign managers on Obama’s 2012 reelect, while Goff headed digital operations. A firm where the majority of the founding partners are women is rare and could give Precision, which will operate out of New York and Washington, D.C., a unique profile in the consulting market. Having one of the president’s top digital strategists on board can also boost Precision’s prospects as it plans to pitch the lucrative corporate market.
Goff says their firm’s services do have appeal beyond the political realm despite companies like Target using increasingly sophisticated data-mining techniques that are the envy of campaigns.
“Is a consumer brand going to have millions and millions of people go knock on doors to tell their neighbors why they love it so much, no. But they absolutely [need to] relate to people in a more respectful way, in a more interesting context and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Beyond that, Goff says Precision could explore the international consulting market. “We all love to travel so should opportunities arise where we feel comfortable with the candidate then that’s absolutely a possibility,” he says.
Obama alumni have recently launched a host of new firms including 270 Strategies, The Messina Group and Fenway Strategies. They also populate the ranks of shops such as Blue State Digital. Still, Goff dismisses the notion that the cadre of staffers known for their collegiate work relationships would find themselves at each other throats as they compete for business.
“If there are cases where we have to be competitive I’m sure we’ll be able to handle that as adults,” he says. “There’s plenty of work out there to go around.”