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October 7, 2008

Search & The U.S. Presidential Campaign

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So I chose to cover this session out of primarily selfish motives, but I bet there’s going to be some broad takeaways that can be applied to company’s marketing campaigns. It’s a large panel of excellent presenters, so this should be fascinating.

Here’s the killer lineup.

Mindy Finn, Partner, former director of e-strategy for Mitt Romney ’08, Engage
Eric Frenchman, Chief Internet Strategist, McCain-Palin 2008, Connell Donatelli Inc.
Peter Greenberger, Team Manager, Elections & Issue Advocacy, Google
Justine Lam, Former e-Campaign Director, Ron Paul 2008, Ron Paul for President
Diane Rinaldo, Political Advertising Director, Yahoo
Tracy Russo, Chief Blogger and Deputy Director of Online Communications for the John Edwards for President Campaign, Russo Strategies
Don Steele, Director of Digital & Enterprise Marketing, Comedy Central (and Colbert for President Campaign!)

Moderator Sara Holoubek explains that this panel will cover a timely issue where we’re seeing online marketing play a big role. This year seems to be the time that politics “got search.” In 2007 it started as politicians started using digital tactics and it’s also been seen in the media coverage.

We’re at the point where technology and politics are mixing. Which came first?

Peter says politics came first. He’d been working for Democratic campaigns for years, then the opportunity at Google came up it and seemed to be a good way to mix some of his interests.

Diane says politics came first, and she wouldn’t recommend getting into it unless you’re passionate about it. She was in retail first, but says it’s a lot like politics.

Eric was working on the Internet first and fell into his role as a good fit.

Justine says technology came first. This was her first presidential campaign (and maybe her last!).

Mindy says technology and online communications came first.

Tracy says that technology came first, as she started blogging in high school. She eventually got a job in a campaign and it was common sense that technology would make her job easier, while some saw it as strategy.

Don says technology came first and it’s a tool used to gain visibility.

What might be different with technology marketing in politics?

Tracy says that politics are four or five years behind corporate America. Political campaigns aren’t giving any budget to digital strategy, and when they start trying to adopt it, they’re looking for talent in corporate America because political insiders don’t usually get it.

You mentioned that there’s not a lot of dollars going to digital marketing. Is it changing?

Peter says there’s going to be growth and that it’s moving in the right direction. He’s working hard to convince the decision makers to flow more dollars to the Internet because there’s a shift in the audience, who are spending as much time online as watching TV. Diane says that any decision maker wants to know that the advertising is effective. Corporations can decide to put a budget into it and research the ad effectiveness, but in politics, every dollar counts. Tracy says that outside of top-tier campaigns, there’s no one to staff those races that know how to do that.

Who’s the ultimate check signer?

Eric says it’s the campaign manager. They stay very in tune with what’s happening on the Internet. He says that they understand it more than the general public gives them credit for. Mindy says that there is education going on to educate the political sphere, but more is needed. Until they understand it they’ll turn to what they know. Justine says that she suggested SEM to her campaign manager and he didn’t understand it and wasn’t willing to try, preferring to stick with traditional tactics.

What about the ability to target locations and demographics, or microtargeting?

Tracy says that being able to explain to decision makers that micro-targets can be reached is the key. People get more comfortable when it can be explained. Peter says that no matter how many times he pitches to political people, the ability to geotarget amazes the crowd. It amazes people that targeting can be done by state, region and direct ads. The challenge is to speak to them in micro-targeting terms that they understand. If we do a good job explaining that they realize there is no more effective or efficient way to target people they’ll adopt the strategy. Mindy says that those that are “married to TV” see that people can target a specific audience and that’s the selling point. Eric says that during the primary season he made a lot of use of geotargeting and micro-targeting.

To what extent are you tailoring ads or do you have the time?

Eric says that it’s very tailored. If you search for McCain in Jersey, you’ll see an ad about protecting the shore. If you see a generic campaign ad, it’s on purpose. Mindy says that a lot of people that are just trying it aren’t going to dedicate a lot of time to it, and they might be afraid to tweak it too much. This is where the education plays out. Peter says that it’s similar to corporate markets. There are still instances where corporations are missing out on online opportunities. Presidential campaigns also don’t always have the resources to dedicate.

Have you tied together the television and other media with search?

Eric says that the creative and the tactics are integrated. The messaging and the landing pages and video ads are integrated, and on the back end they are measuring to see how people are getting to the site. They know what keywords are driving what traffic and use the information. The test is seeing if it ends up in an election. Mindy says it’ll be helpful to get to the point where the TV people do their comparative testing online.

In regards to BT, did any of your campaigns explore that?

Eric says that all candidates are interested in behavioral targeting. Each targeted group has a different strategy and is targeted specifically. Diane says that the most-seen targeting is geotargeting, but there’s also other user targeting going on.

How does search tie into email marketing because there’s a lot of email marketing going on?

Tracy says that all the pieces have to be integrated and search has to touch all the areas. As the cycle evolves, you’ll see a lot more and there’s some creative stuff going on in senate races where people have more freedom to try different things. Mindy says that campaigns often know how many emails they want to send, but the subject is often decided as issues come up, so it’s not decided beforehand and tied together. Peter says that campaigns are also using search to “correct the record” or do rep management.

Is there going to be RSS integration on the district level?

Diane says that as far as going to the district level, when there’s enough demand they may consider it. Peter says he gets this question frequently and their general response is asking what’s the cost-benefit analysis and the interest, but it’s going to get there.

What are your primary conversion goal metrics, besides the typical more information request?

Mindy says that campaigns have different goals. Grassroots campaigns look at interaction with elements on the site, volunteering, and, of course, donating. The goal is driving eyeballs to video landing pages and driving video views. It’s purely about awareness. Peter says that in the last few weeks there’s been a shift where we’re seeing a lot more persuasion search advertising, not only for campaigns but also from issue groups. They’re not looking for the traditional dollars but to persuade. Diane says that she’s noticed that people are thinking that politicians can raise a lot of money online, but most can’t. Approaching search as though it’s an ATM is a mistake and she wants to make sure that campaigns are educated and the right expectations are set. There’s a lot of opportunity but the immediate online donations is not something that should be their priority in search marketing.

Are there political and philosophical criteria involved in doing the jobs that you on the campaign level can do? Do you need to be a true believer?

Mindy says that the point that you should be passionate about politics is true because it can be intense. Campaigns do want to feel that you’re interested in what they’re doing and that’s something that’s hard to fake. Tracy says that as a consultant there’s definitely a blue-red divide that dictate where a person will get hired.

Let’s talk about SEO and social media. To blog or not to blog (for a candidate)?

Tracy says that it’s hard to come up with something that’s worth reading. The Obama campaign hired a blogger that put out compelling, engaging story telling. If you can do that, that’s good. But if you’re just putting out press release and pictures of kissing babies, it’s going to get boring. Working with bloggers is important, not necessarily blogging yourself. Mindy says that content is king, so it can be a very powerful connection tool. Justine says that blogs was a great tool for listening and finding out what could be done better in the campaign. Tracy also feels the community that is developed is priceless and can be extended after the campaign.

How effective is microblogging as a tool?

Mindy says that like all tools it’s all about mass, but even though Twitter is small, it’s a hyper-active community. They’re doing everything and those are the highly-influential hyper media users. If there’s something you want to filter out to the community, Twitter is a good way to do that.

Have you ever been in a situation where there’s a suggested tactic that’s a negative tactic, but you thought that it wouldn’t work?

Tracy says that saying no is very important. Not all ideas are equal, they should be debated and in a healthy campaign that can be decided. Now digital strategists are taken more seriously and they will be listened to when they say no. Don says that the decision has to be made at the end of the day that, even though Comedy Central is all about humor, there’s still a line that they don’t want to cross. He represents a brand and wouldn’t want to associate the wrong things with it.

How effective is Facebook for campaigns?

Don says that the Colbert for President Facebook group was started by a high schooler, but it took off as a way to reach out. Justine said she didn’t think FB was effective in her campaign. The most effective areas were informal forums, where people were coming together to talk about what they’re interested in. FB is not as conducive to collaboration and community. As a badge it’s great but it didn’t get people as activated.

Sum up the Ron Paul money bomb?

Justine says it was a recipe. There was a unique message. YouTube allowed the message to get out and help with brand awareness. Throughout the summer supporters were taking more active role in creating things for the campaign. On forums, people were talking about what people wanted to do for the campaign. They let go of the reins and the supporters were creating ads. Then the campaign decided to go transparent with the campaign, and were talking about who the donors were. People got excited to see their name on the site when they donated. They would post screenshots to the forums and urged people to donate as well. Then the campaign decided to go fully transparent, which was unheard of. They made a goal of $4 million in a month, which resulted in a graphic that was really hard to see individual names in. The campaign was thinking of ways to fix the graphic, but people in the forums figured something out — they all decided to donate on the same day so that they’d all show up on the graphic. In a single day they got $4.2 million.

What reputation monitoring tools do you use?

Eric says that he personally uses Google Alerts and Google Trends, while the campaign has an entire war room. There are rooms of researchers keeping up on what’s being talked about. Tracy says that some of the tools that are being made available aren’t producing good interfaces because they don’t understanding how campaigns would actually use it. Peter says that related searches are an indicator of what else is being talked about. Diane says Yahoo Buzz is similar and shows the overlap of what terms are being searched and there’s a map of what search terms are hot in what areas.

What are you monitoring?

Peter says the data’s only as good as the use you put it to. The question is whether it is affecting the offline mentality of the campaign. Too often, campaigns are flying by the seat of their pants. Mindy says that early in the election cycle, rep monitoring was more of a concern, but now there’s so much out there, flooding the zone is the best strategy. If you see a trend you can do search campaigns to head it off.

What does the investment in search, video, and social mean for corporate America going forward?

Tracy says campaigns are learning from social media, but Peter points out that Howard Dean may be credited with making the blog mainstream. He’s excited by the attention it’s getting and hoping it will trickle down to other candidates. More experimentation and different strategies being tested will be good. Diane says that an ad effectiveness study about display or search advertising in campaigns will be a powerful influencer to corporate marketers. Eric says that rapid communication and not being afraid to turn over the brand will be lessons learned. The paid side will learn to be faster and faster. Corporations can learn to do more regional and local advertising. Peter says that as one of the first Internet elections, it’s been fascinating to watch in his space. It will end up coming down to who turns out to vote, but there’s a good chance that the Internet will have played an important role and that will probably spur corporate adoption.

Which campaign is doing a better job with online marketing? Or is the blue-red divide just too great to answer this question?

Eric says that he’s only going to answer one way, while Diane says she just may not answer the question she was asked (hee!). Don says that he’s amazed at how little media companies are using political terms. Media companies have a chance to use it more effectively, say more and use online marketing more. Point goes to InDecision 2008!

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One response to “Search & The U.S. Presidential Campaign”

  1. ivan writes:

    your followthrough is amazing! i was torn going to this class or unraveling urls.
    lucky for me, youre insightful post gives me the best of both.
    thank you!



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