Telephone townhalls extend a campaign’s reach without breaking the bank

Those running for office have a dilemma: They need to reach as many people as possible but can’t waste time or resources—which are limited for us all—on chasing votes they will never win. Many campaigns have chosen to use virtual or telephone townhalls as a solution. These events allow the candidate to personally communicate with thousands of voters across vast geographic areas without extensive travel. On top of the initial contact, the built in-polling and data acquisition tools allow campaigns to collect e-mail addresses, target voter demographics and spur fundraising.

Broadnet’s TeleForum is powering many candidates’ telephone townhalls in 2010. Here are two examples of how it works and why.

Tom Campbell, 2010 California Republican
Gubernatorial Candidate

Objective: Former U.S. Rep. Tom Campbell, faced a significant challenge when he endeavored to run for California governor in 2010 (although he has since decided to run for the U.S. Senate). Campbell’s two leading opponents, both billionaires, each contributed $19 million towards their respective campaigns. Without the same sort of personal wealth, Campbell entered the race at a financial disadvantage and needed a strategy that would not only help to subsidize his efforts, but would introduce and engage him with the vast population of California voters. Weighing the amount of personal attention required against the time necessary to travel across and throughout the state, a cost and results effective resource was paramount to bridge the two in order to establish name recognition and ultimately generate the votes necessary to keep him in the hunt for the Republican nomination.

Solution: Utilizing the new media firm Engage to develop and facilitate its strategy, Campbell’s campaign implemented TeleForum powered by Broadnet as a key element of its overall plan. With its virtual townhall style meeting format using telecommunications technology (often referred to as a “telephone townhall”), a wealth of features designed to empower audience participation and its powerful post-event reporting, TeleForum’s solutions met several campaign challenges instantly.

Beginning in late June, Engage launched Campbell’s TeleForum strategy, reaching out to high volume lists of voters segmented by county. Engage and Campbell produced nine large-scale events throughout the second half of 2009, dialing more than two million California voters, resulting in over 265,000 live participants. Beyond preventing an exhausting and impossible travel schedule, these virtual events enabled Campbell to accommodate substantially larger audiences than would be possible in person, both logistically and financially. Data provided in post-event reporting was analyzed for participation duration and patterns to identify areas of the state requiring more focused campaigning, including where best to target future TeleForum audiences. It also highlighted key groups for follow-up tactics to bolster fundraising.

Each TeleForum was planned and promoted to focus on a specific issue or set of issues most prominent in the media and as revealed by results of the event’s real-time voter polling. In an effort to enhance his connection with participants, Campbell spent the large majority of each TeleForum maximizing its Q&A. His philosophy to take any type of question or comment and provide thorough and often lengthy responses, even engaging in back and forth dialogue with the question’s originator, was a unique approach that proved very effective.

To further extend communication, Campbell’s website was heavily promoted throughout each TeleForum. For budget and healthcare, two issues most relevant to California voters as revealed by event polling data, Campbell drafted detailed plans for each, making them available by download on his website. Using TeleForum to drive traffic there resulted in substantial e-mail traffi c from voters, served as a great way to educate them on Campbell and his position on specifi c issues and to build a targeted voter database by opt-in.

Campbell’s TeleForums realized a 13 percent participation rate. Average response to direct mail is 2 percent. The campaign would have had to send more than 13 million pieces of direct mail to generate similar attention.

Result: TeleForum effectively drove awareness of and significant fundraising for Tom Campbell and is helping to bolster other tactics being used in his campaign, including pointing traffi c to the Campbell for California website. Before he decided to run for the U.S. Senate, Campbell was positioned second of the top three candidates in the Republican gubernatorial field, pulling even at times with the front runner, according to the polls. Engage and Campbell’s campaign often credit TeleForum powered by Broadnet as the reason why he was able to stay competitive with his leading opponents.

Scott McInnis, 2010 Colorado Republican
Gubernatorial Candidate

Objective: With his decision to run for governor in 2010, former U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis faced the challenge of connecting with Colorado voters to raise funds and awareness in a cost, time, logistic and results effective manner. Among three major opponents, McInnis used a strategy utilizing pdConnect that would propel him forward early in the campaign. With substantial direct mail drops to party members and a focus on personally reaching out to voters and donors by phone, a unique resource to combine and elevate outreach was needed.

Solution: TeleForum powered by Broadnet was identified by pdConnect for the McInnis campaign as a powerful tool for reaching large, targeted audiences in a personal forum that virtually simulates a townhall style meeting using telecommunications technology. The platform was implemented to introduce McInnis to voters outside his former congressional district, enabling him to remotely reach substantial audiences anywhere in the state without sacrificing the personal connection needed to engage constituents.

pdConnect and the McInnis for Governor campaign have produced two TeleForums to date connecting McInnis with tens of thousands of Colorado voters. He’s utilized the platform to discuss his position on issues critical to the future of Colorado, empowering listeners and to drive voters to his website to make donations and opt-in to receive email updates on the campaign. McInnis also leveraged TeleForum’s robust post-event reporting to identify and prequalify voters to incorporate into his individual capital-call strategy, maximizing response rates and providing an incredible time savings. Both events were scheduled in tandem with direct mail launches, creating a substantial lift to that tactic and increasing communication with primary voters. For individuals not reached during the live TeleForums, a customized voice mail message was left pointing recipients to the McInnis website.

Result: TeleForum successfully expedited and enhanced campaign efforts overall by maximizing resources and saving time. According to Michael Hesse, general consultant for McInnis, TeleForum gave their direct mail efforts the biggest lift ever experienced. Donation totals and name recognition grew for McInnis after his fi rst TeleForum, accelerating his lead for the Republican nomination over his three major opponents. After his second TeleForum and the campaign’s announcement of an overwhelming fundraising advantage, McInnis’ primary opponent withdrew from the race and endorsed Scott.

In a December 15, 2009 poll by Rasmussen, McInnis led the incumbent by eight points. pdConnect and the McInnis for Governor campaign credits TeleForum powered by Broadnet as a key driver in the success of its strategy overall and plans to produce additional events with regular frequency leading up to the statewide elections in November of 2010.

Devin Steinberg is the director of marketing for Broadnet, a Colorado-based technology innovator founded in 2002, offering web-integrated communications products to organizations ranging from the White House to the NFL. Broadnet platforms enable clients to reach out and directly engage with large, targeted audiences who they empower to be heard and take action. For more information about TeleForum and other Broadnet solutions, visit