Talking heads continue to parse the reasons Mitt Romney’s presidential bid fell short, and some think conservative new media was to blame.
As Romney’s deputy director of digital rapid response in Boston, the team I served with developed and executed a fresh blueprint to communicate with online conservative media—something that had not been seriously attempted before at the presidential level.
We did many things right and perhaps made a few natural mistakes along the way, but after all the post-election dust settles, one thing will be clear: future Republican campaigns will ignore conservative media at their peril.
A chief goal of my job in Boston was to reach out to influential conservative media and keep them looped into the Romney campaign. Everything from prepared remarks from Romney’s speeches to tips on breaking news or previously unreported story leads (some juicier than others) saw their inboxes.
Generating positive coverage of Romney, by keeping the pressure on issues that boosted his appeal or criticized the president, was always the end game.
Why did we do it? Conservative media is highly trafficked, especially during an election. Conservative donors, volunteers and voters—the Republican base—live there.
A favorable story on conservative media can pay dividends for your candidate both immediately and down the road, and in the era of increasing cohesion between mainstream media and online new media, reaching out and developing relationships with this influential armada is crucial. On the Romney campaign, one of our main goals was to rally the GOP base around Mitt Romney’s candidacy by highlighting his conservative strengths and his toughness as a candidate—a goal we achieved.
When forming your own campaign’s online communications strategy, your new media list and approach will differ depending on your goals, and your success will be measured by how active your relationship is. Forming that relationship, however, requires building a two-way street with the online conservatives on your list.
Know your list, the issues they’re passionate about and their writing styles. Listening to their concerns and questions, and responding genuinely, is important.
One useful trick: in Boston, we invited online conservatives to participate in exclusive conference calls with senior staff to keep them updated on strategy. By looping conservative new media into your campaign, you will give them material that might drive traffic to their site while keeping them close to your communications team—a win for both sides.
The rise of conservative new media has reinforced the age-old notion that the conservative movement and the Republican Party, while tightly-knit, are not the same. Reaching out to online conservatives, and maintaining a healthy relationship, paid dividends for advancing Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign within the conservative movement.
New media is here to stay, and future Republican campaigns, rather than handwringing, need to quickly learn how to capitalize.
Andrew Clark is an account director for Hynes Communications, where he works with political campaigns, corporations and advocacy groups on new media messaging. He’s worked on the Romney 2012 and McCain 2008 presidential campaigns.