For all of the digital hype surrounding the use of data and technology on President Obama’s reelection effort, it was the campaign’s building and nurturing of personal relationships that truly paved the way for success.
“One thing that’s really important about digital engagement is to realize it’s actually a conversation,” Delacey Skinner of GMMB said on a panel discussion at C&E’s annual Art of Political Campaigning Conference on Monday. “You’re not talking at someone.”
Without the “human element,” said Skinner, campaigns can’t really engage online, and they can’t successfully marry their online and offline efforts.
Speaking alongside Skinner on the panel entitled “The Future of the Integrated Campaign” were Republican media consultant and former Mitt Romney strategist Russ Schriefer; Nathan Daschle, the EVP of political strategy at Clear Channel; and Bret Jacobson, a partner at Red Edge.
Schriefer, who served as media director for the Romney campaign in 2012, credited the Obama campaign’s highly targeted door-to-door effort in battleground states. While enabled by the campaign’s data efforts, he said it was the face-to-face interaction that was the real key to the campaign’s turnout operation.
"I congratulate the Obama campaign on door knocking and doing it in a very smart way,” said Schriefer. “As high tech as we’re going to go in the future, we’re going to have to be going back to the basics with low tech. You may actually have to have an eyeball-to-eyeball conversation.”
While all four strategists were essentially in agreement—digital is the future and anything short of fully integrating your new media and traditional media efforts is likely to mean your campaign will fall behind—digital isn’t poised to overtake television and more traditional means of outreach just yet.
“I think it’s going to be a long time before other media have the same impact [as broadcast does] by themselves,” Skinner said. “What we see over and over again is that broadcast television is a staple.”
A campaign’s digital presence should be positioned in such a way that it advances the message of the campaign’s broadcast ads, said Jacobson.
“I don’t think it needs to be either or,” he said of the push and pull between new media and traditional. “I think one of the biggest problems the right is having right now is that it sounds like either-or, instead of both.”
The current technology gap between the two parties won’t be bridged if Republicans simply throw money at the problem, according to Jacobson, who said GOP digital operatives are hopeful that the Republican National Committee is headed in the right direction with its recent hires.
“Data is a strategic commitment,” he said.
For Democrats, the question post-Obama is whether the party can reproduce the same type of campaign without the president at the top of the ticket, according to Daschle, the former executive director of the Democratic Governors Association. Even though the Obama campaign was miles ahead during the 2012 cycle, Daschle cautioned against overestimating the capabilities of the winning side.
“Naturally, we have a tendency to overestimate,” he said. “Every time we lose, we always think that the other side is so sophisticated and that the other side has so much more on us.”
As for how down-ballot campaigns can use data and analytics, it’s about starting simple, according to Jacobson: Determine the five questions you want answered, and then demand from vendors a weekly or even daily recap that demonstrates what’s working and what isn’t.
“You’re not just looking for vanity metrics,” he said. “You want to know if you’re really moving toward the campaign’s goal.”
A note of caution for small-budget campaigns, said Schriefer—guard against stretching your media dollar too thin.
“Whatever your budget is, you have to make some tough choices,” he said. “Pick your budget, find your mediums. You can’t do it all.”