Moving beyond the traditional notion of telephone outreach is key for campaigns that want to have any success with a phones program, says Byron LaMasters. It’s an idea that helped form the identity of InFocus Campaigns, the new firm launched by LaMasters and Tammy Palmer this past fall.

“I think the veteran campaign managers understand how phones work,” says LaMasters. “But too many first time managers think, ‘Why bother doing live calls when we can just do two or three automated calls the week before the election?’”  

LaMasters and Palmer decided earlier this year that it was time to strike out on their own and both left the Tyson Organization in August to form their own firm. InFocus was up and running just about a month later. The firm offers predominantly live calls—ID, persuasion and GOTV calls—to Democratic, progressive and nonpartisan clients.

C&E recently spoke with LaMasters to get the details on the new venture and dig into his approach to telephone contact.  

C&E: What’s evolving in your sector of the industry?

LaMasters: There really are a lot of changes. In general, things are changing quickly because of the rise of people that don’t have landlines. That’s an added challenge for us. But there’s also a lot of research that shows automated calls just aren’t very effective in many instances. I tend to think they’re overused and abused. I do think they can be helpful when it comes to promoting event attendance, for example. More people are going back to live calls, which is the vast majority of our business. We’d much prefer to do a live call program than an automated one. We just think they’re much more effective, particularly when you coordinate them with the media plan and the field plan.

C&E: How big is the cellphone problem?

LaMasters: It’s a challenge. Some folks are looking at texting. I don’t know how much that helps. It’s something we’ve looked into, though. More and more, you’re going to see cellphones getting on voter files. The challenge is that so much of it is opt-in at this point. If people put their cellphone number on their voter registration, it gets on the voter file. We’re seeing a lot more of that and I think it will continue.

C&E: Anything your firm is offering the marketplace that others aren’t?

LaMasters: There are a lot of things I’d like to try. One thing we did this past cycle that I’d like to do more of is automated surveys. We’re not a polling firm and I don’t want to get into polling. But I think there’s a market out there for folks that maybe can’t afford the $10,000 it takes to do a poll, but would like to get something useful back for $500 or $1,000. I also think there are a lot of add-ons for telephone townhalls that we’d like to try. I could see something where you’d do a telephone townhall with the candidate asking supporters to donate and then letting folks actually press a button to be patched in so they can give right away. You could add a bunch of other features and functionality, too. We’re exploring all of that.

C&E: What makes it tough to convince campaigns to use phones as more than a last minute add-on?

LaMasters: So many campaigns on every level think they can just latch onto the next new thing and that they’ve found the silver bullet. The same is true for field—you can do online apps and all sorts of new gadgets to try to reach people. I’m not saying they’re not important and you shouldn’t use them, but don’t neglect traditional voter contact—knocking on doors, calling people on the phone. That’s still the nuts and bolts of how you run field programs and that hasn’t changed.