Shop Talk: Are phones still relevant?

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Consultants take note—these strategists say there’s plenty of innovation in the world of phones.


This issue's shoptalkers: Chris Cupit, president of Campaign Marketing Solutions; Chad Gosselink, partner and director of operations at Zata3; David James, partner at FLS Connect; and Marty Stone, partner at Stone's Phones.  

C&E: What’s the greatest challenge in your sector of the industry at the moment?

David James: I think the biggest challenge we face today is that the laws are constantly changing. It’s a populist approach to go after the evil telemarketer and try to apply laws that make it difficult for us to reach voters. But campaigns are using telemarketing because it works and because we can measure it to show how we’re impacting turnout or how we’re persuading. It’s just very easy for lawmakers to apply do-not-call to political companies and they’re trying every day. The switch to mobile phones is starting to impact us, too.

Marty Stone: I think our challenges start even before that. The question is whether we are still a relevant medium of communication. I was recently in California meeting with a major consultant who does initiatives and he told me he stopped using phones. He basically thinks of phones as only being good for a 30-second auto call or an ID call. But once I started talking about some of the things we can do—telephone town halls, voice capture programs— he started to get excited. I think it’s incumbent upon us to inform other consultants and campaign managers. First, we have to convince people. Then we have to deal with the laws.

Chad Gosselink: To further that point, it’s about the money, too. Campaigns are spending more money than ever. Whether it’s mail, TV or social media, the money is being spent earlier and it’s fighting for our budget. It’s a fight we’ve always had, but I think it’s getting worse. Ours is the easiest budget to pull from. Let’s say the opponent goes negative and you want to respond with a mail piece. Where do they pull that money from? It’s phones.

Chris Cupit: I think we also have to help clients realize there is value they are getting back with data. You don’t always get back measurable results when you’re using other mediums, but you certainly get it with phones.

Stone: Here’s what I think is happening: All the mediums of communication are becoming less effective. If you talk to the direct mail guys, they’ll tell you that they’re not mailing to young people anymore. TV is under huge assault. Every consultant I know is now opening up a new media part of their shop, because they know they are of waning influence.

C&E: How do you convince folks to look at phones the way you want them to? And who needs the most convincing?

Stone: It’s not everybody, thank goodness. But the lack of knowledge—and it’s partly our fault—about what you can do with phones is out there. In our business right now, modeling has taken out a lot of the ID work. But we still say you need to call people up and determine whether they talk to other people about politics. If they do, ask them to make the commitment to talk to someone else on your behalf. That neighbor-to-neighbor aspect is only generated a couple of ways—it’s either door-to-door, online, or it’s generated on the phone. The number one reason people say they voted for somebody is because they met them. The number two reason is because they talked to them. Well, we’ve got the only medium where you can talk to them. We have to sell our brother consultants on that.

Cupit: Another advantage is that this can actually be a way to save money on the mail budget and other forms of communication because it is a direct marketing approach to what is a direct marketing sale. We know who the voters are. There are cases where you don’t have to advertise to every person in the district. You can target. That’s the beauty of phones.

Gosselink: Do you guys get the feeling that you’re often the last ones hired? I think that’s my feeling. When you’re the last consultant hired, it’s your pot of money that’s getting pulled from. If you don’t have your pollster or general consultant hired well in advance, you’re not running an effective campaign. But phones are usually the last ones in.

Stone: We are always thought of by a certain set of people as only doing GOTV, but there’s so much more that phones can do. For the GOTV-only people, they read studies that say some phone technique doesn’t work. They don’t look at whether the TV ads are working, but they say auto calls don’t work.

C&E: What do you say to that consultant who sees phones as one dimensional? What are you doing that folks aren’t aware of?

James: One of the things we’ve been doing for the past four years is allowing candidates to personalize a message. The greeting is delivered to a given name, and we’re able to personalize down to the geography, municipality, and time of day. The end result is a call that’s actually meant for someone specific. We see that the listen rate is actually twice as long as it is for an ordinary call. It’s a little more costly, so trying to justify that cost to the client is the hard part at this point.


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