For these Democratic strategists, nonpartisan is really just a dirty word.
Chris Massicotte and Jim Walsh weren’t exactly sworn enemies over the past couple of election cycles, but they were competitors. Massicotte was formerly at NGP VAN, while Walsh was at Salsa Labs. The one thing that united them: disappointment at the lack of innovation they saw on the left.
“As far as any brand new technologies that were breaking barriers that weren’t broken before, we didn’t actually see anything,” says Walsh. “Coming from the CRM space where Chris and I had covered pretty much the entire gamut of the progressive and nonproï¬t political community, we were looking around for something that had intense value that just wasn’t being seen.”
In 2010, Walsh and Massicotte watched as the use of online advertising on the right expanded rapidly and Democrats lost big. Republicans were having success with online audience targeting and the left was slow to adapt. It planted the seed for DSPolitical—an online ï¬rm that employs cookie-based targeting, backed by Catalist data, and serves only Democratic and progressive campaigns and causes.
“We want to give the progressive left the same weapons that Republicans are using,” says Walsh. “The goal is building this better with more coverage and better data.”
C&E sat down with Walsh and Massicotte to talk about where their new ï¬rm is headed in 2012.
C&E: Why do you both reject this idea of the nonpartisan ï¬rm?
Chris Massicotte: Just like your media consultants and television buyers we just don’t think it works to have a nonpartisan ï¬rm. This is very similar to television or direct mail. Even though it’s technology, there is still a partisan bent to it. The political space is always a little bit weird in the sense that you care who you’re working with and that’s not always the case in other industries. Being partisan is the only way to succeed in this kind of business.
Jim Walsh: And frankly, we are partisans. I worked on campaigns for eight years and then went to Salsa to work only for progressive organizations and campaigns. Chris is the same way. That’s the reason we started this company. We want to arm our candidates and causes with the best tools possible and this is such a powerful option. We’re trailing Republicans and we have to get out there as soon as possible.
C&E: What was the space you saw for this on the left?
Walsh: People have been adopting online advertising at a fairly steady pace on the left. And this is not to say people should not be using Google or Facebook, they absolutely should. But the reality is that our targeting allows you to target below Facebook and below Google to such a degree that your ï¬rst media dollars really should go to this sort of targeting.
Massciotte: We’re trying to get the political space to start using this for persuasion. The Internet used to just be for fundraising and organizing. But it really is a tool for persuasion because you have to ï¬nd the voters where they’re spending time. And they’re spending more and more time online.
C&E: How do you show clients the metrics they need to see to convince them that this sort of targeting works?
Walsh: There has not been a multi-multi-million dollar study in the political space to say, “x number of online impressions leads to y number of votes.” However, there have been very few if any TV studies that have actually said the exact same thing. In the private space, for example, around 40 impressions typically equals a measurable increase in brand recognition. And this is really instructive, because in the private space corporations have gone from dedicating ï¬ve to 10 percent of the marketing budget online to 20 to 40 percent. The average is actually around 30 percent. It’s shocking to me that in the political space that number has been between ï¬ve and 10 percent at best.