How the consulting industry changed in 2012

How the consulting industry changed in 2012
Takeaways from 5 major disciplines.

Politics, especially campaign politics, is ever-changing. The strategies, tactics and technologies employed in the last cycle are dated the second the new cycle begins.

Virtually all members of the professional consulting class are reviewing and stewing on the actions, recommendations and products they have provided to clients over the past two years. They are looking for ways to improve not only their win-loss ratios but also their profit margins in the next election cycle. It is impossible to review all of the ways the campaign game has changed in 2012. But we can take a moment to peer below the surface at some sectors of the industry.

For television and media consultants, the 2012 election cycle saw a change in how advertising was placed. A handful of these consultants on the cutting-edge targeted advertising to voters based on the shows they watch regardless of channel. This replaced the technique of placing advertising on a specific channel based on the demographics of the viewers that watch that channel throughout the day.

These days, voters rarely watch the same channel for long periods of time, instead choosing to switch between channels to view specific shows or to use cable-DVR boxes to watch pre-recorded shows. This new type of targeting, used heavily by Obama’s reelection campaign, will likely cause many to switch placement techniques entering the 2013 cycle.

For direct mail consultants, the poor financial state of the U.S. Postal Service has forced changes to commercial mail regulations, increases in postage costs and a serious threat to Saturday mail delivery. Perhaps more than any other sector of the professional campaign industry, political direct mail firms are at the constant mercy of two aging and frail entities: printing and mail. Yet, rumors of the death of direct mail in campaigns are greatly exaggerated as it continues to be an efficient, effective and widely-used voter contact device.

For phone consultants and pollsters, the explosion of cell-only households presents a prickly path forward. The law stipulates that you cannot autodial cellphones. This makes contacting ell-only voters timely and expensive.

Previous election cycles saw the introduction of VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) phone systems for campaign field operations, but 2012 saw an across-the-board increase in the use of such systems as competition drove down the cost.

Online consultants faced a bevy of changes throughout the cycle as web-based technologies evolved at an accelerated pace. However, many believe that these firms are quickly approaching the bubble-burst that will likely occur as more campaigns turn to local or internal talent that can produce and manage an identical look for a fraction of the cost.

The dwindling web-creation market has forced online firms to explore additional markets, including online fundraising management, list creation and leasing, and providing database solutions to campaigns of all levels.

In fact, a handful of the firms that dominated campaign online services in the mid-2000s have just about left politics altogether, focusing on more stable and profitable corporate markets. Not every online firm has the ability to make that type of jump though, and that leaves dozens of competitors in the most crowded sector of the professional campaign industry.

Also troubling to online consultants is the consolidation of online advertising to a few mega-firms that place online ads for hundreds of campaigns. The investment that these online advertising mega-firms have made in placement, tracking and targeting forces most online consultants to resell the mega-firms’ advertising services because the mega-firms can do it faster, better and cheaper.

General consultants have also faced significant evolution in the past decade, as the necessity to understand, test and implement various technologies adds considerable weight to the ever constant need to develop new strategies and tactics. Since the general consultant tends to be the “jack of all trades,” the accelerated pace of technological, economic and environmental changes to each of the professional campaign industry’s sectors forces the general consultant to give equal attention to mastering the integration of targeted online advertising as he would give to developing new paid and unpaid voter contact strategies.

Tyler Harber is a partner at Harcom Strategies International—a top Republican strategic communications and consulting firm. In 2012, Harcom principles worked on 22 winning federal races on behalf of campaign and Super PAC clients.

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