Founded by two veterans of the Republican National Committee, M Street Insight wants to bring committee-style research to the masses.
During California Republican Meg Whitman's 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Shawn Reinschmiedt and Dan Comstock took tracking to a new level. The campaign set up its own Ustream channel and equipped its trackers on the ground with iPhones, enabling the campaign's researchers to watch events in real time back at campaign headquarters. In many cases, it meant reporters had response quotes from the Whitman campaign before they even filed their stories and any missteps by the opposition could be exploited almost instantly. "I think most of the presidential campaigns this cycle will be doing what we were doing on the Whitman campaign," says Reinschmiedt, who has now joined forces with Comstock to form M Street Insight, a new firm focused on "corporate and political intelligence." During the 2008 cycle, Reinscmiedt served as research director at the RNC; Comstock as a senior research analyst. After heading up research efforts for the Whitman campaign last year, the two got together and started talking about what they saw as "a void in the marketplace" when it came to political research. What emerged was M Street Insight. The firm has already landed the presidential campaign of former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R). In a recent interview, C&E asked them about the new firm, their philosophy on research and why their side of the business gets such a bad rap.C&E: What was the void you saw in the marketplace that made you want to start your own firm?Reinschmiedt: I noticed it when I was doing projects on my own after the 2008 cycle. A lot of people who left the Bush administration and the campaign world were doing corporate work or were at trade associations. They all wanted the same type of research they had been getting from the RNC. So we thought there was a void there with people who were used to getting campaign-style research. Even if you're not doing purely political work, you still need researchers with the ability to grab info quickly and put it in a press-friendly package. The fact is there aren't a lot of people out there who do research in the style that the RNC does it. Comstock: And after the Whitman campaign ended, we were getting calls from a bunch of people asking if we could do certain projects. We each had enough going on that it made sense to join forces. Two brains are better than one and we could bounce ideas off each other. As far as philosophy on research, if you just hire a single person, you're only going to get one line of thinking.Reinschmiedt: A lot has changed, too. Ten years ago a campaign might ask for research on a certain candidate and they'd end up getting 10 binders full of info in return. I think what people are looking for now is someone who can take all that info, digest it and give them some quick hits. One or two pages on each issue, for example, so they don't have to go through 2000 pages of research when they're trying to get out a press release.C&E: What's out there in terms of research right now?Comstock: There are a decent number of people out there who focus entirely on research and I certainly think there's enough of a marketplace for more than a couple of different firms.Reinschmiedt: A lot of what you see is one research person with their own firm. They get the work and then subcontract it out. And that's another thing that came up when Dan and I were talking about forming this firm. We both really trust the research we do and the people who have hired us in the past do, as well. So there's no worry about subcontracting out to some 23-year-old. I think that's where our firm might be a little different than what's out there right now.C&E: Why is that what you do gets such a bad rap?Reinschmiedt: From my own experience, I've run into people who almost play that reputation up. I saw that once in a while in '08 and it never really made sense to me because I was working with a communications team more concerned about building a basic narrative and pushing back on negative stories on our candidates. I think it's starting to change as you see where research is on campaigns now. When I was at the RNC, I was research director but they also made me deputy communications director. So you're working hand in hand with the entire communications shop. It’s not dumpster diving.