Gosselink: The other hard part is the time it takes to have those recordings made.
Stone: The candidate has to record the 300 most common first names, or whatever it may be.
James: Right. It takes an hour or two to do that.
Stone: We actually used it fundraising for Gov. O’Malley in Maryland and the numbers were astronomical. People knew it was an auto call, but our numbers were 40 percent better when they heard, “Chad, this is Governor O’Malley.” We call it variable voice. Neil Newhouse actually wrote an article after [Sen.] Scott Brown won in Massachusetts that listed 14 reasons for the victory. Two of them were related to phones. One was variable voice, and the other was that the campaign had volunteers dialing with a predictive dialer, which allows them to make 40 or 50 calls in an hour.
James: I know this conversation isn’t about Neil, but he does lend tremendous credibility to what all of us at this table do. He does believe in it and he measures it. Neil was one of the first to insert questions about tele-town halls into his surveys.
Stone: Another thing that we do now is to use either an automated or live technology to ask people their opinion on something. We’ll just ask a one question survey. For example, should wolves be taken off the endangered species list? And then we’ll ask people if they are willing to record a statement about that issue that we can use. The first benefit is that it lets you hear the real words that people use. And we also find spokespeople this way. In Mississippi last year, you were looking for the African- American grandmother who would go on TV with her opinion on Prop 26. Luckily, the media consultant down there found her outside a supermarket. But if we call 10,000 African American grandmothers and record their opinions, we can deliver a campaign 50 recordings of potential spokespeople. So you can not only find the person willing to go on TV, but you can also find the people you want to put in your mail pieces.
Cupit: There are so many different ways that campaigns can spend their money these days. There’s a penchant toward what’s the latest and greatest thing out there. So it’s not just phones having to fight for campaign budgets. I actually think that in the marketplace it’s a good thing. There’s justifiable evidence that phones work. With the Internet age, everything is measurable.
James: We’re also able to capture people who have already voted so when we’re involved full time with a campaign, we’ll add that component to our program. That way we can be efficient and not pester people who have already voted. I have a client every year that drops a bill in the legislature—I won’t tell you which state—to basically create a political do-not-call list. It’s funny, but he does telephone town halls and he does other calls. With every call he does, however, the voter has an option of being added to his political do-not-call list. So at least he’s in compliance with his own legislation, which never passes, by the way.
Stone: We have a list that we keep with the names of those who have asked any of our clients to take them off call lists. We don’t call them ever again. The flip side of that is that this really is a First Amendment right. There are states encroaching on these rights. What happens is that somebody at the top of the ballot says they want a political do-not-call law, but that person can afford TV and direct mail. But for the lowly city council candidate, phones may be the only means of communication they can afford. Talk about a way to perpetuate the incumbent advantage.
C&E: How difficult is it to deal with the maze of state laws regulating robocalls?
James: Think about it from the perspective of our clients who are just trying to get the word out about their campaigns. Minnesota, for example, is 100 percent live calls. That’s costly and there’s no efficiency there. There are other states with similar laws.
Stone: We just settled with the attorney general in Indiana. The law out there was struck down, but then the Indiana attorney general tried to stay the implementation of that. To us, it meant that we could call in Indiana. So we called for three mayoral candidates in the state, and the attorney general came after us. We had to make a calculated decision about whether to front what our lawyer said would be about $50,000 to legally take him on, or we could sign a consent decree charging us nothing for those calls. So we signed the agreement. The law is still tied up in the courts, though we think they’re going to rule to allow auto calls in Indiana. Once that happens, we’ll be back doing calls there.
But some of these people have gone absolutely insane. New Hampshire has essentially banned polls because they say that testing negatives is a push poll. That’s insane.
James: What really drives you nuts are the states with laws that aren’t enforced. You’re always thinking, “Am I going to be the first?”
C&E: What about the reputation of political telemarketing? Is it concerning that some people have such a negative perception?
Stone: We sometimes track the rate at which people say, “F all telemarketers” when one of our operators places a call. And from the time that the do-not-call list went into place until now, the rate of people actually dropping an f-bomb on us has decreased significantly. It went from six or seven percent to maybe half a percent.
Gosselink: I think it has actually made our calls more effective.
Stone: That’s right. The only calls people are getting are political or charitable calls so there’s a lot less clutter out there.