That same year I convinced the Indiana Democratic Party to take on the same kind of project, and in the next few cycles I was able to convince a growing number of Democratic state parties to do the same. These projects became the central part of our business, which grew even larger when the Democratic National Committee began encouraging state parties to have their own voter file managed by a reputable vendor.
So in 1991 I put up my own shingle, opening Blaemire Communications and soon began to sign up more Democratic state parties as clients. We also worked more and more with political consultants across the country who were quickly beginning to understand how high-quality databases could enhance voter contact efforts for clients. The more professional the business became, the more its processes improved and the common mistakes we had been making decreased.
As the decade moved on, our work got better, more campaigns understood they needed high quality voter data, and more consultants depended on firms like mine to help them with their political clients. So many campaigns on our Democratic side now had access to voter data because of the large number of Democratic state parties with voter file projects making that data available to candidates at all levels, and thanks to the proliferation of political consulting firms. By the second half of the decade, however, the changes that had seemed incremental soon came upon us with a fury.
The rise of the PC
Anyone working in a computer related business in the 1970s relied on mainframe computers for processing of any kind. That all changed with the introduction of the personal computer. I received my first IBM desktop computer in 1983, which was my first full year in the voter file business. With copies of WordStar and Lotus the only software I had to learn, along with the Microsoft DOS operating system, it was my early introduction to using a computer without depending on a programmer.
For most of the decade, major database processing was still done on a mainframe and those mainframes were operated only by trained programmers. Having a business providing political computer services meant working in mainframe facilities until the mid-90s. By then, there were simply too many people working in all manner of businesses using PCs, so expecting everyone to depend on large and expensive mainframe computing was becoming unrealistic. PC networks soon became available and affordable, allowing people like me to transfer the business out of the mainframe environment to one that was less expensive, more nimble and efficient.
It was 1997 when I moved my company out of the mainframe facility where I was an in-house client and tenant to space of my own with my own hardware and software. The financial requirements were now tens of thousands of dollars instead of hundreds of thousands. My company’s practice had been to take our internal costs charged by the mainframe facility and mark them up, hoping the markups were adequate for a successful business. Now, even though my overhead went up, my per-job costs virtually disappeared. Pricing could be more flexible. The higher rent and payroll became less important than our new ability to be creative and truly entrepreneurial. The PC network had unleashed our company, as it would for so many other companies in this business and others.
Into the Internet age
My company thrived during the first years away from the mainframe. We had become the principal company managing state Democratic Party voter file projects and were providing data processing services to most of the large membership organizations in the progressive community. A large portion of our costs were for the computer media our data would be copied onto, magnetic tapes and diskettes, and the materials required for printing Cheshire labels, pressure-sensitive labels, laser-generated walk and phone lists and laser-generated direct mail. By 2000, 90 percent of our revenue was printed matter. Data transmitted electronically was 10 percent of our business. Two years later, those numbers were reversed.
We were now able to email phone files to phone bank firms or to the campaigns themselves. The transmittal of data was faster than we could have ever imagined. Our material and shipping costs virtually disappeared while our turnaround time to fill orders for clients sped up exponentially. Clients were happier and profits were higher.