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After Tuesday’s special election results, it’s clear that the 2018 landscape for Democrats is going to be tough. Still, even during a Trump presidency, we do have some surprising opportunities to win. But that’ll require campaigns and their consultants to focus on the right things.
To succeed this cycle, candidates need to change how voters see and hear their messages. They can do that by advertising through a mixture of display, mobile, TV, print and radio at varying frequencies with unique platform-specific creative.
These may seem like obvious ideas. After all, trends show Americans spend more than 12 hours a day across multiple devices and usage of the Internet is at an all time high. But when you look at how political marketers are advertising, a lot of the budget still goes toward broadcast television.
Digital spending can also be problematic. After 2016, our firm took some time to do our own research of how money was spent on paid media using publicly available FEC data. We saw that the Republican outside groups spent a greater percentage of media budgets on persuasion digital ads than Democratic outside groups. If you work in politics, the idea of Republicans spending more than Democrats on races is neither new nor surprising. But the disparity in the percentage of media spend can be concerning.
In the case of competitive House races, the largest Republican groups, such as Congressional Leadership Fund and the American Action Network, spent more than 25 percent of their persuasion media budgets on digital, while certain Democratic groups spent 4 percent. While every race is unique and the audiences we need to engage are different, our outreach needs to be re-evaluated to keep up. Here are some ways campaigns can shift their advertising strategies going into 2018:
Change your media mix
Not just in politics, but in any industry, the leadership of the organization should be aware of how paid media reaches target audiences. While every scenario is different, and you still need to take an audience first approach, we recommend at least 20 percent of the persuasion media spend to be spent on digital and layered with other mediums to be able to make an impact. That doesn’t including resources for the other pieces of a campaign around fundraising, mobilization or other direct response efforts.
Change the campaign structure
Campaigns and organizations that want to succeed don’t just change their tactics. They change the way they approach talent, structure and investments across the board. My colleague, Andrew Bleeker, recently wrote about this, and I agree. It’s important to look at media spending not just by total dollar amount, but by campaign function in order to assess how we invest in our people and infrastructure in the long term.
Change The Creative Process
The centerpiece of the advertising program for most campaigns is the minute-long TV ad. The same ad that is put on broadcast television is the same ad that you see on YouTube and Facebook. This trend is not creating engaging content for voters. Before the TV shoot even happens, there needs to be consideration for different ad formats, which aren’t centered on the TV ad. For instance, online videos should have the main message be shown in the first 6 seconds and there should be plenty of space infographics and rich media.
As someone who sells advertising, I understand that the push here for more digital ad dollars can be seen as self-serving. But considering the political situation we Democrats are in, we have to take a hard look at what we have been doing so far and ask ourselves why it hasn’t been working.
Tim Lim is a partner at Bully Pulpit Interactive as well as the president of Precision Network, a premier digital planning and media buying firm.