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A majority of Republican practitioners earned their living as general consultants last cycle despite a growing push for digital specialization.
That’s according to a poll of more than 100 consultants who responded to a post-election survey from Cygnal, a GOP research firm.
“A lot of the conversations that we have on the business development side is that people want to get out of [general consulting],” said Cory Brown, a vice president at Cygnal. “But in a lot of localities, that’s what people do. They’re general consultants.”
The survey was done as a market research tool for the firm, but it illuminates a lingering reality in the industry. While more money is going into digital and the media buzz is there, many of the Republicans making their living as consultants outside the Beltway need to be jacks-of-all trades. And these consultants rely on tried-and-true methods.
“For everybody who was saying TV was dead, there was somebody saying that TV was awesome. They’re still using mail. The mainstays are still the mainstays,” said Brown.
But there are signs that the slow-marched digital shift is nearing. The majority of consultants aged 18-34 said they considered digital advertising their specialty. “You could see the disparity of where consultants worked based on how old they were,” Brown said. “Old guys still rely on TV.”
The most common budget for a campaign these consultants worked was $100,000-250,000. Now, almost half of campaigns spent only between 0-5 percent of their budget on polling. In fact, 80 percent of campaigns spent 10 percent or less on survey research.
“There was a lack of good polling for the lower-spend races,” said Brown. “They had to depend on publicly available polling that sucked. There’s a lack of good data analytics.”
Polling wasn’t the only area where there’s room for improvement, some consultants could argue. While digital ad spending by the local, state, and national campaigns beat expectations with an estimated $1.415 billion poured into the cycle, its percentage of budgets didn’t change significantly.
In fact, going into 2016 consultants predicted that they’d see digital spends hover around 20 percent and according to Cygnal’s survey that’s roughly where they stayed.
For 27.5 percent of respondents, their campaigns’ spent 16-20 percent of their budget on digital, while 48.4 percent said they spent only 6-15 percent. “Digital was filtering down to the more localized races,” Brown said. “That’s a result of the mindset change after Obama for America.”
Meanwhile, field ate up 16-20 percent of budgets for 28 percent of respondents — a plurality of campaigns.