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One of the first things our firm did after the votes were counted on November 8th was send out an email announcing we’re hiring for several new positions.
Sure, we know there are a lot of talented operatives now looking for work. But we’re also confident that our firm will be able to employ them long term. That’s because, unlike some critics, we believe the consulting industry, and digital in particular, has a bright future.
This cycle we ran digital for two Super PACs backing President-elect Donald Trump, whose own campaign also made online advertising a priority. Moreover, below the presidential level, down-ballot Republicans running blends of traditional and bleeding-edge campaigns cleaned up against Democrats running the Obama campaign playbook.
Consider these numbers: The GOP held 41 Senate seats in 2008. Today they hold 53. The GOP held 178 House seats in 2008. Today they hold 239. The GOP held 22 governorships in 2008. Today they hold 36.
The GOP now holds an approximate 900 state legislative seat advantage over Democrats, and control 69 of the 99 legislative bodies.
That quick victory lap aside, my message, as a digital media consultant, is plain and simple to the GOP side of the industry: No rest and no patting each other on the back for too long. It’s time to work harder than ever, innovate and grow – especially on the digital media front.
In February 2015 I hosted a digital media panel where we examined the rapidly closing gap between the Republican Party’s digital operations and the Obama machine. No one doubted that Obama had won past battles, but it was also clear from listening to the NRSC’s Tim Cameron and the NRCC’s Tom Newhouse that Republicans would overcome the Obama advantage by investing and innovating (it also helped that the GOP’s top of the ticket is the greatest marketing agent in the world). That’s exactly how Republicans flipped the script.
Ward Baker, the NRSC’s true military styled campaign general, didn’t just give digital a seat at the table – he made it the tip of the spear. In January 2016, at the NRSC’s digital summit, Baker said he would work with every Republican digital media firm this cycle to constantly innovate, educate, and push voter targeting within new mediums to win – and he didn’t waver.
Case in point, was the GOP’s embrace of Snapchat. While the DSCC scoffed and laughed at Baker’s push to make it a critical component to Senate victories, we listened.
We met with Peter Hamby and Rob Saliterman of Snapchat, found ways to make it an effective targeting tool for our clients and our candidates won. And you better believe that Snapchat will be a monster player in 2018. We’re ready.
The old model of digital, even from one cycle ago, of simply posting TV ads to YouTube, is dead. The new model embraced by Republican campaigns up and down the ballot adapts traditional messages, with the advantage of creating and delivering engaging, specialized content that’s tailored to meet voters on the platforms they use every day.
As the strength of digital hinges on this higher level of end-user targeting, engagement, and two-way communication, we will continue to see digital budgets expand. With the ability to move voters from informed to engaged, the digital landscape looks to continue trending upwards from 20-30 percent of campaign budgets in 2016 to 40-50 percent (or more) in the near future. With the rising stock of “social influencers” across every platform, it’s not unimaginable.
New forms of digital media are emerging at a rapid pace, and the future of campaigns at every level is moving towards customized messages with personal identifiers, which can be delivered cheaply and targeted at-scale, without wasting valuable resources (i.e. money) on traditional forms communicating broad messages.
To maintain majorities in state legislatures and Congress, Republican campaigns will use digital mechanisms to appeal to personal interests, highlighting specific achievements and priorities to specialized subsets of voters who care deeply about specific issues. This also will include virtual reality (VR), where candidate avatars will have real one-on-one conversations with each voter. Just imagine. We’re ready.
As Matt Lira correctly observed, digital engagement will be the avenue to demonstrate effective governance, to validate the voters’ trust in their representatives at the local, state, and federal level. This can be done by not just showing voters the ads they want to see, but including their opinions and input into how we make government work.
That’s the big opportunity for Republicans. We must constantly innovate to make the case for our vision of government. We do this by providing real and personal examples of how it works and delivering those messages to voters. All the while, we must enable feedback and engagement on the devices and platforms they use every day.
Campaign post-mortems always showcase the winners and losers in extremes. But if Republicans don’t stray from this cycle’s digital slingshot past Democrats, winning up and down the ballot will continue.
Phillip Stutts is the founder and CEO of Go BIG Media, Inc., a Republican digital firm.