Technology has reshaped entire industries – as travel agencies, journalists, and the makers of horse drawn carriages well know. Digital has changed how communications works for modern political campaigns, and in turn now the digital world is reshaping.
Options such as DemocraticAds.com and now Revere Exchange (on the Democratic side) help campaigns cut out digital firm middlemen by targeting and placing their own voter-targeted ads, and cut out the juicy consulting commission structure. Accelerate is offering the same type of DIY email fundraising for campaigns, which makes sense since many campaign email programs are carbon copies of each other, but turn enormous profits for shops that churn out lookalike content. Effective social media is hard to automate and generate in bulk, but perhaps like mass email, it just needs to be “good enough”. 99 Dollar Social has already made the case for small businesses, there will be firms that try it in the political space too.
How will digital consulting firms weather the storm, or will we?
Fundraising email in particular is going to be less and less effective as there is a race to the bottom with bad email practices, rampant list sharing and spam filters getting ever smarter. Since fundraising email programs are the base for raising money online for a modern campaign, when that spigot turns off it will be hard to justify large investments in digital apart from direct voter persuasion and contact.
However, there will always be a need on larger campaigns for a traffic cop to handle all the moving parts of an effective digital program, and there will always be expectations for campaigns and candidates to follow the crowd and “buy IBM” regardless of whether they are the most cost-effective choice.
All these self-service tools have a few critical parts missing too: the winning strategy piece, and a built-in audience of supporters to work with. Without an overarching digital strategy and plan, tools are of some (but limited) value. For example, a good-enough online fundraising mail program doesn’t work if you don’t have an active email list to fundraise from – and a plan to keep sustaining and building that audience through Election Day. All the social media posts in the world will not reach your supporters unless you have a plan for how to build and maintain that audience too.
An inexpensive car is of limited value if you don’t have a map to reach your destination, and gas in your tank (and a plan to keep refilling that tank as you roll along). The digital DIY tools are not there yet to put all the consulting firms out of business, but if your margins depend on delivering mass-market quality at custom prices, your business model may not last long-term.
What does this mean for campaign managers and campaign staff? First, don’t overpay for bad or mediocre digital – if many consulting shops offer equivalent service, you may as well shop on price. But if you want your campaign to stand out from the crowd, hire a digital staffer to run your program rather than outsourcing to a consulting firm — or else hire a smaller firm that custom crafts their work rather than churning out the same content across all clients. Also keep in mind that digital programs all work around the same elements – your email list, your website, your social media properties etc. Make sure the building blocks of your program are sound, before digging into the frills.
Contact PowerThru if you need help running an effective digital program for your campaign.