January 20th, 2012
Elizabeth Warren’s campaign scored a coup the other day: they hired Lauren Miller to run their new media shop. Lauren’s a friend, but more than that she’s one of the best email people in the business, and someone who actually knows what the hell she’s talking about. Warren could not have made a better choice.
A conversation at Lauren’s going-away party the other night sparked a connection — a few weeks ago Jason Rosenbaum over at the PCCC mentioned to me that he thought that a campaign’s first hire should should be a digital communications director, in part because nowadays they’re involved in EVERYTHING a campaign does. From fundraising to grassroots organizing, communications to strategy, what they build and the relationships they supervise are now fundamental, and someone who knows what they’re doing in that area should come on board as early as possible.
I mentioned that idea to Lauren, and she amended it to add a dedicated fundraiser to the first round of hires. After all, the digital director needs to be paid! And of course to buy technology and talent as needed. An excellent point, and the motion is accepted: a campaign’s first two hires should be a digital media director and a fundraising guru to shake enough money out of the trees to pay for his or her work. Okay, fine, hire an overall campaign manager before them if you have to, but you get the idea.
Why is the digital angle so important? Well, where do volunteers come from? A database — the list of people who signed up online, at events, over the phone, when canvassers knock on their doors, at church, etc., to help the campaign. Where does their motivation to help come from? Past that first connection, it’s the emails they get from the candidate, the Facebook posts they read on his or her page, and the tweets and videos they see that keep them involved.
Where does money come from? A good fundraiser should bring in big donations, of course (that’s why you hire one), but even cash generated by big-donor candidate calls is available faster if the transaction takes place online. And, just ask the Obama 2008 campaign about the value of an online small-donor base. Media attention? Traditional comms work is important — it never hurts to meet a reporter for lunch — but these days those connections frequently start on Twitter, blogs, or Facebook. Advertising? Again, Google Ads can start building a campaign’s list from the day it launches.
Think about it this way: a political operation is going to come together in stages, with a core team building the foundations months in advance of the pre-election push. When the grassroots team parachutes in a couple of months before election day, you want them to arrive to a robust supporter list and a motivated volunteer corps. When the tv folks start cranking out attack videos galore, you want to have the online channels in place to promote them and the media/blogger/online activist relationships to help amplify their punch. Across just about everything a campaign does, digital tools and digital communications are the base on which the rest of the organization sits.
So campaigns, don’t make digital an afterthought — unless you’re itchin’ to get beat by someone who thought otherwise.