Obama's Road To White House Was Paved With Emails
"I think it's highly unlikely that will happen," Stephen Geer, director of email and online fund-raising, said in a keynote address Monday at MediaPost's Email Insider Summit in Park City, Utah.
Geer said that while the benefits are obvious--prompting people to call their neighbors or Congressmen, or hold rallies in favor of issues--there's a major downside: Obama would eventually lose control of the list. If the White House employs it, it would then become the property of the federal government and would be accessible to future administrations.
Geer said the list--which helped the campaign generate $500 million over the Web--is more likely to be used as a base to launch a stand-alone, online advocacy community in the vein of MoveOn.org. The operation could come under the aegis of the Democratic National Committee and serve as a marketing vehicle for Obama and fellow Democrats for years to come.
Still, a decision about the list's future continues to be a subject of debate within the Obama camp. "It's such a huge asset and it's not being taken lightly, but the final decision is really Barack's in terms of what's going to happen," Geer said.
Geer did not mince words when comparing how the list might compare to MoveOn's database: "We are so much larger and so much more active that if we moved into their space that would be seismic."
In his address, Geer offered some insight into the Obama campaign's historic success in online fund-raising. He said GOP vice presidential nominee, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, proved to be an asset and the reason behind the single most lucrative day in American political history.
That was the day after she accepted the nomination at the Republican National Convention. In her speech, she took a swipe at Obama's background as a community organizer, saying that her experience as a mayor was more valuable: "I guess a small-town mayor is sort of like a community organizer, except that you have actual responsibilities."
"She made a huge tactical mistake by going on the attack against community organizers," Geer said.
Much of Obama's campaign tactics had been focused on empowering people to serve as community organizers themselves. So in a morning-after email appeal, the Obama campaign successfully turned Palin's disdain as an attack on each and every Obama volunteer.
"It played directly into a narrative that we'd spent more than a year building with our email list ... (which was) that regular people were community organizers and they had a stake in the campaign," Geer said.
Geer, who joined the campaign in May 2007, said its strategists realized early on the potential in email marketing. Efforts to build contact lists in all 50 states began months before the Iowa caucuses.
Field teams used various tactics, including collecting addresses at events, via online advertising and by offering incentives such as a free bumper sticker in exchange for contact information. Often, after collecting addresses, follow-up emails steered people to MyBarackObama.com, where they could find information on how to host events themselves.
"You develop a strong connection with your supporters and you give them something to do about it," Geer said.
On Election Day, the campaign used its massive list for a get-out-the-vote effort. Emails provided people with the names of five others who supported Obama and asked them to call each one to ensure they were going to the polls, and offer a ride if need be.
"The list we built played an unprecedented role in the election," Geer said.