Web Publishers Must Educate to Win Political Campaign Dollars

Despite the snow in the nation’s capital, political campaigners warmed up to online advertising at last Friday’s event hosted by nonpartisan trade association, E-Voter Institute.

E-Voter 2002 The Future of Political Campaigns on the Web drew young and seasoned attendees from across the political spectrum, from members of both major national parties and representatives of various associations, unions and Senate offices to political strategists and Web service providers.

They came to hear how the Internet is transforming the way politicians communicate their messages to the masses.

Some media decision makers have dabbled online in past elections, but most still fail to realize the true potential of the Web, especially when it comes to the immediacy of political campaigns: its ability to hit large audiences with broad messages and, at the spur of moment, shift targets, with more defined campaign measurement capabilities and lower costs than television and radio.

Getting the typically risk averse political animal to venture away from the cozy cave of traditional media won’t be easy. Panelist Becki Donatelli, chairman of Hockaday Donatelli Campaign Solutions, knows this. She recalls a few years back when a lot of campaigns employed online components, but “everybody thought it was a waste of money because they thought it didn’t work.”

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Education will be the key driver in getting politicos to change their minds. As indicated in the 2002 Policom Leadership Survey which accompanied the conference, study participants worry that the Web lacks in targeting and reach. Look for case studies promoting the Web’s day-parting and zip-code targeting capabilities (a big plus for campaigners in cities within large metro areas around D.C. and New York) to counteract those misperceptions.

Michael Bassik, manager of AOL’s media strategy and development group, believes that publishers can jump the “lack of reach” hurdle, too. “TV exposure can only reach a certain point. As TV starts to experience diminishing marginal returns, the Internet offers the opportunity to provide added reach and frequency.”

Like in the corporate marketing sphere, presenting concrete proof of effectiveness is imperative; however, a language different from corporate marketer-speak must be employed.

“We understand they’re not selling soft drinks,” says Chris Schroeder, keynote speaker and CEO of Washingtonpost.Newsweek Interactive. That means a term like “brand awareness” must be translated to “name recognition.”

The political campaigners are maturing right along with their online media industry counterparts. As displayed during the conference, they’re learning to focus Web messages on issues and take their sites seriously, rather than delegating all things Internet to the bored intern.

All in all, most attendees and panelists agree that the 2004 election will be a turning point for political campaigns online. “Most of the big stuff comes in presidential election years,” notes Donatelli. “I can’t even dream of what we’ll be doing a year from now.”

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