A Peek Inside The Nunnery

On July 28, National Review published a 144-page planning document for the Michelle Nunn Senate campaign in Georgia. Nunn is the Democratic nominee vying for an open seat in a year where party control of the Senate could hinge on the outcome. The leaked plan was undated but it referenced an upcoming Dec. 17, 2013, meeting, so it is at least that old. While it looks very much like a comprehensive plan, encompassing 13 different aspects of the campaign, it says nothing about mass media creatives and buys. But it does contain details about online marketing, especially in connection with fundraising. 

In their section of the plan, the campaign’s digital consultants, Trilogy Interactive, projected that roughly 20% of the campaign’s $15M fundraising target could be met online, mostly through email, contingent on the race garnering nationwide attention. The firm asked for $350K to place online ads in search, Google Display, and Facebook. Trilogy asserted that these ads would pay for themselves in “immediate revenue,” the money people donate after hitting the contribute button for the first time, and that it might come back with another request for ad buy funding. 

Another ad budget, dedicated to voter persuasion instead of donor acquisition, was left “TBD.” The key methods would be display, Facebook, pre-roll, and managed placements (instead of programmatics). Persuasion advertising would commence in September 2014 after a brief effort just around the time of the May primary. 

This online ad buy plan is not nothing, but it is not very much. And it’s telling that the “media team” responsible for print, radio, and television work existed outside the senior staff and strategy team outlined here. One would think ad coordination across all channels would fall under “media,” and that media would fall inside the organization chart. Not the case, to judge from the plan.

Elsewhere, the document spells out a data integration agenda to be performed early in 2014, including a syncing task involving Trilogy. Thanks to Catalist, NGP/VAN, and other longstanding outfits, Democrats are both alert and accustomed to addressing data issues in a timely fashion. We do not know how much the Republicans have caught up on this aspect of campaigning. We do know they were aware of the gap in March 2013, when the RNC issued its “Growth and Opportunity Project” report.

It contains the best scorecard I’ve seen regarding the state of technological proficiency in the two parties, based as it is on a survey the RNC took of 227 GOP campaign managers, field staff, and other political professionals, consultants, and vendors. At that time, GOPers rated themselves 2.3 points (on a 10-point scale) behind Democrats on internet advertising, and 2.1 points behind on media ad placement and buying, perhaps because that activity depends increasingly on data analytics, a pronounced lag area according to the survey. 

Indeed, the Republicans considered themselves behind on 23 of the 24 categories in the survey (the exception: a 0.1 advantage or virtual tie on third-party ad campaigns). Still, almost no one in political circles expects the Democrats to retain the Senate or gain seats in the House. So either the RNC’s wake-up call has been heeded, or other forces are buoying the Republicans’ prospects thus far this year despite the technology lag—or there will be surprises in November.

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