Commentary

Slicing The Marketing/Canvassing Pie

Campaign managers often make a samurai cut in the allocation of funds between marketing and canvassing channels. Both types of outreach are essential. They can be more or less reinforcing, too. That depends on how well the manager harmonizes personnel (including the candidate), grounds implementation decisions on analytics, and navigates the inevitable surprises thrown up by the news and competitive environment. 

Note that the big slice is not between digital and physical, online and legacy media, or “air” and “ground.” That approach to communication budgeting and campaign organization makes less sense each passing day, because there are digital dimensions to every mode of outreach. (Having all-digital departments for IT and Analytics, of course, does, but that’s another matter.) 

Rather, the slice cleaves wholesale and retail. Some campaign tasks will be performed with the services of professionals, others through volunteers. A recent study by Ryan D. Enos and Eitan D. Hersh published in the American Political Science Review (your favorite bedtime read, amirite?) casts fresh light on the strengths and weaknesses of each of these basic outreach methods.

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Enos and Hersh surveyed more than 3,000 of the estimated 2.3 million people who volunteered for the Obama general re-election campaign. The surveys were administered between June and Election Day 2012. The average worker in the sample devoted 26 hours a week to data entry and voter contact. Although they engaged in sales activities most of them were not paid; they did the work because they had the time and wanted to help. 

The political scientists concluded that on the whole volunteers were problematic deliverers of campaign messages: “demographically unrepresentative, ideologically extreme, cared about atypical issues, and misunderstood the voters’ priorities.” In the Obama campaign many were white well-educated women, very liberal and very engaged in politics. Extensive and sophisticated attempts by the Obama campaign to train them in persuasion were mostly unsuccessful. They weren’t peers of those they reached out to. 

Two caveats: Labor union canvassers are different: local people, accustomed to field campaigning, and with other incentives in place. And attention-getting and persuasion are not mobilization, at which the Obama ground forces excelled, at least by comparison to its competition.

We know that marketing, by contrast, permits greater message control. But we don’t know a lot about its effectiveness across channels and types of campaigns.

At the presidential level, there is an additional complication: as the July 15 fundraising disclosures document, most 2016 candidates will be served by two or more campaign organizations, each with its own manager to pay lip service to the ridiculous anti-coordination rule. Should the Super PAC run ads while the candidate organization attends to field? Both/and? We’re in new territory here.

The fundamental choice remains where the manager should bring down the budgeting and organizational knife: 50% marketing-50% canvassing? 75-25?

If there were a standard formula, there would be no need of managers. With good data, tested algorithms, and more studies managers will make the slice, and even adjust the portions, more effectively.

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