Steele Offers Experience, Marketing Savvy As 'Real' Republican

At today’s Media Post Marketing & Politics Conference in Washington, D.C., former RNC chairman Michael Steele offered his political experience, integrity and marketing savvy as a “real” Republican.  

In the new world of Trumpers, who sometimes misguidedly refer to themselves as Republicans, many of whom serve in Congress, Steele’s observations and candor were refreshing.

The headline for Democratic marketers was his reference to the potential effect of the Mueller Report on voters in 2020, when and if released.  

It would be significantly over and above the effects of the advertising and media strategies and campaign executions being developed by both parties in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. The extensive and complex data acquisition and integration processes, data analysis challenges and privacy concerns that will drive these campaigns, notably in the digital arena, adds to the “…nightmares that all presidential, state and local campaigns become in their own way.” 



As political parties wrestle with national, state and local campaign positioning, their potential similarities and differences, the opportunities Steele identified across the media landscape were insightful.  

Steele leans toward the digital social media avenues, wryly commenting: “Ask the Russians about that!”

Digital, social and video media vehicles beyond traditional TV and even cable news “have changed the way political campaigns are planned and developed.”  

While cable TV is more flexible than traditional broadcasting or as flexible as spot TV, the flexibility to target and geographically deliver key requirements for local political campaigns favor social media. In addition, he suggested as conventional TV coverage areas do not match election boundaries, being typically too large, the resulting high costs to reach non-prospects hurts TV’s ROI.

This is, in his view, despite TV’s reach (plus well-established impact and exposure) advantages.

Steele is apparently a proponent of reaching unconventional voter prospects (via the use of ever more consumer databases) in an unconventional but always timely way. He tipped his hat to Beto O’Rourke and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for their use of social-media and their diverse and unique creative executions in unconventional environments.

He clearly believes digital covers many key ad marketing facets. He also understands it requires a massive analysis of consumer data to drive micro targeting and micro messaging to achieve one-to-one marketing with any scale.  

The increase in the ease of consumer data access and manipulation brings out positive and negative attributes of political marketers, he noted. Based on his Russia reference, political data is the life blood of effective political campaigns, although he chose not to reference either Facebook or Cambridge Analytica in the U.S. or Facebook regarding the Brexit debacle.  

However, he understands that consumers will draw the line to reduce digital intrusion and will demand increased privacy and protection on how data will be used.

Looking from 2016 to 2020, Steele's insights demand serious study.  Among his key points:

  • Voters attitudes are changing, moving from skeptical to cynical to concerned.

  • The Trump campaign broke all the norms for ad campaigns and generated massive free coverage daily and hourly.  

  • Message tension between national, state and local must be managed shrewdly. Media campaigns can be their own worst enemy when mixed messages are delivered at national, state or local levels.  

  • The message strategy dilemma is always top down or local.

  • More balanced nonpartisan positions on key issues may pay off, especially in local campaigns.

  • The success of the Democratic House elections in 2018 were based on the promotion of local ads with local issue-oriented messages as their cornerstone. These campaigns were often independent of whether the issues were national or state. They generally reflected the national or state umbrella focus. (The old, “think nationally but act locally” was embraced by regular consumer brand advertising.)

Steele underlined the critical effect on 2020, based on how the Mueller Report plays out.  Whether the people ever see Mueller's findings unfiltered appears to be up to the prospective new attorney general, William Barr, who is being grilled by the Senate today.  

Will Barr be a hero as AG? As a real Republican, Steele’s position on its complete release appears likely.

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