How Politicians Can Stay Visible and Relevant in an Increasingly Digital World

By: Beth Dwyer, Director, Atlantic Region

On January 15th, I had the pleasure of attending MediaPost’s Marketing Politics Conference in Washington, DC. Distinguished marketing professionals in the advocacy and political space gathered to discuss their learnings of the 2018 cycle, and to talk about their vision for the upcoming 2020 cycle. As you can imagine, this is a hot topic—one that politicians should be thinking about and acting on, but few are.

There are more similarities than differences between political campaign messaging and brand messaging.  The one thing all campaigns would benefit from is planning.  Okay, there are two things: planning in advance and playing to your strengths.

To impact change and get votes, politicians, like brands, need to determine key messaging and agree upon how success will be measured.  From there you can strategize.  Just as some politicians are experts on defense and others on health care, rare is the person versed in all.  That’s why they have teams to help them research and formulate opinions.  This same strategy should be used when structuring political campaigns.  Play to your strengths and don’t be afraid to ask the experts for their opinions. In other words, think like a brand.

If a politician asked me, as a data campaign professional, how best to prepare for the upcoming 2020 cycle, I would start with the basics:

1. Television Remains the Dominant Media for Political Campaigns.

Spending will continue to increase for political campaigns.  Approximately $5B was spent in the 2018 cycle, $1B of that in the digital space, and there doesn’t look to be any less momentum going into 2020.  The sentiment is that the dollars must be spent in a more diligent way, but they will still be spent.  TV will remain the largest part of the spend, mainly because that’s what most campaigns are used to buying and they are comfortable in that space.  Using television makes sense to reach local targets, but use it strategically. Get the data you need to determine your targets and then play those ads in concert with other campaign touchpoints, including print and digital.

2. Social Media is Important but Poorly Understood by Most Campaigns

Digital is still very important, but there is a sense that more education needs to happen for marketers to understand what they’re buying. Committees don’t have training on media buying and spending, so they tend not to try new things.  Social will be essential, with Facebook and YouTube being an important piece of that digital buy. This includes Facebook Live, which continues to disrupt the TV space.  As Social changes, campaigns need to adapt—sometimes easier said than done at the pace the campaigns need to move.

3. Saying and Spraying Television vs. Digital.

Data, data, data—targeting is an essential piece that needs to be incorporated into the marketing buy in a more robust way. TV still feels like saying and spraying, where digital opportunities allow the candidates to target their audiences and deliver a message that speaks to them, as opposed to a more generic approach.  The creative and content should reflect the audience you are trying to reach, which is also more adaptable in the digital space.

4. Political Branding is Behind the Times (Surprise)

There is a general sentiment that Political and Advocacy campaigns are behind the times.  Each cycle brings in new people, where the learning curve to create and deliver the candidate’s message is fast and furious.  It would be interesting if the political space could mirror the marketing campaigns of brand marketers, where they look at a more integrated approach of  tactics and spend that are paced according to the goals of the candidate, much in the same way a brand does—awareness, consideration, and ultimately their vote.

5. Time flies.  Act now.

Candidates are already declaring their intention to run for President in 2020.  There’s a new House of Representatives, with some of the newly elected officials offering lessons to colleagues on how to use social media to impact change.

We are now less than two years away from the 2020 election, and as the Presidential race becomes crowded with career politicians and newcomers alike, we are all assured of one thing—it’s going to be a battle.

It’s time for politicians and their campaigns to start thinking not only about what their message will be, but also how to push it the way brand advocates do.  To impact change, and get votes, pick your goal, determine what your measure of success will be, and use data to get there.  Play to your strengths and don’t be afraid to ask the experts for their advice.