By JC Medici, President, L2 Media
For years, there has been a solid set of rules for running political media campaigns. As digital has become prominent and perceived as a more cost effective and measurable way to run a campaign, the old rules of dedicating upwards of 90 percent of the media mix to TV are no longer applicable. So to say, ‘digital is dead,’ sounds like an absurd statement, but the same can be held true for digital advocates who claim direct mail or tv is dead. Maybe we’re all wrong and the truth has landed us somewhere in the middle where no form of media is dead. Media just needs to be evaluated on a campaign by campaign basis with a stronger focus on the candidate specifically — customized based on a candidate’s strengths, weaknesses and the target audience.
If the most recent presidential election taught us anything, it’s that it’s time to move beyond the status quo. Looking at President Trump’s campaign and how media is traditionally spent, he broke a lot of the rules, but what he did was extremely effective. Trump leveraged earned media mostly through Twitter, but he also realized that his audience didn’t live solely in the social sphere. So, he complemented social with a little TV — the traditional mix was reversed. However, Trump’s media battle plan would likely not have worked for any of the other 16 candidates in the Republican field, generally given Trump’s name recognition and bold statements. In applying these rules to other candidates’, earned media would have simply dwarfed in comparison.
The idea of taking universal statements and a standard set rules has gone out the door. They can not be applied to every single candidate, but rather must be applied to the individual. Then how exactly do you look at the individual to determine the right media mix for your client? Several factors come into play, but here are some important things to consider:
One of the biggest factors to consider is what message you’re trying to get across. No matter what media mix you have set in place, if you have the right message on the wrong channel, it’s bound to fall flat. For example, an elaborate tax reform or your position on elderly care may not quite have the same effect on Twitter as it would through direct mail, but promoting your rally next weekend might draw a larger audience on Snapchat. The good news is that there are an infinite number of different media forums available today to leverage, no matter what your message.
Going into the 2016 presidential campaigns, Trump and Hilary had nearly 100 percent name recognition. Due to their prominence, some experts speculate that no amount of advertising from either party would have influenced voter choice. While this is likely an anomaly that we won’t see again for years, the ability to generate earned media without utilizing paid media is something to consider.
As Trump was running his campaign, many political experts advised that he had the wrong strategy. Yet still he was convincing thousands of people to come to his rallies through a single tweet. He wasn’t using those traditional rules of TV. He was using rules based on his personality, his ability to leverage earned media and ability to draw people out through tools that hadn’t been traditionally explored or used to the max. In turn, if your candidate has little name recognition, social media may not be your best outlet.
Budget is typically a huge concern with smaller campaigns and lack thereof, coupled with little digital understanding, sometimes lead to defaulting to traditional TV and ignoring digital all together. There is often a real apprehension for smaller campaigns to use digital becuase they hear the words such as ‘big data’ and automatically decide this isn’t applicable to them or is going to be too difficult to understand. What many people don’t know, is that the tools that have traditionally only been used by large campaigns are now freely accessible to everyone, they’re more cost effective and easier than ever to use. It no longer takes a tech expert to run a down ballot campaign leveraging big data. This makes digital much more compelling for candidates with smaller budgets and more granular audiences to strategically look at where they are going to get the best ROI and the most impressions.
Overall, there isn’t a tried and true rule or a platform that is going to “kill” the other anytime soon. However as media becomes more seamlessly consumed from screen to screen, on both digital and traditional mediums, if you’re still stuck in single channel media, you’re going to get left behind. When it all comes down to it, running an effective campaign is just a matter of being savvy enough in all the different forms for media and creating a media plan that is specifically catered to your candidate’s strengths and to the audience they are trying to engage.