Monday, June 04, 2007

A Day at the Art of Political Campaigning

This past Thursday through Saturday Campaigns & Elections magazine held their annual Art of Political Campaigning seminar. A friend of mine had a badge that wasn’t going to be used on Friday and offered it to me. I had to get up at 4 a.m. to time all the trains, which was no fun, and it took a little effort to remember my nom du jour, but otherwise it was an interesting experience.

In case anyone is interested in what happens at these things I’ve provided a general description of the sessions I attended and some personal observations. As you might expect I took more note of blogosphere mentions than other topics.

Session Descriptions

Vic Fazio started the day off. Former congressman and head of the DCCC his primary theme was on the importance of candidates’ maintaining their ethical and intellectual integrity, even if that meant sometimes losing an election. He mentioned flying against the grain when it is intellectually honest to do so. He also discussed the importance of not staying in safe zones either within Congress or the district, that officials should stretch things. However, he also pointed out that in his last three elections he vastly overspent his competition and that sometimes the losing process took a while. Over time he says he has moved more in the direction of public financing of elections because there is little or no competition in many congressional and state offices. One interesting point he made is that swing districts create leaders because they require greater political perspective and that we often lack collaborative leadership due to increasing partisanship. He noted that the blogosphere was mostly a good thing, especially when it brought people together. He thinks the next congress will have a difficult time getting things done. Fazio is a competent if not invigorating speaker, though keep in mind that I hadn’t eaten until I got to the conference and the apple pastry I picked up at the registration desk hadn’t raised a sluggish blood sugar as yet.

Joe Trippi was up next. Having recently read his book I was expecting a firebrand but he was more conversational than evangelical. He said the net called for authenticity, and was a foil for the fakeness of television ad spots. With every American capable of committing photojournalism or blogging or putting something on YouTube, candidates have to be authentic because no one can fake it for 24 hours a day. He pointed out that three times as many people viewed JibJab’s “This Land is Your Land” spot as watch the evening news on any given night. Campaigns can’t take a command and control approach anymore. Especially on a national level you need a presence on every platform – Ipods, cell phone, mobile, etc. He suggested a candidate have Bruce Springsteen write a five tone ring tone and offer it as a download. End every campaign commercial with the tone so when people hear it at Starbucks or wherever they will instantly think of the candidate. He also mentioned John Edwards’ “We the People” YouTube ad. Hundreds of people took the time to film themselves saying “we the people” and pasting their video into the ad. In answering one question on the cost of campaigning Trippi said to decentralize. For example, have friendly bloggers act as “blog captains” to monitor the blogosphere and distribute information. “You gotta trust them,” he said. A quote that warmed my heart.

The afternoon sessions were broken out into tracks so the groups were smaller. I poked my head into a few but there were three that I sat through most or all of.

The first was a session on campaign fundraising. I know a little about this but not a lot and the session was really informative. The speakers, Nancy Bocskor and Kimberly Scott, referred to a copy of their slides in the conference book, which I had not gotten so I made sure to grab one next time I went past the registration desk. Some of their points were to make sure you have a budget before running, vet every dollar that comes in, make sure you have a finance committee and that it is occupationally, geographically and otherwise diverse. Salespeople make the best finance committee chairs. Big donors want access, mid-level donors like events for the social aspects, and low dollar donors are primarily motivated by issues. I’m not sure I agree with this – ability to donate might also come into play. The speakers were engaging and initiated interaction with those attending. I was very impressed and would highly recommend these two if you are looking for speakers on the topic. They are also very willing to share their thoughts and provided a lot of information in the conference book that was very informative.

The second breakout session was on online advertising with Larry Ward of Political Media presenting. He had a number of overheads. In his comments on the blogosphere he noted that one out of 100 readers comment, so even a low level of comments is indicative of a larger leadership. In regards to viral marketing he said humor, anger, and sentiment were the most likely to travel.

The third session was on blogging with Henry Copeland of Blogads and Mike Krempasky of Edelman. This was very informative and I found it very interesting. Copeland gave some demographics of Americablog, and suggested there were true of the blogosphere generally. Readers are older, richer, more active and influential than we might think. Many were in the 40-55 age range, with a household income in the 91-100K range. They spend a lot of item reading blogs. If you want to reach the fanatics tv and radio won’t do. Bloggers tend to be ideologues not partisans. Use of the blogosphere is better for challengers than incumbents as it can help craft narratives. Krempasky mentioned that campaigning without an internet strategy is like playing poker with 4 cards and also suggested investing resources to monitor what is being said about the candidate in the blogosphere.

Personal Observations

Like most business oriented conferences there were noticeably more men than women attending. If a speaker is particularly engaging the questions are often also very interesting. Two of the speakers or groups of speakers feel into this category and I noted that all of those asking questions were men. This always bothers me so in each case I rummaged around in the gray matter and asked a semi-lucid question (not brilliant but in the same league as the other questions). Ladies, remember, if we want to be counted we have to speak up.

The most disappointing thing was hearing a speaker say that anonymous bloggers should be ignored. Ouch!!! Ignored? Ignored! The sound you hear in the background is my ego going through a shredder. Ignored! Oh, dear….

Since I’m not really in the biz I didn’t spend much time talking with the exhibitors. The one thing I did stop and grab was a button from electionmall.com that said “I blog and my readers vote.” They suggested I take two and I was more than willing to do so.

If you should find yourself at this conference make sure you get a copy of the conference book. This year it is about an inch thick and chock full of good stuff. There are a number of presentations I wish I could have gotten to. The Womble Carlyle law firm, like the fundraisers discussed above, were especially generous in providing a lot of printed information. I read through it this weekend and will probably read through it again in the near future.

9 comments:

phillydem said...

An excellent source for campaign basics is Ben Donahower's blog Keystone Campaigns, which Jane has linked in her blogroll.

Mike said...

Jane, I should perhaps clarify. Yes, I think anonymity is an important part of political blogging (and not an entirely new tradition, either - having been crucial to the Founders at times) - but the fact remains that in the credibility ecosystem, it's just simple truth that unidentified or unverifiable bloggers don't get as much traction or attention.

So from a campaign's perspective, it makes more sense that if you're being attacked by anonymous bloggers - unless the charge is either 1) very, very damaging or 2) true - the best solution is often going to be taking *no* action that would simply draw more attention to it.

Thanks for writing about the conference, I appreciated your account!

AboveAvgJane said...

Mike,

I asked the question in part as a response to your earlier comment that the best way to engage bloggers was to invite them over or out to dinner. Anonymous bloggers can't do that. My question was not so much regarding bloggers that are writing in opposition to a candidate but more those writing in support.

I also question your supposition that anonymous bloggers get less traction or attention than identifiable bloggers. I can absolutely assure you that people who do not know me in person treat Jane with a great deal more respect than those who do. A buddy who also blogs anonymously and I were comparing sitemeter stats (our blogs are used in completely different fashions). When she saw how high my posts are ranked by search engines her response was "well that's just not right." I find the same pattern at work. Those who communicate with me solely via email give me a much wider berth than those who work with me in person. Could be just a personal quirk but there are likely other bloggers out there who see the same thing.

In any event, thank you for stopping by. Your presentation was excellent.

Paul Lang said...

Jane,
Great post! I went to the Camp Wellstone training program and it was informative and inspiring.
http://www.wellstone.org/camp/category_page.aspx?catID=3752
I know Grassroots Solutions partner with them and both frequently host very affordable training programs around the Philly/NYC areas.
http://www.grassrootssolutions.com/
Be well and keep up the great work! -Paul Lang

AboveAvgJane said...

Paul,

Thanks so much for the additional resources. DFA also offers "night school" videotapes for a very reasonable price.

ACM said...

I think that anonymity and pseudonymity should not be confused -- the latter allows the same accumulation of credibility and respect as a real name (heck, I can't say I know Markos or Rafe Colburn any better than I know Bitch PhD or Hunter at dailyKos, in a meaningful way). Certainly, my long-term interactions on the web have led me to see a large difference between the, say, phillydem's or the world and the anonymous commenters and/or posters. Anonymity is much more frequently a cover for ad hominems, poor thinking, and other things that somebody might not want associated with them long term (whatever recognizable face they're showing the Internets)...

(p.s.) I have no idea what you intended in the paragraph of your comment that includes "that's just not right" -- they think less of you if they know you? what does "wider berth" mean here? I'm reasonably sharp, so perhaps you can rephrase...

AboveAvgJane said...

AC,

excellent distinction between anonymous and pseudonymous (sp?). It's true that adopting and keeping one name, even if not the one on your drivers license, does help build credibility. Sometimes, though, I run into people via email, etc, who prefer not to do business with someone they cannot identify.

The blogging buddy I was comparing sitemeter stats with was clearly surprised at how high in google search results my postings ranked and she thought there were surely other sites that should have ranked above mine. She does have a point. As for the wider berth -- those in my professional orbit who deal with me solely on email seem to find me more impressive than those who work with me in person. Perhaps I do not radiate enough "tallth" IRL. ;)

ACM said...

hah! I think you have more tallth than I. most people who know me primarily from email (at least in discussion forums and workshops) seem surprised that I'm so informal and friendly in person, so I guess my idea of "no-nonsense" must strike some as a bit harsh electronically. so it goes...

(I wonder if the blog is the same way, or whether by virtue of the mix of substance and silliness it better reflects my personality. imponderables!)

AboveAvgJane said...

Perhaps we are of equal tallth. :)

It is interesting. I have met people in person that I knew primarily via email and found them to be much as they are digitally. Others maybe not so much. Someone should do a study....