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Can the Rise of Self-Service Help Democratic Candidates Win?
From Campaigns and Elections by Sean J. Miller
Democratic firms are expanding their self-service digital platforms to meet growing demand from candidates up and down the ticket.
This expansion is helping enlarge the reach of their side’s digital tools. Democratic campaigns can now access everything from email listservs to direct mail to digital ad buying through self-service platforms that are continuing to get built out.
These offerings are in line with a broader trend where even large companies like Comcast, which recently unveiled a self-service portal for small-to-mid-sized businesses to do their TV ad buying, and YouTube are getting into the self-service game.
“People are trying to be more accessible to down-ticket and smaller campaigns,” said Beth Becker, a Democratic digital consultant. “Self-serve is where it’s at because if you want to be a vendor accessible to down-ticket campaigns, it’s a matter of conservation of attention.”
SpeakEasy this week is set to announce a merging of its self-service direct mail platform with its digital ad platform. Danielle Winterhalter, a managing partner at the firm, said that they’re striving to work with “more people with leaner resources.”
“Different kinds of people are running. We have more candidates who don’t have 40 hours a week to fundraise. We are trying to provide tools to help those folks run and win,” she said.
Winterhalter pointed to the growth of EMILY’s List to indicate just how many new candidates have launched campaigns since 2016. The PAC says that since the last presidential cycle “46,000 women have reached out to EMILY’s List about running for office laying the groundwork for the next decade of candidates for local, state and national offices.”
This influx of new candidates is happening as a horde of Democratic presidential candidates have taken up the time and resources of firms across the country.
“It’s really supply and demand,” said Winterhalter. “We have seen an incredible level of demand and it is outpacing our industry’s supply. Our current consulting model doesn’t provide the ability to accurately serve all of those people.”
With organizations like EMILY’s List, candidate training programs and state parties “providing wrap-around support, the candidates feel more confident adopting these new technologies to tell their stories,” she said.
The growth of self-service is also touching the workflow of Democratic consultants. DSPolitical in September launched Deploy, a platform aimed at “ad buyers in political firms.”
The impetus for launching the platform, said Mark Jablonowski, DSPolitical’s chief technology officer, was to provide consultants and agencies “the ability to transact media on their own schedule.”
In fact, the platform has more data and can run more ad campaigns than the firm’s “completely rebuilt” democraticads.com, its original self-service platform that was launched in 2014.
“If you have 18 clients running ad campaigns, you don’t necessarily want to call everyone time you need to tweak to the program,” he said. “If our clients want to be able to pull all of the levers on their own, and be in complete control, we want to be in a position to be able to do that.”
Jablonowski also envisions DSPolitical’s own staff using the platform for client ad buys. Still, he said the firm won’t go completely self-service. “There’s always going to be the need for that white-glove service as part of your media buying,” he said.
Republican firms, meanwhile, are also shifting top-of-the-ticket tools down-ballot, but that’s happening instead through the growth of large, full-service shops.
Some practitioners on the right worry that instead of empowering their candidates and consultants, their model is proliferating cookie-cutter tactics and creative.
Majority Strategies, IMGE, Strategic Partners & Media and Axiom Strategies have expanded their businesses down-ballot in recent cycles.
“Some are doing an OK job managing quality control and there’s certainly something to be said of economies of scale,” said a GOP consultant granted anonymity to give a frank assessment.
“The reality, though, is cookie-cutter work is being churned out down the ballot for the most part.”
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