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Winning Online: 10 Tips for 2010 Campaigns

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It's hard to believe that it's been a year since Barack Obama and Democrats from coast to coast delivered their historic and epic electoral beat down. I suspect that the memories and the experience was so intense that many if not most Americans feel as if it was yesterday, like a lingering campaign hangover from a really good election night out.

Recently, I've been spending a lot of time thinking about the interactive landscape in general, and about the various races I've handled interactive communications for over the last two years, primarily the Gregoire/Rossi Washington State gubernatorial rematch in 2008, and Corzine/Christie gubernatorial campaign of 2009.

I've been thinking about what we did right, what we did wrong, what surprised me, what we didn't take advantage of, what we thought would work that didn't, etc, and, most importantly, where Democrats and online political communications go from here.

The fact is that the political world is in a state of confusion right now because technology is accelerating everything. Speaking from first-hand experience, 2009 was significantly different, faster, and bigger than 2008. Generally speaking, when it comes to interactive, campaigns are either sort of just faking it or completely delusional about what the Internet can and cannot do for their campaigns.

There are, of course, some exceptions, but even the best campaigns, run by really smart and really savvy people, are sort of holding on for dear life and letting technology drive where they go instead of doing what's necessary to stake out a plan, do effective outreach, and help their campaigns win.

I'll be the first to admit that, though I do this for a living, I don't have all of the answers. But the reality is that Election Day 2010 is one year away. It's time for campaigns to start gearing up, and Interactive needs to play a bigger role than it did in 2008 or 2009.

So what follows are 10 brutally frank things campaigns need to think about as they plan their campaign strategy for 2010.

Today is part one.

1. You Are Not Obama

Set your expectations accordingly. It's good to keep an eye on the leader of the pack, but the Obama success online came from careful branding, a compelling narrative, thorough communications planning, giving interactive a seat at the table, and the support needed to succeed.

There's a world of difference between a presidential campaign and a state campaign of course, and between a state campaign and a local race, but you can still apply the principles of Obama's success (good communications planning, compelling design, smart advertising, etc) to do great things online. That's what you need to focus on, instead of building your local congressman's version of MyBo.

2. Staff Up Correctly

Barack Obama had an interactive staff of dozens of top-level communications, technology, and marketing experts and millions of dollars of infrastructure and technology. You're considering hiring a local blogger and giving them a Word Press site and a Twitter account. State and local races don't need to staff to Obama levels, but the scalability is just shocking at times.

There is so much that you can do online that it can be overwhelming, but the reality is that, if you're understaffed, you're heading towards Election Day 2010 leaving votes on the table. Your campaign needs an interactive team. That team needs real interactive communications experience across multiple channels and needs the support and resources to do what they need to do.

3. Stop Holding Us Accountable

I'm only sort of kidding on this one. Interactive communication is, by far, the most targetable and accountable method of distributing your message and reaching voters. But, because it's confusing (or straight-up voodoo) to many senior consultants, the success and the numbers seem useless, even when they're not.

In other words, because there are numbers, the numbers suddenly matter. Yet the success of mail and media consultants is defined by fuzzy polls and "perception." And the ad dollars follow. This leads to my next point...

4. Give The Internet Its Due

The fight for ad dollars within a campaign is always tough, with the vast majority going to the TV & Mail consultants. These dollars are, in most cases (and certainly in my races) well spent. But, people are spending more media hours online than ever before, and, for many, it is THE primary channel, yet it significantly lags behind in media spending by political campaigns.

I'm not advocating that because people spend 40% of their media time online that interactive should get 40% of the ad budget, but I'm sure we shouldn't be getting 0%. Give your interactive team the resources they need to get the job done.

5. Appear Bigger Than You Are

By having your message out there online and actively working the communication channels available to you, not only are you reaching voters, but you're also establishing a perception of the campaign.

So it's perplexing that campaigns spend dollars to make their mailers look great, produce compelling TV spots, and then slap a website design together on top of a rickety platform and dump boilerplate in it.

The tools now exist that allow a campaign with just a bit of effort and a good deal of strategic thinking to put their message in front of voters in a variety of ways and with a relatively modest investment and staff focus. In other words, it's really easy to look (and actually be) thorough and smart when it comes to communications online.

It's especially critical that lower-budget campaigns flip the thinking when it comes to the impact that interactive can have from "We'll do the bare minimum because we can't afford it" to "This is an investment that will allow us to bring more people and dollars to us and make our campaign look so much better." For big-ticket races, 2008 raised the bar, and a large-scale interactive effort is expected.

Next Time: Points Six through Ten, or "How these things build on each other to help you win"

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