Welcome to the Digital Public Affairs Daily (DPAD) from the Professional Services team at eOutreach. We like to stay on top of what's going on in the arena of digital politics and policy, and we thought our readers might appreciate this, too. Each edition of DPAD will include links to news and commentary from other sites, along with tracking of online advocacy ads and action alerts or other information from the email newsletters of policy and political groups.
Now let's jump right into this first edition. Who knows? Maybe someday this will end up becoming a collector's item...
When one of America's biggest consumer products companies starts to cut its overall advertising budget and shift resources from traditional media to digital outlets, lots of people sit up and take notice.
The consumer products giant said last month that it aims to save $10 billion by 2016, cutting $1 billion from its marketing budget. Mr. Pritchard says those cuts will come by thinning the ranks of marketing executives and spending more efficiently, leaning more heavily on lower-cost digital marketing and easing up somewhat on pricey broadcast ads.
There are lessons here not just for marketers, but also for those of us who spend time focusing on public affairs and advocacy. I have yet to see a billion dollar ad budget for any policy or political campaign, but the notion of trimming ad spending from more expensive traditional outlets and shifting those resources into more flexible and responsive digital media makes a lot of sense.
Rob Salmond of Brookings is out with a study that looks at campaign videos posted to YouTube and attempts to draw conclusions about the relative tone of online exclusive videos versus television advertising that was also posted on the web.
The major conclusions of the study are that:
- Web-only videos tend to be more positive than their TV-ready counterparts
- U.S. style winner-take-all campaigns tend to be more negative online than European-style proportional contests
A recent post from Brendan Sasso on The Hill's technology-focused blog (Hillicon Valley) underscores the challenge that the guardians of government purity have in enforcing old rules demanding separation between campaign and official business.
The House Ethics Committee decided that members of that body may now include a link to their official web pages from their campaign websites. Of course, they must include a stilted disclaimer that could only have been written by an ethics lawyer:
Thank you for visiting my campaign (website/Twitter page/Facebook page). If your intention was to visit my official House of Representatives (website/Twitter page/Facebook page), please click here.
The White House rolled out a new "open government" initiative with a special section of the Data.gov website. According to the New York Times:
The Web site, Ethics.gov, allows users to cross-check several federal databases for information about lobbyists and their activities, contribution and spending records for candidates for federal office and political action committees, travel by administration officials and visitors to the White House.
In my early testing of the site, I tend to concur with some of the initial views of John Wonderlich of the Sunlight Foundation who wrote:
We should be clear about what this new site does and doesn't do -- neither money and politics research nor executive branch oversight are going to be revolutionized by this search page -- at least not yet. We'll see to what degree this new interface becomes the main destination for investigative journalists or ethics officials. That's unlikely to happen right away.
We'll have more comments on what the administration has put together as we dig into the data and the presentation, especially since they will have had to fight with many of the same complex issues as our expert technologists have. Pulling together these various datasets into a unified search isn't as simple as just matching the names; there are all kinds of complex problems involved in combining government datasets into this kind of search interface. We hope that having the White House share an explicit stake in the format of FEC data or lobbying records will strengthen public advocates' hands as we try to fix their flaws.
At eOutreach, we spend a lot of time working on data mining issues, including on government websites. Normalizing disparate datasets isn't a lot of fun, so if the government can get its act together through this process to make the information more accessible, I'm all for it.
Doug Pinkham, President of the Public Affairs Council, wrote about the importance of language in public policy and politics and called for "rhetorical disarmament." He shared some research that looked at the impact of metaphors on public opinion, specifically blaming a "beast" or a "virus" for a community's crime problem.
When asked to recommend strategies for dealing with the problem, the test subjects’ answers differed greatly depending on which metaphor was used. Seventy-one percent of those who were presented with the beast metaphor called for more enforcement, while only 54 percent of participants who read the virus metaphor thought enforcement was the answer. The “virus” group was much more likely to suggest social reforms such as improving the economy or providing better education.
When the researchers asked test subjects to reveal their party affiliation, it turned out that Republican participants were about 10 percent more likely than Democrats to support stronger law enforcement. Yet the participants who had read the beast metaphor were about 20 percent more likely to support a get-tough-on-crime policy than those who read that crime was a virus, no matter their political persuasion.
A couple of items this week serve as good reminders that there are no shortcuts to online advocacy success.
The first comes in the form of a Los Angeles Times story about a YouTube video featuring Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich. It turns out that the Trutanich campaign paid a firm to promote the video and generate views. The effort seemed to be successful, with more than 725,000 views accumulated. However, the article alleges that many of the views may have been fraudulently obtained.
It's one thing to promote a YouTube video through email, video, or web advertising. But when it crosses the line into fake clicks, that's a problem.
The second piece comes from Colin Delany's e.politics blog where he notes a surge in reports from friends indicating that they seem to have been added to Rick Santorum's email list. A few problems: they didn't sign up for it and they're not even conservative Republicans.
In my previous role as a consultant, I was pitched by numerous firms promising to have legitimate rentable email lists to help jumpstart my advocacy campaigns. I'll admit that I even tried them a couple of times after getting them to verify in writing that these were not harvested lists but had permission to send. Even with that threshold, the lists weren't very useful, so I stopped using them.
Bottom line: take Colin's advice and do list rentals with specific publishers who make clear where the email is coming from rather than doing blind list rentals. The cost will be higher and the gross number of sends not as impressive, but the results will be better. Oh, and you won't likely end up being called out on someone's blog for being wildly off the mark with your targeting.
My perfect record of not being able to attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin, TX continues in 2012. At this point my inability to make it work for my schedule seems almost comical, so I probably should just stop even thinking about going in the future. Keep the streak alive.
If I were there, I'd certainly use this handy guide from Sarah Lai Stirland at TechPresident, aptly titled "A Political Geek's Guide to South by Southwest." She highlights a number of events and discussions taking place over the next week. Not surprisingly, one of the panels that really jumps out at me is one moderated by my former colleague, Julie Germany, that focuses on why technologists should run for office. The hashtag for that panel (#Vote4Geeks) is one I'll need to keep an eye on.
Since I won't be there myself, I'll be doing a lot of watching from afar, trying to pick out the technologies and tactics that will emerge from SXSW to make a difference in public affairs. It's difficult to believe Twitter took off at that very conference 5 years ago. Hardly seems that long ago. If you're in Austin or just watching like me, I'd love to hear what you think we should be focusing on.