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A Brown Campaign Secret Weapon: VOIP

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, January 27 2010

Video credit: Rebuild the Party

It has pretty quickly congealed into conventional wisdom that the Scott Brown big win in Massachusetts marked the moment when the GOP/conservatives/the right closed the technology gap between them and the left. Maybe. But it's worth paying special attention to the fact that Republicans haven't just been busy the last few years mastering the art of Twitter. Perhaps extra chilling for Democrats is that, for the right, "rebuilding the party" seems to involve devoting plenty of attention to building out infrastructure. Under that umbrella, for example: a focus on the right to making that election staple of phone banking more efficient for campaigns and more fun for volunteers. (Or at least less painful.)

Kristen Luidhard's Indiana-based Prosper Group was brought into the long-shot Scott Brown run in Massachusetts to flesh out the campaign's online operations. Prosper built the campaign website, helped drive Brown's million-dollar plus moneybomb, and more -- working in close conjunction with the Brown campaign's in-house new media director Rob Willington. Willington and Luidhard's firm are both part of the tech-centered Rebuild the Party movement that came to the forefront during the last RNC chair race, and have collaborated on past projects, like the Judicial Confirmation Network's drive against Sonia Sotomayor. Luidhard has provided a peek inside the Brown campaign's new media operation here, and detailed what when into that moneybomb here.

But I spoke with Luidhard about a different aspect of the Brown campaign's digital strategy: setting up pop-up phone banks using VOIP (in other words, Internet-based phones). Boring? Perhaps. But boring, executed well, can help win elections.

Here's how it works.

"Instead of busing people to local offices, we set it up a hundred volunteers in a hotel ballroom," explains Luidhard. As Luidhard describes it, insta-phone banks were set up with just a server loaded with her firm's software and several phones sets. "You don't have to worry," she says, "about having an infrastructure, an office lease, and all that." Even a home broadband connection, she says, can easily support 25 to 30 calling stations.

The phones, equipped with the display screen often seen on office telephones, were pre-loaded with customized call scripts. Volunteers could press the keypad to register how the interaction went, information that campaign staff could track online (thanks to the on-site server). The software allowed volunteers to, with the push of a button, leave an automated voicemail message if no one was home, while they jumped ahead to the next call -- eliminating some of the downtime, dialing, and drudgery of a campaign's traditional phone banking duty. Volunteers are equipped with a pin that allows them to track their calls across sessions, as well as setting up HQ to match them with specific calling targets.

"A lot of your volunteers often times are older, and they just love it," says Luidhard. "It's senior citizen-tested with the font size." One part of the Brown campaign's much recognized online ad strategy was driving volunteers to turn out, including geographically-targeted ads on conservative sites like the Drudge Report and RedState. Says Luidhard, "we saw that convert to real boots on the ground." The Victory VOIP phone banking technique, as it's called, has been campaign tested not only Brown's race, but in Bob McDonnell victory over Creigh Deeds in Virginia and Chris Christie's win over Jon Corzine in New Jersey.

For what it's worth, Luidhard, at least, doesn't blame Martha Coakley campaign for not investing more in building out their own digital operations. "I understand," she says. "Who would have thought that this would have been in play?"

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