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GOP Outgunned 3-1 on New Media Staff

BY Patrick Ruffini | Tuesday, July 31 2007

Every quarter, National Journal's Shira Toeplitz combs through the FEC reports to bring us what the campaigns are spending on new media. The purpose is to highlight what campaigns are spending overall and who they're spending it on. (Note: I am on the list, but you'll see that the analysis below relates to the field at large, not to any one candidate.)

Looking closely at the list, I noticed another trend, and it's a disturbing one that ties depressingly into the issues by the YouTube debate. While Republicans and Democrats are spending almost equally on their Web efforts, Democrats are spending dramatically more on in-house staff. Approximately 36% of the Democrats' Web budgets are dedicated to staff, while less than 8% of the Republican budgets are. Overall, the Democratic candidates have 39 people working in the Web departments while Republicans have 18, spread over 9 active candidates. That works out to an average of 5.6 staffers per candidate on the Democrat side, and just 2 on the Republican side, encompassing both frontrunners and also-rans. Obama alone has 10 people on his Web staff... and it shows.

I have published this data as a Google Spreadsheet and you'll see that this trend is across the board. The ratio of staff spending is higher for every Democrat candidate than it is for every Republican candidate except Ron Paul (coincidence?).

Why is this important? Because it shows Republicans are largely outsourcing their Web operations to highly capable technical firms but don't have the boots on the ground to drive content, marketing ideas, and ensure that the effort stays relentlessly in synch with the campaign's message. It ensures that Republican innovation on the Web will continue to be more about applications rather than brilliant new ideas that get press, driving traffic and the self-reinforcing perception that a candidate has the momentum online. As I have written before, it can be a good thing to focus on the steak of GOTV applications as opposed to the sizzle of blogs and one-off web sites, but speaking from experience, a ratio of 12-to-1 weighted against staff salaries strikes me as extremely high.

Most disturbingly, it shows that we are not investing in the human capital needed to drive our online efforts forward. If we can't innovate in a competitive primary environment, when can we innovate? The Democratic nominee will have access to nearly 40 bright minds who have direct Presidential campaign experience, and the Republican nominee will have access to less than half that. The key question(s) we need to ask ourselves are as follows. Would any campaign in their right mind tolerate a 3-1 imbalance in Political staff? In Communications staff? In Finance staff? So why is online different?

Plenty of caveats apply. I know of at least two cases where Republican new media staffers went unreported. Also, the vendors on the Republican side are whip-smart and many have Presidential campaign experience. In many cases, their staff could step into the role of campaign staff at any moment. I don't believe these consultants are being overpaid (in fact, I think the McCain debt issue is BS), but I believe it's a healthy thing to correct this imbalance by investing in staff that can actually implement all the tools the vendors are building. Speaking as one of those now on the consulting side, that will only make our overall new media effort more successful, helping everyone in the long term.

A couple of notes on this study. On the spreadsheet, I purposefully excluded expenditures on Constitutent Relationship Management (CRM) platforms, like those provided by Salesforce.com and NGP Software. While these are technology expenses, they are administered largely by Finance and Political staff, and thus don't bear much relationship to the online budget. I also excluded "Other" expenditures, since these seemed to be largely cost-of-fundraising and not operating expenditures.

Let me know if I missed anything in the spreadsheet.

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