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PdF Network Call: The Paperless Texas Gubernatorial Campaign

BY Nick Judd | Monday, May 17 2010

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is what you might call an "establishment" candidate. He's been in office ten years already, and after a successful primary in March, he stands to cruise to victory and another four-year term in November.

Here in New York, his picture hangs on the wall at Hill Country Barbecue on 26th Street. The guy's an institution. So of all the candidates in the Republican gubernatorial primary in the Lone Star State, it would be fair to think of him as the least likely to run an unconventional campaign.

Think again. Perry's online campaign director, Ryan Gravatt, used not a single piece of direct mail, relying instead on highly targeted online advertising and marketing to try to convert website visitors into volunteers. Gravatt said the campaign allowed supporters to buy yard signs, but avoided pricey paper products, as well as robo-calls, focus groups and direct mail. "Yard signs reflect votes," Gravatt said. "I don't think they get votes." Instead, the campaign took that energy that would have gone towards yard signs and tried to redirect that energy towards activities that the campaign thinks will get votes, like person-to-person phone calls.

Last Thursday, Gravatt talked tactics with PdF Network members on our bi-weekly conference call. Here are some highlights:

  • The campaign used geotargeted advertising and Google AdWords buys to bring people to the website, and Get Smart Content to serve different content depending on what brought the visitor to Rick Perry's website. "Wherever you were within our website we were serving you the appropriate message," Gravatt explained, "the right message at the right time, so that we could ask you to take the right action."
  • The campaign used that context to change the calls to action that visitors saw depending on how many times each visitor had been to RickPerry.org. A first-time visitor would see images referencing the keywords that brought them to the site. Someone who had already given the campaign their e-mail address would see a call to donate money to the campaign. A frequent visitor would be asked to join the campaign's "home headquarters" program for volunteer leaders, Gravatt said. He calls this "inverting the direct mail model" — using data and microtargeting to change what people see when they come to the campaign, as opposed to changing how the campaign comes to people.
  • Data from the campaign showed that e-mail was better for direct messaging than social media; Gravatt said that examining the number of event RSVPs that came from Facebook and the number of RSVPs that came from e-mail showed that e-mail continues to be a more productive place to go. However, Facebook did come in handy for reaching out to specific constituencies, he said.
  • The Perry campaign used Twitter to track their popularity with constituencies; for example, the campaign sponsored a NASCAR race car after the primary. "We could see our popularity rise on Twitter when people used the hashtag NASCAR," Gravatt said.
  • The campaign used Kimbia, an online fundraising platform that allows a campaign to deploy fundraising widgets more or less anywhere.

The full call — in which Gravatt talks more about Perry's social media strategy and what the campaign might do going into the general election — is archived and available here.

Gravatt will be speaking at Personal Democracy Forum 2010 as part of a panel on how Republicans are innovating in online campaigns.

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