The Digital Pros to Meet at the Republican National Convention
BY Sarah Lai Stirland and Nick Judd | Monday, August 27 2012
By the end of Monday Tampa, Fla., will be full up with Republicans planning to converge on its Tampa Bay Times Forum for their national convention. Among the scores of convention delegates, lobbyists, political operatives and campaigning candidates will be a host of digital campaigners — both longtime pros in the emerging field and up-and-comers hoping to ply their trade.
For Personal Democracy Plus subscribers, here's the beginning of what could be a far longer list of digital pros going to Tampa this week and worth seeking out for coffee or a beer — just a few of the names you might know, or should know, when it comes to the right's digital communications. We did our best to prime the pump with a mix of people who you might already know from CNN and people who have been working busily behind the scenes.
There's also a robust crop of nonpartisan travelers who will attend both conventions to explain their start-ups or represent their companies. We've picked two groups from that world.
It's not an all-inclusive list by any means — these are just a few convention-goers out of hundreds. Republican Plus subscribers: Will you be in Tampa this week? Which digital pros are you hoping to find a few minutes with while you're there?
Serenety Hanley, political technology consultant and vice president at Grassroots Targeting
Though Grassroots Targeting isn't as big, or in the public eye as much as Blue State Digital is on the left, its staff have been pioneers on the organizing and political technology front, and continue to work on high profile races on behalf of Republicans. Hanley got her start in political direct mail marketing, but she eventually ended up working at the Republican National Committee during George W. Bush's re-election campaign in 2003, where she worked microtargeting expert and Grassroots Targeting founder Blaise Hazelwood on the RNC's volunteer organizing and get-out-the-vote efforts. In addition to working on that successful campaign, Hanley also has the distinction of being the White House' first female Internet director, recruited by David Almacy, her predecessor. The online volunteer program she worked on in 2003 was the RNC's GOPTeamLeader.com, and it's that platform that inspired the creation of a new customizable online action center for activists that Hanley plans to show off at the convention.
Leonardo "Lenny" Alcivar, senior vice president of public affairs, Hynes Communications
Shortly after GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney won the Republican nomination contest, the team hired Alcivar and Patrick Hynes of Hynes Communications. Alcivar didn't return a phone call in time for this post, but if you're a conservative blogger going to the Republican National Convention, you might want to meet Alcivar and the team from Hynes, as they've been reported to be in charge of conservative online media outreach.
Alcivar is apparently a strong believer in grassroots activists' ability to set the media agenda and alter certain members of the public's perception of the way things are. At the end of June he told a writer at Breitbart: "We no longer allow the mainstream media to define the political realities in America. The rise of Breitbart, Drudge and others, combined with an aggressive Romney campaign is a powerful tool in the arsenal of the conservative movement."
Alcivar got his start in public affairs in New York City. He was Rudy Giuliani's deputy press secretary, and then the city police department's director of press operations.
Abigail Alger, Director of Digital Communications, The Leadership Institute
The Leadership Institute has a long history as a training ground for the next generation of Republican political operatives, and Abigail Alger is part of the Institute’s digital side as it works to embrace the changing profile of the engaged Republican activist and the credible Republican candidate. She joined the Leadership Institute after working for Internet campaigning pioneer David All — who had previously convinced his boss, Rep. Jack Kingston, to integrate the web into his communications work before it was cool — and as a new media strategist for Terra Eclipse, the California-based software company that built FreedomWorks' social networking platform for activists, Freedom Connector.
Wes Donehue, South Carolina political consultant
If there's trouble brewing in South Carolina, odds are Wes Donehue's near the center. The Republican consultant got his start building websites for down-ballot campaigns and has moved on to providing a broader suite of services for political clients. His profile this year included advising Michele Bachmann's presidential effort and causing a stir with some Tea Party activists by castigating Tea Partiers who sided with Newt Gingrich during the primary campaign. He's also the co-host of Pub Politics, a political webcast streamed live every week in which he toasts with South Carolina Senate Democratic Caucus chairman Phil Bailey.
Dana Loesch, Breitbart.com editor
As editor-in-chief of the late Andrew Breitbart’s BigJournalism.com, Dana Loesch was on hand as Breitbart.com broke the scandal that ended Anthony Weiner’s time in Congress. That wasn’t her first or her last Internet-enabled takedown. Slate profiled Loesch last year as a “hybrid of activist and commentator” who transitioned from mommyblogger to conservative media powerhouse over a period of years.
Ali Akbar, Republican digital communications consultant
Besides his digital consulting work, Ali Akbar is a connector for young, tech-savvy Republicans. He’s a co-organizer for BlogBash parties, blogger get-togethers held at CPAC three years running, including this year. He is also working to build an organization called National Bloggers Club, announced in February and in the works to become a network of conservative bloggers to bring them infrastructure like connecting writers with lawyers to deal with legal issues or offering ID cards to help with credentialing for events. Akbar has popped up in the news most recently by wading into a recent running battle between conservative bloggers and supporters of convicted “Speedway bomber” Brett Kimberlin. Last year, his defense of the Tea Party from accusations of racism also drew notice. Akbar’s another young Republican who has experienced the pustulent underbelly of American politics, where the subterfuge, threats, blind items and hit pieces that once stewed in the fever dreams of political columnists now boil onto the surface in a vast swamp of blogs. Picking a fight with Kimberlin supporters gained him plaudits from the likes of Michelle Malkin but also reopened a line of inquiry into his own past, which includes a 2007 charge of theft in Ft. Worth, Texas, when he was 21. He says he was unwittingly involved in the theft of a credit card by giving a friend a ride to an ATM, only to find after the fact his friend was trying and failing to withdraw money using a card that wasn’t his. Records at the 213th District Court in Ft. Worth say the court deferred the question of his guilt or innocence on a theft charge until after a probationary period, which he completed, and after he completed that probation the charges were not pursued. Some Kimberlin supporters, and people in certain quarters of the left’s own blogosphere, brought out the dirt in an effort to discredit him.
If you're a politico who is looking to the future and interested in exploring new ways of polling your campaign or cause's supporters on issues of importance to them, you might want to meet up with Aronson, who sees our society's rapidly-evolving ways of communicating with one another as an opportunity for a new kind of multi-platform audience research company.
Aronson's company was founded on the basis of several societal trends. The leading ones are that fewer and fewer people have landline phones, and in just four years more than 350 million workers will use smartphones. His small startup is building the infrastructure to conduct audience research and polling through the proliferation of channels of communication available to individuals. Currently, Votifi is available on the web and as an app for iOS, Android, and Windows 8. It's also an app on Facebook that campaigns and candidates can use to poll supporters, and to spread the word about themselves through supporters' social graphs (former U.S. Chief Technology Officer Aneesh Chopra, who is running to be Virginia's Lieutenant Governor, is using it on his public Facebook page.)
Aronson admits that this kind of polling of the public at large is nowhere near scientifically accurate as of yet, but the traditional, very expensive methods of landline polling are also not as reliable as they once were because of changing tech trends. So he and his bipartisan team of colleagues are trying to make the most of the disruption.
Hollett and Siegel have created a new app designed to help television watchers understand who is trying to influence their vote, and the truthfulness behind the claims made in those ads. Both Hollett and Siegel are going to the Democratic and Republican national conventions to try to get more press coverage of their project, which was funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation.
Hollett is a former broadcast television reporter for CBC and Siegel is a former management consultant. They met when they took a class at MIT called "Social TV," where the goal was to create more social television experiences.
"We expect to get the most positive reception from the media, as opposed to the politicians, and that's fine -- what we're doing is something for the voters, not for the politicians. It's for people evaluating information coming at them," Siegel said in a recent interview.
The app has literally been a hit. It was the most downloaded app in the news category on iTunes a day after its launch.