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Bully Pulpit Interactive and NGP VAN Help Shape Democratic Victories

BY Miranda Neubauer | Wednesday, November 6 2013

NYC Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio meets with outgoing Mayor Bloomberg (NYC Mayor's Office/Flickr)

Chris Christie, Terry McAuliffe and Bill de Blasio are not the only winners from yesterday's elections. Bully Pulpit Interactive and NGP VAN are two of the major digital campaign firms that had a hand in the victories of Democratic candidates in the major races Tuesday.

In Virginia, the McAuliffe campaign's engagement of Bully Pulpit Interactive, founded by digital marketers of the 2008 Obama campaign, was part of the "biggest digital spend in the history of Virginia politics," according to a post on the company's website. Between July and the end of October, the McAuliffe campaign paid Bully Pulpit Interactive over $550,000, according to campaign finance records.

In a blog post, Andrew Bleeker writes that digital targeting helped complement and reinforce the message on television. "Given the size of the race, we were able to segment messaging at the [designated market area] and zip code level, which made a huge difference in a state like Virginia, which has a wide variance of voter profiles across the state," he writes, and highlighted the focus on women. "By utilizing voter file targeting, and narrowing down to a group of approximately 500,000 Virginia women, BPI and the McAuliffe campaign were able to reach key female voters with a targeted message online. By pushing our strong women-specific messaging earlier in the spring, we were able to get ahead of Cuccinelli before any of his TV ads hit the air."

Bleeker also noted the use of the Commit to Vote tool, which was "built upon the 'gamification' aspect of the 2010 'Get Out The Vote' tool and the 2012 'targeted sharing' tool to help voters share with their friends and create a competitive environment online."

In a press release, NGP VAN noted that the McAuliffe campaign emailed supporters through the VoteBuilder tool and encouraged them to click through to the VAN Virtual Phone Bank to make GOTV calls from anywhere. "VoteBuilder enabled us to target our outreach and build support for Terry McAuliffe and Democrats in every corner of the Commonwealth. The Turf Cutter tool helped us to efficiently and effectively find the right people to call and door-knock," Michael Halle, Virginia Democratic Party Coordinated campaign director, said in the statement. According to the press release, 47 of the 68 Democratic House of Delegates campaigns in Virginia used the VAN organizing tool, as well as the NGP fundraising and digital tools, often through partnerships with the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and EMILY’s List.

The McAuliffe campaign also engaged digital strategy firm Blue State Digital, digital political agency Chi/Donahoe + Cole/Duffey, Chambers Lopez Strategy, a firm focused on social marketing targeting Hispanic audiences, EdgeFlip, a firm founded by Obama alumni focused on the role of data and analytics in targeted sharing, and BlueLabs, an analytics, data and technology company also founded by Obama alumni.

For the de Blasio campaign, Mark Skidmore from Bully Pulpit Interactive wrote in a blog post that the emphasis was on voter engagement through social media and digital ads. Skidmore emphasized that the wide range of online photo,video and voice formats available helped celebrities express their support for de Blasio. "Using nuanced cues in digital ads that expressed 'Denim for de Blasio' or 'Plaid for de Blasio,' the campaign was not only able to target by traditional demographics and age, but by lifestyle association to go even deeper into the New York electorate and find ways to relate to voters of all stripes," Skidmore writes.

The focus was on encouraging as many potential voters as possible to become a fan of or sign-up for the campaign "to build a digital army ready to activate for future moments," he stressed. "No dollars were spent on home page takeovers or other less targeted ad tactics. We allocated spend on reaching the individuals we needed to get out to the polls and sign up to join the list."

Campaign finance records indicate that in the general election campaign, de Blasio paid Bully Pulpit at least $125,000 up until days before Election Day. In the days leading up to the election, the campaign also paid at least $320,780 to Brush Fire Strategies, a firm focused on phone calls. Earlier in the general election campaign, de Blasio also paid at least $30,000 to Precision Networks for TV and Online Ads. In addition, the campaign used NGP VAN to organize its campaign operations. "VoteBuilder powered our ground game with indispensable volunteer management and voter contact tools, and the team got us set up quickly and had our back all the way through the last door knock on Election Day,” Bill Hyers, campaign manager of the de Blasio campaign, said in a statement from NGP VAN.

In his acceptance speech Tuesday night, de Blasio acknowledged the role social media played in his campaign. "To everyone who knocked on doors, made calls, persuaded your friends. Even tweeted about this campaign. This victory is yours." Wednesday, his team set up a transition website where New Yorkers can submit their ideas for New York City's future.

Independent candidate tech entrepreneur Jack Hidary only received 0.3 percent of the vote, or around 3,400 votes, above Jimmy McMillan of the Rent is Too Damn High fame, who received nearly 1,900 votes.

While the Verge writes today that "NYC's tech scene just lost its cheerleader," Hidary writes in a message to supporters today that he will work with other tech leaders to "soon issue concrete ideas to expand tech businesses and jobs in every borough" and will also launch a new regular column in Crain's New York to address the issues he campaigned on.

In Boston, candidate Martin Walsh won the mayoral race with 52 percent of the vote over his opponent John Connolly, who received 48 percent. As Boston municipal elections are non-partisan, both the two final candidates had Democratic Party backgrounds. But campaign finance records show that Walsh spent significantly on outside firms such as Bully Pulpit Interactive and NGP Van, while Connolly seems to have mainly engaged local consultants. Following the preliminary election at the end of September, the Walsh campaign paid Bully Pulpit at least $88,500. Prior to the September election, he had already paid the firm around $88,000, and had also engaged NGP VAN. According to the press release, NGP VAN helped volunteers knock on 2.4 million doors in Boston and helped 14,000 volunteers over 46,000 volunteer shifts make almost 1.5 million phone calls.

The Boston Globe noted ahead of the election that polls seemed to show momentum shifting from Connolly to Walsh. Suffolk pollster David Paleologos told the Globe that turnout would be crucial with one of the final polls showing a three percentage point difference between the candidates that was within the margin of error.

In the New Jersey gubernatorial campaign, campaign finance records indicate that winner Chris Christie also focused on data and voter targeting. The Christie campaign paid at least around $307,000 to Campaign Grid, which is focused on "data driven online advertising." His campaign also paid at least nearly $33,000 to the Prosper Group, a design, strategy and technology firm and at least $20,000 to Deep Root Analytics, which is focused on a data-driven approach to television advertising.

For Bully Pulpit Interactive, the 2013 campaign demonstrates that the tools from the 2012 campaign are now more accessible to candidates at various levels. "The capability to create custom lists of persuadable targets is now scalable down to the state and local level. This will define how resources are spent on every sophisticated campaign going forward," the firm writes in a blog post. "The Obama campaign had to develop its own software to use data models to purchase television and Internet ads. Those tools are now available to Democratic candidates and will be readily embraced by the smartest campaigns in 2014."

These developments mean that digital skills are essential for all campaign staff, the blog post notes, especially as Super PACs become more "long-term focused, and are investing in the digital and technological infrastructure to materially impact races for years to come."

In addition, Bully Pulpit declares the "death of micro-sites."

"Over the last 8 years, a phenomenal amount of campaign resources have been wasted trying to use digital as a means to generate a single press story," the blog post states. "While these sites can have a purpose, the winning 2013 campaigns have stopped using digital solely to chase minor press stories."

The New York Times reported Monday that Bully Pulpit Interactive and its sibling agency AKPD, also used by candidates de Blasio, Walsh as well as losing New Jersey Democratic candidate Barbara Buono, are expanding to New York.