I recently sat down with Matt Oczkowski, director of online campaigns for Advocacy Group, Inc., a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm that builds dynamic online campaigns for trade associations, non-profits, corporations, and political organizations.
Tim Nichols: Advocacy Group, Inc. (AGI) works with a variety of clients that range from trade associations and non-profits to corporations and candidates. How do you go about drafting successful campaigns in such an issue-dense industry?
Matt Oczkowski: The key to building a successful issue advocacy campaign centers around understanding the client and their needs. More often than not, settling for a piece of the market share is not enough. We are almost always fighting for 51 percent of our audience to take some type of substantial action. On this fact alone, we work hard to build creative solutions that effectively broadcast our client's message. The first step of this process is understanding the issue. Once we can clearly and effectively translate that issue to an online audience, we work to apply our version of the hierarchy of optimization.
TN: Having worked with such a wide range of clients on advocacy initiatives, how would you compare digital marketing strategy in the public affairs arena to a traditional brand or organization?
MO: Besides the obvious differences in messaging and targeting, we do our best to craft our digital strategy alongside the innovative practices that are occurring in the private sector. Oftentimes digital advocacy campaigns in Washington, D.C. severely lag behind the rest of the country in structure and substance. We are constantly monitoring and testing the newest products and practices to stay ahead of the curve in a constantly evolving space.
TN: What are some of the major differences you have noticed in marketing practice?
MO: We spend a significant amount of time trying to change the culture within our industry. The public affairs community is extremely reluctant to move towards innovation through substantive change. I have seen organizations in town use the same digital strategy this year that my colleagues implemented for them in 2007.
With that said, building a sound digital campaign is more than convincing a client to buy into a program, it is using best practices to ensure a healthy ROI. Too many times have firms pulled the wool over the eyes of their clients by flaunting a new product or strategy only to severely underperform. It is important that the client understands the goal and how we are going to get them there.
TN: What are the most common metrics in determining success when analyzing an issue advocacy campaign?
MO: Metrics of success completely depend on the type of campaign being run. Most often today we see clients looking to run campaigns around a CPA model. Whether it is building a base of advocates to take action on an issue, or fundraising for a particular candidate or organization, CPA is often seen as the safest bet.
We are slowly starting to see a wider acceptance in CPM and CPC models. A greater importance is being put on issue education and prospecting. Political organizations and trade groups are beginning to learn that campaign and issue optimization needs to occur year-round, not just the months leading up to an election or vote.
TN: How much value do you put into microtargeted campaigns? It seems that heavily targeted, insight-driven campaigns are leading the way in most issue advocacy and political marketing efforts.
MO: There is certainly a time and a place for heavy data-driven campaigns. When developing a strategy towards a particular set of demographics, it is often unavoidable. With that said, I think far too much emphasis and money is errantly thrown at microtargeted approaches. Internet users are the largest "focus group" in the world. At AGI, we believe in allowing our messaging to work for us. Through an extensive optimization process, we "target" our campaigns based on learned knowledge. Oftentimes we have found that applying offline data to online campaigns can result in disastrous results.
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Tim Nichols is a founding partner at ExactDrive, a leading Self-Serve Online Advertising Platform with white label, reseller and managed service options available. ExactDrive plans, manages, and optimizes online advertising campaigns with the objective of delivering measurable value and empowering clients to find precisely targeted audiences. ExactDrive has offices in Washington, DC, Austin, TX, Phoenix, AZ, Santa Monca, CA and is headquartered in St Paul, MN.
March 19, 2014