A Q&A with Brian Donahue of Craft Media/Digital about their video work for the RNC.
Political campaigns have long relied on things like press releases to communicate messages in response to timely news events, and to help garner earned media. But Web video is changing all that. The Republican National Committee is one of many organizations that recognizes this shift, and has worked with Craft Media/Digital throughout the year in the hopes of being on top of their video game.
So far this year, nine videos created by Craft - all of which pan the Obama administration and the Democrats - have made their way onto the RNC's YouTube channel and been disseminated by supporters and media outlets. The issues come as no surprise: the economy, unemployment, healthcare reform, and more.
ClickZ News spoke recently with Brian Donahue, a founder and managing partner of Craft Media/Digital (pictured above) to discuss what the firm is doing for the RNC this year, and about trends in online political video. (All videos produced by Craft for the RNC are posted below the following Q&A.)
ClickZ: Tell me about the video work you've done with the RNC. How does it reflect how online video fits into the current political campaign landscape?
Donahue: The large majority of the material or videos we've done have been exclusively for the Web. This [2010 election] is really, I think, the cycle of Web videos... It's a tremendous shift in political story telling, and that shift has been to video.
It started with McCain and Obama in '08.... But this year, more organizations and more campaigns are understanding they can produce longer-form videos [and] have the tools and the capabilities for distributing them pretty wide [such as in blog networks]... And it tells a story much better than a press release.
ClickZ: How are campaigns or firms like yours promoting videos or ensuring they get good distribution?
Donahue: Distribution in the online channel is equally as important as the video itself. For instance, e-mails with "video" in the subject line are opened more frequently, and that's a selling point to campaigns that think online is only for fundraising.
Also, you've got to do some online advertising around it. You've got to understand how to get it to all types of channels - like blogs... [Political campaigns and organizations] have been so entrenched in political tactics for so long that they're not as caught up on all the things they could be doing.
ClickZ: According to my research of Federal Election Commission reports, the RNC spent around $7,000 with Craft specifically for video production this year, beginning in April. What has Craft done for the RNC? What's their approach to online video from your vantage point?
Donahue: They've had some key strategic thinkers in their online department and in their communications division... People there have said there's a really good story that needs to be told, and, "Can you guys produce this in a Web video?"
If you look at some of the pieces that they put out during important [moments in the news cycle]...they used to use press releases or story pitches to media outlets for those in the past.
Now it seems that you can release a very creative video piece that that would get covered by traditional media, but in the worst case scenario, you use your blog networks and your online networks to get it out.
ClickZ: So, what are some trends emerging for political Web video this election cycle? What do you think works?
Donahue: In terms of the material that we're producing...there are a few different elements I think are important this year. One is talking about someone in a positive way. People like authenticity.
Another is Web videos should never look like TV ads. People - their behavior and what they've come to expect online is much different than when it comes to TV. The format, the content delivery, is different. There's more time for a longer story. It's much easier for the producer and the editor to tell the story. Still, Web videos are getting a little shorter.
[Consumer generated media like photos, video, and other content online] has given us more material, more elements to work with.... We use public forum content.
[Another important element is] timeliness - making sure it's relevant, and developing some sort of emotional trigger in the piece [laughter, anger, or make it heartwarming]. Also, it should be compelling content. Make sure the content is of interest.
And, finally: production value. And I think that's been a major piece this year you're seeing - higher production value. We like to use high production. We like to use strong voice talent.
You can use a lot of heavy production value, and make it interesting, and it doesn't have to look like a TV commercial... [In the past,] people decided that because a YouTube video was funny, and you want to send it around [that a low-production style approach would also work for political video]. It wasn't applicable to politics. It wasn't really working.
ClickZ: What about interactivity, things like click-through in videos, or video overlay units on YouTube?
Donahue: We're using it more, and always discussing interactive options. Part of the learning curve of clients is for them to understand that it's OK to spend money on this.
[As for other options] where you can roll over, click through, and fill out forms, clients are not there yet in terms of paying for this sort of thing. Everyone's learning.
ClickZ: What metrics are important to campaigns when it comes to Web video?
Donahue: The ability to see the metrics on videos that you don't see with TV ads is an important measure of effectiveness. We look at things like engagement, views , the traffic it drove.
ClickZ: On the Democratic side, the Chris Kelly campaign (he's running for California Attorney General) allowed researchers to measure campaigns in two test markets - one where only online ads ran, and another where TV and online ads ran. The study looked at standard political polling metrics like favorability and likelihood to vote to measure the effect of a combined TV/Web campaign on polls. What about applying polling metrics when it comes to video measurement?
There's still sort of a fog-of-war mentality when it comes to campaign communications... Part of it is to fire shots everywhere and anywhere... They're not as strategic as that yet - in terms of looking at effectiveness or impact on polls. They're not looking at poll movement yet. Polling is going to be changing and evolving, too - looking at comments, how many people shared something.
ClickZ: Tell me some more about the production. What's a typical turnaround time for one of your political Web videos?
Donahue: The turnaround can be anywhere from the same day in three hours to two days. Shelf-life is short. When the story breaks, you should get in the conversation with an important video.
Like the 9/11 video we did for Keep America Safe on the mosque. It was an important time - a discussion was taking place nationally and now there's a very emotional video of families [of 9/11 victims]. We shot and produced the video on a Monday and distributed it on a Wednesday.
[Keep America Safe, an organization led by prominent Republicans Liz Cheney and Bill Kristol, asked Craft to produce a video featuring family members of people who died in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. The video, entitled "We Remember," features family members retelling the stories of their loved ones in their final moments. One man featured in the video states, "We understand they can build where they want to build. All we ask them to do is to use some good sense."]
"We're looking for opportunities to really tell a story.... If it's an issue they've made a decision they want to drive.... That’s when the video comes in.”
The following nine videos were produced by Craft Media/Digital for the RNC in 2010:
Deficit of Hope
August 09, 2010
Obama's image is interspersed with stats reflecting a poor economy, high unemployment, and high national debt. From the YouTube caption: "Americans are fed up with Obama's economy of persistently high unemployment, crushing debt, and continued assault on the private marketplace."
Two of a Kind
July 08, 2010
Harry Reid, Senate Majority Leader, is paired with President Obama in a high energy, pop cultural iconic style. The aim is to attach Reid’s tenure in the Senate with low unemployment in Nevada.
Tax Man Cometh
April 13, 2010
"For President Obama, every day is tax day," says the video's announcer. Like many of Craft's videos, this one employs strong still imagery with heavy text. In this case, healthcare reform-related taxes on wheelchairs, allergy medicine, and oxygen tanks are translated into stark declarations: "Wheelchairs: Taxed. Sneezing: Taxed. Breathing: Taxed." The caption states, "As Americans get ready to file their taxes on April 15th President Obama and Congressional Democrats are continuing their binge spending agenda that will raise Americans' tax burden and hamper the economy... Republicans can and will do better by the American taxpayer."
March 23, 2010
In this video, the President is aligned with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The announcer states, "2.5 million jobs have been lost in the year since Obama and Pelosi started trying to ram through their healthcare takeover."
The Numbers Don’t Lie
March 10, 2010
The video targets Missouri voters, attacking Obama’s healthcare reform plan.
March 09, 2010
The video attacks Pelosi's suggestion that the current congress is the "most open and most ethical congress in history."
February 23, 2010
As the long healthcare reform bill debate raged on, Democrats threatened to use a parliamentary maneuver known as reconciliation to get it passed. Republicans fought them. "Will you say no to reconciliation?" inquires the video, which culminates with the announcer saying, "Take action. Go to GOP.com." The video implored that Obama "scrap" the healthcare reform bill and start over.
February 16, 2010
The video takes aim at "binge spending and broken promises," suggesting the Obama administration did not deliver on its promise that the stimulus would create jobs and lower unemployment. It's another that ends with, "Take action. Go to GOP.com."
After 1 Year
January 21, 2010
"After one year, Americans are disappointed," states the announcer, claiming "Americans have had enough," and have expressed their disappointment by voting in Republicans in Virginia, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. This one, too, directs viewers to, "Take action. Go to GOP.com."
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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