Most GOP presidential campaigns have yet to hire anyone in-house to handle digital efforts, but Mitt Romney - who is expected to announce his candidacy this week - has. Zac Moffatt, formerly a partner at Republican digital agency Targeted Victory, has served as digital director for Romney's exploratory committee since May 1.
Moffatt, pictured at left, ran political education training for the Republican National Committee in 2008, and has more recently helped run digital campaigns for candidates including Florida Senator Marco Rubio while with Targeted Victory.
"You can't achieve the same level of dedication and integration with consultants," suggested Moffatt, who is believed to be among the few in-house digital staffers working with any of the GOP primary hopefuls at this stage. Still, Moffatt expects the Romney team to use outside firms, including Targeted Victory, for some work.
Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign has reportedly hired Teddy Goff, previously of Blue State Digital, as digital director.
Arguably, campaigns with someone leading digital from the inside could have an upper-hand when it comes to cross-media integration and a more comprehensive strategy.
"When you're a consultant, you're invested, but not there day to day.... I wake up every morning and think about Governor Romney and think about what needs to be done," said Moffatt.
Though he said he and his colleagues at Targeted Victory have had a seat at the table regarding key strategy decisions in the past, having a digital director on staff creates, "a different environment in as much as the digital director has been elevated to the [status of] the communications director or policy director," he said. "We are part of the [conversation] just like any senior staff."
So far, the Romney for President Exploratory Committee has yet to do anything very splashy online, and has focused digital investments on building infrastructure, along with some Google AdWords advertising.
The Romney committee worked with Foursquare to create a badge for its National Call Day fundraising event in Las Vegas earlier this month. The committee also live-streamed a speech from Romney on Facebook during the event, and the former Massachusetts governor announced his exploratory committee on Twitter.
"We're in that experimental phase where we're willing to try anything," said Moffatt.
Overall, Moffatt's mission is to "take all the activities that occur offline and make sure they have an online platform for people to engage with," he said. Enabling access to voters means utilizing more common channels such as email and Facebook, as well as other more niche ones. For example, he stressed that while Facebook can be considered home base for the campaign's social media activities, he must also allow interaction through other "digital embassies."
Other groups that will be involved with the 2012 election are building up digital staff. Advocacy organization No Labels, which aims to solve major problems plaguing the country through bipartisan means, has hired a director of digital communications. Joe Mansour, who has worked as an account director with digital agency David All Group, said he will start this week with No Labels. He plans to "build up an online army over the next year," according to an email sent to ClickZ.
Romney exhibited a belief in the importance of digital media during his first run for president. During his GOP primary run, Romney had an in-house e-strategy director, and the campaign took a relatively unique approach to online advertising, using innovative units like video overlays, in addition to Web ads for persuasion. Romney's e-strategy director was Mindy Finn, currently a partner with Engage, the digital agency working with rival Tim Pawlenty.
Moffatt expects Romney to get involved in conversations about digital media efforts. "He's inquisitive.... He's fascinated by it," he said of the candidate. "He'll jump on Facebook and see the comments.... He's a businessman who understands metrics." According to Moffatt, Romney has an Apple iPhone and iPad 2.
Thus, getting buy-in from the candidate to spend on digital media may not be as difficult as it tends to be with other campaigns. "I don't know why [Romney] would put a team together and elevate the [digital director] position if he didn’t plan to allocate appropriate funding to be successful," continued Moffatt. "I'm going to be here every day advocating for more resources."
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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.