Florida’s Rubio Boosted by Early Underdog Status and Belief in Digital

ClickZ News - Politics & Advocacy A year ago the Republican Party machine was prepared to support Florida Governor Charlie Crist in his bid for U.S. Senate. At the time, little-known former state House Speaker Marco Rubio was polling far behind Crist, but with the help of a strong digital campaign, Rubio has since built a significant supporter base and helped fuel anti-moderate sentiment that eventually influenced Crist’s decision to ditch the Republican race and run as an independent.

Targeted Victory, a consulting firm that handles online advertising, mobile, and social media efforts for Republican campaigns, was brought in to run digital for the Rubio campaign June 2009. The company’s partners believe Rubio’s campaign is ahead of the game online, in part because of its earlier underdog status.

“When this campaign began we did not have the institutional advantages from being supported by the party, which forced us to be far more proactive and willing to invest in our own infrastructure development,” said Targeted Victory Partner Zac Moffatt. “As such, it caused the campaign to develop on an accelerated schedule.”

“Last summer, all the Republican Party infrastructure in place in the state would have been going to Charlie Crist. We had to do digital to take it to a larger audience,” added Targeted Victory Partner Michael Beach.

Lots of campaigns claim to be integrated when it comes to incorporating digital media efforts into the overall strategy. But integration can take on a variety of forms. Beach and Moffatt say they have been on daily calls with Rubio campaign staff every morning for the past several months, going over the candidate’s schedule, and the day’s messaging strategy. Most digital consulting firms would not be given such preferred status by the campaign team. They also collaborate on ad messaging and media decisions with campaign staff, and ensure both online and offline data is used to inform efforts on all media channels.

“Every decision made about a potential online program is decided based on both online and offline data,” Moffatt told ClickZ News. “The voter file and donor file are just as important in this decision making process as any online piece of data,” he added. For instance, the company compares state voter files with the campaign’s direct marketing contact list to determine which voters might be missed by the direct marketing efforts.

The Targeted Victory partners also credit the Rubio campaign with giving them the freedom and resources to do things like host calls with bloggers or push messages out on Facebook. They also believe the campaign’s willingness to invest in online advertising and digital-centric campaigns – like its Stimulus Fundraising Bomb launched in February to mark the anniversary of Crist’s rally in support of President Obama’s stimulus plan – have helped build a list of supporters to tap into throughout the election cycle. “There’s a problem if you’re arguing about whether or not to spend on Google ads or T-shirts and pizza,” said Moffatt.

Beach added, “We are able to be succeed now because of development of our list and our infrastructure.”

Moffatt points to campaign investments in the stimulus-related fundraiser and another more recent effort suggesting that voters “Flip The Switch” on Crist as examples of campaign investments that have helped perpetuate Rubio’s momentum, generate hundreds of thousands of dollars, and build a list of 51,000 donors. Most of those donors have yet to give the maximum contribution allowed, meaning they can be asked to donate again in the future.

Online ads, sometimes targeted behaviorally to people who have visited Rubio’s website, as well as a robust Facebook presence featuring an app for subscribing to mobile alerts, have also helped boost donations, and thus build the campaign list. So have in-stream ads on YouTube that promoted the February fundraiser. Display ads running currently suggest that supporters “Stand with Marco” by donating, and suggest that he represents principles over politics.

Rubio’s fundraising efforts have also been boosted by The Senate Conservatives Fund, a group that funds several senate campaigns which ran ads in support of the stimulus fundraiser that displayed a photo of Crist embracing Obama, after he’d stated his support for the economic stimulus package last year.

More recently the Rubio campaign itself has used a similar photo of Crist and Obama, suggesting that supporters donate and “Flip the Switch” on Crist, whom the ads claim puts “politics over principles.” The Flip the Switch campaign aimed to recruit 2,400 donors – 100 for each of the 24 years Crist “used the GOP to get elected.” While ads from the Senate Conservatives Fund, which has given thousands of dollars to Rubio’s campaign this year, have similar messaging and imagery to some Rubio campaign ads, Targeted Victory said the two do not work together on advertising.

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