Political Consultants May Spend More in 2008, but Hesitancy Persists

ClickZ_Campaign08_katefinal.jpgPolitical consultants aren’t completely sold on the efficacy of Internet communications, but a new study shows for certain purposes, they’re recognizing online ads and other interactive tools can help reach voters. They’re also expecting to spend more of their budgets on the Internet in the 2008 presidential election year, compared to 2006.

According to a study conducted for E-Voter Institute in July, 46 percent of political consultants said they will allocate between 6 and 20 percent of their communications budgets to Internet initiatives in 2008, up from 38 percent who said the same when surveyed for a similar study conducted in July 2006. Nineteen percent of those polled plan to spend a minimum of 21 percent of their budgets on digital efforts in ’08, compared to 11 percent of those polled in 2006. Down from 44 percent of last year’s respondents, 35 percent surveyed this year said they’d spend 1 to 5 percent in ’08.

Indeed, less than 1 percent of the 230 consultants participating this year said they’d put no money online next year, while around 6 percent of the 155 surveyed in ’06 said they’d spend nothing online that year.

“We’re getting to the point where enough money is being spent that we can start asking questions about line items in the budget,” said E-Voter Institute President Karen Jagoda.

This year’s research showed 30 percent of consultants said online advertising is effective when it comes to getting voters’ attention, up 22 percent over last year. Consultants who work for political candidates, PACs, issue advocacy groups and non-profits were polled for E-Voter’s “Sixth Annual Survey of Political and Advocacy Communication Leaders.”

Despite their show of increased interest, most political consultants continue to allocate a meager portion of their budgets to Web efforts. Hesitation about using the Internet certainly contributes to that; in fact, the report shows more than 70 percent of consultants have hesitations about using digital media.

The primary hesitations cited, each by 14 percent of consultants, were that the target audience is not online and that campaigns can’t target accurately online. “Those two things are combined excuses,” said Jagoda. “Really, the underlying issue is they just don’t know how to buy (online).” Considering the tight time parameters political consultants maneuver in, many simply do what they already are confident works, rather than trying something new.

The amount of experience consultants have appears to play a role in the degree of reluctance. While 68 percent of consultants with five years experience said they had some hesitations about using the Internet, 83 percent of those with more than 35 years experience expressed leeriness.

The report also analyzes consultants’ perceptions of which media work best to reach certain groups. When it comes to communicating with liberal activists, around 75 percent of consultants said blogs, podcasts, e-mail and candidate Web sites are effective. About 65 percent said online ads and social sites are effective. Fewer consultants said offline media like TV and cable ads, direct mail, phone, and newspaper and radio ads were effective for reaching left-wingers.

On the other hand, consultants tend to pair traditional outlets with social conservatives. At least 70 percent of those polled said TV, cable and radio ads, direct mail and debates are effective for getting the attention of conservatives. Candidate sites and e-mail were considered effective by 65 percent and 63 percent, respectively. Online ads were deemed effective for reaching those on the right by just 51 percent.

“I think it is false to assume that to reach conservatives you don’t go online or you can’t reach them via text messaging,” said Eric Frenchman, chief Internet strategist at political consulting agency Connell Donatelli, a firm handling some Web components of Republican Senator John McCain’s presidential campaign. (Just 21 percent of consultants said text messaging is an effective means of reaching conservatives.) “To ignore that many micro-targets exist that are often split over key demographics like age, income, and geographic location is a mistake,” he continued.

The study also shows which methods were considered effective for reaching swing voters, Latinos and Hispanics and single women.

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