We hear a lot about how much money the 2016 presidential hopefuls are spending on ads. But there's an entire industry dedicated to churning campaign donor dollars into direct mail, TV spots, social-media efforts, data analytics, opposition research and more. In the fourth quarter, the Bernie Sanders campaign's TV-focused media agency Old Towne Media scored the most campaign cash -- $10.6 million -- among agencies working with the remaining presidential campaigns.
As the race grinds ahead to the South, it's apparent already that some consultancies bet on (or more likely, got chosen by) the wrong horses. Digital and fundraising firm Upstream Communications and data company TargetPoint Consulting lost their 2016 presidential client when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie threw in the towel after a tough loss in New Hampshire. When Kentucky Senator Rand Paul called it quits after a poor showing in Iowa, his digital consultancy Harris Media also was out a big client, one founder Vincent Harris praised in a post-mortem essay for having digital "integrated into everything."
But with a still-contentious Republican primary race and a neck-and-neck Democratic primary continuing into the foreseeable future, there are many more still standing. Some have already been paid millions by the campaigns, with much of that money going towards TV and digital ad buys. Among the biggest winners thus far, according to Ad Age analysis of Federal Election Commission reports, are Old Towne Media and Revolution Messaging, the TV and digital firms used by the Bernie Sanders campaign; GMMB, the ad firm used by Hillary Clinton, which was also President Obama's 2008 and 2012 campaign choice; Marco Rubio's media agency, Smart Media Group; and the new kid on the block, London-based Cambridge Analytica, the data analytics and targeting firm employed by Ted Cruz.
Some of the political firms that have garnered the most media attention don't appear to be profiting from the campaigns themselves much at all. While the Koch Brothers-affiliated data firm i360 has done work with the Jeb Bush and John Kasich campaigns, FEC reports show the candidates spent less than $50,000 combined with the company in the fourth quarter. GOP data firm Data Trust doesn't show up at all. WPP-owned Blue State Digital, the Democratic agency that helped propel Obama's '08 campaign to digital stardom, is a mere blip on the Clinton camp's spending screen. Targeted Victory, the company that made its name as 2012 candidate Mitt Romney's digital shop, earned only around $250,000 from the Cruz camp in late 2015, in addition to much smaller payouts for managing fundraising services for other GOP campaigns.
But FEC reports can be deceiving. Data firms and other specialized consultancies may not show up at all because they aren't hired directly by campaigns; rather, their services might be outsourced by larger agencies. Also, it's important to note that for this story Ad Age looked only at spending by the campaigns, not their PACs, which in some cases command much bigger budgets.
With that in mind, Ad Age has compiled a list of media agencies, direct mail firms, political consultancies and data firms that earned $100,000 or more for the quarter from the presidential campaigns still standing. The list does not include common political campaign services such as compliance, payroll management, fundraising technology platforms, travel expenses and staff. And some companies that have grabbed headlines such as Democratic data and campaign management platform NGP VAN didn't meet the minimum threshold. Total expenditures are rounded.
- Mentzer Media Services: $662,000, TV media
- FP1 Strategies: $584,000, Media consulting
- Deep Root Analytics: $439,000, Microtargeting consulting
- CMDI: $121,000, Database management
- Southwest Publishing and Mailing: $105,000, Direct mail
- Cambridge Analytica: $3.06 million, Data analytics and digital media
- Campaign Solutions: $2 million, Digital agency
- The Lukens Co.: $1.9 million, Direct marketing
- Strategic Marketing and Mailing: $868,000, Direct mail
- CampaignHQ: $503,000, Phone outreach
- One Stop Campaign Shop: $307,000, Merchandise for fundraising
- RHA Marketing: $307,000, Direct mail
- CMDI: $412,000, Data management
- Targeted Victory: $247,000, Digital media
- Communications Corp. of America: $227,000, Direct mail
- Axiom Strategies: $131,000, Political consulting
- Arena Online: $244,000, Digital consulting, merchandise for fundraising
- Political Group: $156,000, Polling and consulting
- Smart Media Group: $8.1 million, Media agency
- Optimus Consulting: $463,000, Data driven political consulting
- FLS Connect: $441,000, Political data and targeting
- Campaign Solutions: $401,000, Data management and fundraising
- Push Digital: $368,000, Digital ads, social media, data targeting
- CMDI: $197,000, Data management
- North Star Opinion Research: $177,000, Research
- GBP Media: $159,000, Media production
- Old Towne Media: Media agency focused on TV, $10.6 million
- Revolution Messaging: Digital consulting and ads, $5.6 million
- Tigereye Promotions: Campaign paraphernalia and merchandise for fundraising, $2.9 million
- Tulchin Research: Polling, $527,800
- L2 – HaystaqDNA: Data modeling, $225,000
- Solidarity Strategies: $204,350 Phone and mail services
- Garner Printing: Direct mail, $181,300