Mitt Romney Solicits Video, Votes

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Situation: Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney formed an exploratory committee on Jan. 2 to evaluate a bid for the Republican candidacy for president. The campaign launched its Web site that day, including a video section dubbed MittTV.

MittTV, powered by Web video provider Permission TV, has expanded to feature more than 220 videos broken into 10 channels that are programmed relevant to events or issues.

For the campaign, Web video represents a way to reach voters who may be tuning out from cable and broadcast television. It also lets the campaign deliver the facts and analysis it wants to deliver, without the risk that journalists will spin a story unfavorably.

The site’s content includes a channel with clips and analysis of the Republican presidential debate over the summer. The campaign also produces videos from various Romney events, such as when he won the Iowa straw poll on Aug. 11. Other offerings include videos from a trip that Romney’s five sons took around Iowa in the so-called “Mitt Mobile” this summer.

Group: Mitt Romney Campaign

Video play:Using the Web to distribute videos that communicate the presidential candidate's message, using both campaign-produced and user-generated segments.

Strategy: The Romney campaign sought a way to get its message across while stoking supporters' interest in Gov. Mitt Romney's race for the White House. Using technology from Permission TV, the campaign has been posting video on its own site and seeding the clips across the Web.

Result: The campaign used a contest that solicited supporters to create campaign commercials for the candidate. More than 100 videos were submitted and the winner's work was played on TV in New Hampshire.

The videos vary in length but usually are no longer than five minutes. The campaign brings cameras to most of its events to capture footage.

The campaign has standardized its editing and camera equipment around the relatively new high-definition format known as HDV. All the videos are hi-def and widescreen. The campaign uses Sony HVR-Z1U camcorders, and the editing software is the Adobe Creative Suite Production Studio.

Steven Smith, director of online communications for the campaign, said he takes a video production laptop from 1Beyond with him wherever he goes.

“It is essentially an entire post-production studio that fits in a backpack,” he said. “This has enabled me to produce, for example, the Iowa straw poll wrap-up piece while I was waiting for a delayed flight at the Milwaukee airport."

The most popular videos on the site are usually those the campaign staffers actively promote in e-mail blasts and are related to specific topics, Smith said.

The Romney campaign also posts its videos on a YouTube channel. To date, the campaign has posted more than 430 videos on the video-sharing site, generating more than 2.5 million views since January.

On Romney’s Web site, the videos have lured more 2.3 million views collectively. Smith declined to disclose page views for the site, but said it’s competitive with other campaigns.

“We are investing in Web video for the same reason we invest in anything in the campaign—to drive his messages or raise money for the campaign or to mobilize voters,” Smith said. “I once saw a news story of a college student who had driven several hours to see Gov. Romney speak and he had talked to a reporter when he got there, and his answer was he watched a ton of clips on YouTube of the governor and that was the primary basis for his support.”

The campaign is keenly aware that increasing numbers of people of all ages are getting their news and commentary from online sources. With regard to Web video, that’s particularly true of younger people who adopt technology early, Smith said.

The costs vary for creating the videos, depending on whether the campaign sends a one- or two-person camera crew. The camera people and video production crews usually are consultants to the campaign.

Smith declined to disclose specific costs for video. About a dozen people at the campaign from a staff of a few hundred work on Web site development. A few of those people work regularly with Web video, he said.

Problem: Given Romney’s focus on Web video, the campaign needed to find a way to let users participate, too. That initiative took the form of a contest to see who could produce the best user-generated advertisement for the candidate. The danger with that approach was that users might use the material supplied to contestants to create anti-Romney messages.

Solution: Romney’s campaign partnered with Yahoo! and the Web company’s subsidiary, video editing software maker Jumpcut, to launch a contest Aug. 29 inviting users to create their own TV ad. The winner was announced Sept. 27.

Romney’s campaign provided 36 audio tracks and 44 approved video clips for participants to use to create the ad, thus ensuring the final product would be pro-Romney. All of the videos submitted were screened before they posted online. The winning ad appeared on TV.

“We wanted to have an ad we could feel proud of and put on air in Iowa and New Hampshire and accurately reflect his message,” Smith said.

Evaluation: Nearly 130 videos were submitted. The campaign chose nine finalists and posted their videos. Online viewers voted on the winning video. The contest generated more than 100,000 video views. The winning video received 47 percent of the viewer votes and became the new TV ad for the campaign for a week in Iowa and New Hampshire.

“This is the first of its kind and no other campaign has really harnessed user-generated video like this. We are continuing to do and create original videos that will spread Gov. Romney’s message,” Smith said.

The Mitt Romney campaign is making its own videos, like this one, as well as asking supporters to submit segments.