Trump Spent on Data, Organizing and Ads, but Signs of Unsophistication Remain
With all the fuss about Donald Trump's fundraising woes, staff shakeups, and skepticism regarding the seriousness of his presidential quest, it's worth noting his campaign has been spending money on a variety of typical campaign-related services, from media production and direct mail to field consulting, data management and Facebook advertising.
Despite a reputation for heavy reliance on earned media in lieu of paid media and traditional grassroots organizing, the Trump camp in April and May spent millions of dollars on essentials any statewide or presidential campaign would buy, according to Ad Age's analysis of the campaign's most recent Federal Election Commission filings. Not only did the Trump camp spend more than $2.7 million with political ad agency Rick Reed Media in April and May, it invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in field consulting, which typically includes services such as voter contact, volunteer recruitment and get-out-the-vote efforts.
The field consulting payments suggest the campaign has attempted to lay much-needed groundwork for organizing supporters and mobilizing voters, though it is unclear whether the field consultants were paid only for services related to the primaries, which continued through June, or for general election-related work.
The Republican National Committee named Mr. Trump the party's presumptive nominee in early May. The campaign spent nearly $410,000 on field consulting with several individual consultants across the country throughout that month. Another $195,000 was spent on field consulting in April.
The Clinton camp geared up its grassroots efforts early in the primary season and by most accounts has a far better-oiled organizing structure. Still, it does pay an outside firm, Grassroots Campaigns, for some organizing services. The company made $90,480 from the Clinton campaign in May.
The Trump campaign, which had just $1.3 million in its coffers at the end of this most recent reporting period, spent $1.2 million in April and May on direct mail -- often an important fundraising vehicle for political campaigns. On Tuesday, the campaign, which the candidate said he would self-fund throughout the primaries, sent its first email ever asking for donations. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton's campaign has been a fundraising machine, with $42 million stockpiled, according to its most recent filing with the FEC.
Then there's the data. Though spending on things like data management is not necessarily indicative of a robust data and analytics operation, contrary to its reputation of having none in place, the Trump campaign has spent money on data management and in-house data staff. Around $96,000 went towards data management services in April and May, including from 40-year-old voter data firm L2. In addition, the campaign has paid in-house data staffer Witold Chrabaszcz thousands of dollars each month for his services. The most recent FEC filings show that the former RNC data engineer was paid $12,000 by the campaign in May.
Clinton campaign data chief Elan Kriegel, co-founder of Democratic data firm BlueLabs, earned a bit less than Mr. Chrabaszcz last month -- $9,102 in total, on par with previous primary months.
Still, it is not known whether the data services the Trump campaign has used involve voter data analytics for segmenting voter groups and informing media buys, important elements of recent sophisticated presidential campaigns.
According to an Associated Press story, Mr. Trump told the AP in May that "he planned 'limited' data use during the general election, though his campaign has worked with firms and a small in-house staff to track voters during the primaries."
The Trump campaign also spent more than $842,000 on website and digital consulting with San Antonio-based firm Giles-Parscale in April and May, far more than the $35,000 it spent in April with Draper Sterling, a little-known company the campaign paid for online ad services. Draper Sterling has generated media attention this week for its Mad Men-inspired name and creation just this year.
At least some of the Trump camp's minimal digital advertising has been handled in-house, FEC records show. While many large political campaigns hire outside firms to do Facebook ad planning and buying, the Trump campaign itself bought ads directly from Facebook this spring. The most recent filing shows it spent around $129,000 on Facebook ads in March and April.
In contrast, the Clinton campaign has been a prolific digital ad buyer, spending $1.1 million in May alone on online advertising with its digital agency Bully Pulpit Interactive.
Another relatively large Trump campaign expenditure was with telemarketing and data services firm Direct Response, with which it spent around $274,000 in April and May. Other political advertisers have used the firm for voter contact services.
Indeed, though the Trump camp has displayed little interest in navigating the campaign field according to the traditional playbook, the most-recent FEC numbers indicate that there is at least some investment in services typically associated with fundraising and voter mobilization infrastructure, some with companies that regularly serve the political market. What remains unclear, however, is whether the campaign, with help from the Republican National Committee, can ramp up its fundraising operation or match the sophistication of the Democratic party and the Clinton camp.