Ad Age Digital Conference

The Secret to Obama's Success: Mixing Old Media With New

What Marketers Can Take Away from Integration Used in Presidential Campaign

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NEW YORK ( -- Joe Rospars, the man behind President Barack Obama's new-media effort during his election, said the campaign didn't win because it used the latest technology. Rather, its secret was a holistic approach -- one easily copied by regular marketers -- that integrated digital tools into the overall strategy.

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"The interesting thing about the success we had with new media is that there wasn't some big sexy idea behind it," said Mr. Rospars, the founding partner of Blue State Digital. "It was about integration and integrating it with old media. And metrics played a role, but we had to make sure we were measuring the right things to gauge success, such as voter registrations, money raised and the number of people mobilized. This wasn't the super-sexy fun stuff, but it was important."

Mr. Rospars sat down with Ad Age assistant managing editor Ken Wheaton today at Advertising Age's Digital Conference in New York to discuss what marketers could take away from Mr. Obama's use of new media during the election. Mr. Rospars emphasized the importance of integrating digital with more traditional forms of marketing. "Everything has to work together to accomplish a marketer's goals," he said.

Ad Age assistant managing editor Ken Wheaton and founding partner of Blue State Digital, Joe Rospars.
Ad Age assistant managing editor Ken Wheaton and founding partner of Blue State Digital, Joe Rospars. Credit: Gary He

Laying the groundwork
He said he and his team were brought aboard in January 2007 before Mr. Obama even announced he was running for president. Mr. Rospars said that by being involved so early his squad was able to lay groundwork for what would eventually grow into the campaign's powerful grass-roots movement.

Mr. Rospars said the campaign didn't hinder him with any specific goals or budgetary constraints. Instead, he described it more as a collaborative effort in which he and his team "sized up" what they thought they would be able to do with a certain amount of dollars. "The process was much more of a conversation," he said. "It was about how we could integrate with organizing pieces like voter registration and have the digital space become a place to cultivate people as organizers for states where we had no presence."

One of the keys to success for the campaign's online efforts was repeatedly connecting Mr. Obama with his supporters, turning a $5 dollar donation into "more than a donation to the candidate and into a larger relationship that made them feel they could do more."

Asked if he thought e-mail was being overlooked as a marketing tool, Mr. Rospars said he wasn't sure, but that it was definitely being abused by many, which can only hurt a marketer.

Consuming message is not enough
"I get a lot of bad e-mail. I'm not sure if any of the culprits are in this room," he said. "There's a lot of bad e-mail and when you phone in an e-mail program think about what the recipients will do when you e-mail in the middle of a crisis situation." Odds are they'll ignore it is the point he was making.

Regarding the long-term impact that an effective e-mail campaign can have on relationship building, he said very few people have opted out of the campaign's e-mail database, which is now being managed by the Democratic National Committee. That's because of the relationships supporters have with each other, not only with Mr. Obama.

"The relationship voters built amongst themselves didn't end that day nor did the relationship between them and the president," Mr. Rospars said. "Win or lose, that was going to continue, and they are now demanding to play a role in the process in Washington and within their communities."

Mr. Rospars said that for Mr. Obama or any marketer, the key to getting consumers to maintain this high level of action is by knowing how many people they can get to do something at a specific time and knowing exactly what they can get them to do. "Just telling them to consume your message is not enough," he said.

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