Obama Digital Gurus Talk Business

Since I couldn’t attend this week’s PRSA Chicago luncheon featuring a panel discussion about online marketing of the Obama for President campaign, I enlisted intern Joe Federer to prepare this summary.

  Joe Federer 

This past Tuesday, I attended a PRSA Chicago luncheon which focused on the mysterious, intangible force that was (drum roll, cue fireworks) the Obama marketing campaign. 

The speakers:

 Greg Hinz
– Former Political editor for Chicago Magazine
– Columnist for Crain’s Chicago Business

Andrew Bleeker
– Before working on search engine optimization for the Obama campaign, Bleeker worked on Hilary Clinton’s campaign
– Previously, Director of Internet Advertising for Obama for America
– Currently New Media Director at AKPD Message and Media.

Michael Organ
– Previously, Director of Internet Advertising for Obama for President
– Currently works with a number of nonprofit organizations including www.charityguide.org and www.issuemarketing.com
– Also worked on search engine optimization (advised that any PR professional run the opposite direction of clients interested in search engine optimization because “Google will win”).

When asked the overarching, all-too-general-to-elicit-a-valuable-response question, “Why do you think the Obama campaign was so successful?” Greg Hinz drew a rough sketch of the Obama team’s landscape.  It was a blend of elements, he said.  It was the right candidate, the right message, and the right climate.

Immediately following this broader inquiry was its inherent implication in this PR specific setting – how does one apply the principles that were so successful for President Obama’s campaign to the business world?

Both Andrew and Michael seemed to expect the question.  They glanced at each other and back out to their hungry-looking audience.  They had been asked this question countless times and neither had formulated it into the golden nugget for which so many audience members were seeking.  Though perhaps too abstract for the taste of many, I found their answer masterful in its simplicity (if not somewhat predictable) – “We were going to do something different.”

That’s precisely the answer no one wanted to hear. 

I think we’re all a little more comfortable with a formula – the problem we seem to face on a day to day basis is that we can’t seem to satisfy either side of that equation, leaving us with an equal sign sitting idly between constantly shifting variables.

Ron’s post about sneaking your application out from the pile addresses exactly that – change is constantly being pursued (*note – definition of irony).  To quote Geddy Lee of Rush, “No changes are permanent… But change is.”

The Obama team made a Facebook page that was extremely successful in activating young voters.  His opponents were late to social media.  Obama was differentiated.  Was social media the reason Obama’s campaign was able to reach youth?  I think if I affronted the panelists with that question, their answer would be – only partially.  Social media, I believe, was the vehicle and difference, the summit.

Unfortunately, as the Obama panel relayed, once we crawl out from under the saturated mess, there isn’t a clear way to remain in front of our intended audiences.  The best we can do to command continuous attention, the panel seemed to suggest, is to change…constantly.

Joe Federer will soon begin his senior year at Loyola University in Chicago where he is pursuing a degree in PR, Advertising, English and Fine Arts at Loyola University.  You can reach him at joe.federer@ketchum.com

One thought on “Obama Digital Gurus Talk Business

  1. Ron and Joe,

    My recommendation would be to get your hands on, ” Yes We Did! An inside look at how social media built the Obama brand,” by Rahaf Harfoush (http://tr.im/uemy).

    She’s a young Canadian who was helping Don Tapscott to research his (recent) Grown Up Digital book. One of the chapters she worked on was government and social media, including contacting Obama’s social media strategist.

    Rahaf became so enthusiastic about the campaign that she asked–and was given permission–to come to Chicago and volunteer for the final eight months (I think) of the campaign, in the social media arena.

    I went to a book launch/presentation by Rahaf Harfoush in June, at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. I was blown away by how intelligent, interesting and articulate was this young woman. Happily, her book is proving to be the same.

    Check it out!


    P.S. Found out about you/your blog via a tweet from mate, Dr. Karen Russell.

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