When the Obama campaign allocated tens of millions of dollars to online recruitment and advocacy, it took a very big risk.  That risk was not in committing such a large share of the campaign’s resources online, but rather in putting the online operation in a bubble, insulated from the traditional political strategists.  Obama won, so it would be easy to conclude that the bifurcated campaign worked, but the decision to create semi-independent silos of information and communication was, perhaps, the most dangerous decision of the campaign.

Why they chose to do it was obvious.  The 20-somethings in the digital shop would have been run over by the Old Guard strategists who talk about innovation and then spend the money on what they have used effectively in the past, the default spending categories of direct mail, radio and television. Obama may have won while breaking the old mold, but that doesn’t mean the “silo” approach to the turf wars over campaign spending should be a template for the future.  It shouldn’t.

The solution for political consultants, just starting out and at the most senior level, is to not only understand cross-channel integration, but to embrace it.  In retail marketing, that phrase refers to the concept that, no matter where a customer comes in contact with a brand, whether on a billboard, on television, in a magazine, an online store or a retail establishment, that customer must be spoken to with one “voice.”  There must be a continuity of message and experience.  It’s no less true for a campaign.  While we, of course, target different voter segments, there still needs to be an integrated approach to messaging, as well as messengers because every voter is getting information about our campaign from more than one source.

I believe it is important to have a holistic perspective, eschewing the temptation to fall back on the tactics and communication tools that worked in previous years.  It is a huge mistake to simply allocate part of the budget to online  – the “check the box”, if you will – and then to try to win the campaign with the remaining resources.  Consultants need to embrace the medium and to understand its promise and its very real shortcomings.  The 30-second spot that works on television may or may not work online.  It probably won’t.  The 15-second version may not work either. In fact, you should assume that the online component will require a new iteration, albeit of the same message components.  Spend the time.  Spend the money.

It borders on the absurd to think that bumper stickers are a waste of money, and then spend those same dollars on banner ads, assuming that because we used big data tools to identify the “target audience” that the message and the quality of its delivery are no longer important. No media consultant would ever consider putting banner ads on television.  Why not? Because the medium is capable of delivering so much more.   Cross-channel integration is not only bringing our best work to every medium, it’s recognizing that each individual voter is experiencing the campaign across a variety of channels, from online, to television, to print, to outdoor, to door-to-door.  It may have many moving parts, but it’s one campaign, and the smart consultant won’t turn it into a budget turf war.

Photo by Oleg. Creative Commons Flickr.