DSPolitical: With Political Ad Dollars Beckoning, Commercial Players Face A Reality Check

Mark Jablonowski will present “How To Capture 2020 Political Ad Budgets” at AdExchanger’s upcoming PROGRAMMATIC I/O New York conference on October 15-16.

Political campaigns spent $9.8 billion on advertising in the 2016 election cycle, up only $400 million from 2012.

But political ads are expected to rocket up almost to $13 billion by November 2020, with most of that growth going to digital media, according to the advertising research firm Borrell Associates.

Eye-popping ad forecasts have caught the attention of technology companies and agencies. Many are parachuting biz dev teams into Washington, DC, for a piece of the action, especially since there may be more Democratic primary candidates than there are liberal agencies and ad tech companies.

AdExchanger spoke with Mark Jablonowski, CTO of the liberal ad tech company DSPolitical, about the challenges and opportunities for Democratic candidates and advertising vendors in the coming year.

AdExchanger: With so many candidates this year, is there an opportunity for commercial technology companies to win more political business?

I’ve spoken with a couple of commercial agencies and advertising companies that are working on political campaigns for the first time ever. They’re learning the ropes on the fly.

When commercial practitioners work in politics, one thing I often see that they’re unprepared for is the urgency and turnaround time doing political campaign work. Not to be hyperbolic, but when political campaigns need something done it needs to be done yesterday. It could be related to news on a specific topic or a shift in political attitudes in a specific geography, and there’s a limited window to seize that opportunity.

Candidates can always raise more money and buy more ads, but one thing campaigns can’t get is more time. It’s a real eye-opener for nonpolitical shops how much speed and time are a factor for a political campaign.

What about the idea of political candidates in-housing their ad operations for the first time this year?

There have historically been huge fees candidates lay out to consultants, agencies and technology. A big cut of fundraising dollars also goes to vendors. I understand why it’s so attractive to minimize those expenses.

Some campaigns are taking that approach and have been somewhat successful. Others are learning why in-housing is such a complicated business. For the most part they’re realizing what agencies bring to the table. It’s a major undertaking to have the technology and experience to scale up a campaign for the media and audience reach candidates need.

Take changes in browser environments to online cookies and identity. Those are issues DSPolitical spends a lot of time working on and that I think could be a painful surprise for an in-house operation. Those campaigns work really hard constructing their message and the target audience they want, but it’s as important that you’re able to identify your audience and communicate directly to them.

Do you see campaigns buying more commercial or third-party data, or mostly the same political data sources?

Campaigns have relationships with political data vendors that provide way higher quality data than any commercial player out there could dream of producing. That’s due to the richness of data files purpose-built for politics. There are access controls in place for that data, which can be controlled at the political party level. So limited vendors can supply it and there are hoops a candidate has to jump through to gain access. It’s not just data you can dial up like working with Experian or a company like that.

But you do have campaigns using commercial data providers as opposed to political more than ever before because political data is incredibly expensive and it is hard to get your hands on. With a field this large you certainly have people taking a less costly approach.

Is it a disadvantage for Democrats to have a large field of candidates that could be competitive through the primaries?

A challenge Democrats have had for a long time is not starting our persuasion campaigns early enough. That remains the case without question and is even worse in this political climate.

Look at Trump right now running massive media buys in states that his campaign believes will decide whether he’s re-elected president. We’re not running similar state-based persuasion campaigns.

Candidates are heads down focusing on fundraising and their traction in early primary states. But there needs to be more infrastructure in place to invest now in key general election states with persuasion and mobilization.

Doing that kind of advocacy and persuasion work is part of the mission of a group like Priorities USA (the largest liberal super PAC) and others that can look forward without being embroiled in primaries. So it’s certainly been identified as something that deserves a lot more attention.

 

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