Jeff Dittus is CEO of Campaign Grid, a data-driven ad platform for political campaigns.
AdExchanger.com: How did Campaign Grid begin?
JD: The founding of CampaignGrid was an accident. My partner Rich Masterson was asked to run for Congress in the suburbs of Philadelphia. As he was putting his campaign together he priced out how much placing advertisements for his congressional campaign on TV would cost. As we evaluated the media buy, we quickly realized that you had to pay millions of dollars to reach six million people, of which 98 percent of them were not the target audience and could not vote for him in his congressional district (i.e.: registered voters, living in the 13th district of PA that vote in primaries). In 2008 when we started the company, we understood the power of online targeting and how the electorate was moving online to get news, participate in democracy and give to candidates. It was before the President used the web so brilliantly. We quickly learned how difficult it was to buy online media for political campaigns, as publishers were not set up to deal with the niche. It also became apparent that targeting voters was impossible. So we took these set of circumstances and adapted commercial tools that used “BIG DATA” for online political advertising.
What problem is Campaign Grid solving?
We solve several problems:
Grid eliminates the waste in traditional media by combining first party data via our National Online Voter File(TM); a proprietary list of all 187 million registered voters with RTB on all nine ad exchanges, the top portals such as Yahoo and AOL, and the top online video networks such as TidalTV, and mobile networks. In the past, first party matching programs had limited reach, and by combining the RTB exchanges, with the portals and other networks listed above, we can seamlessly provide advertisers with great scale.
Our solution to the lack of targeting registered voters and measuring their participation in elections was to invest heavily in post-click research. We’ve conducted studies measuring the efficacy of different online messaging programs.
In politics we have solutions for voter contact, persuasion, fund raising, list building and Get out the vote. We can also compliment a campaign or advocacy groups direct mail program by serving online ads to the same list of voters that get direct mail.
There are other companies in the space specializing in serving the political campaign world – how are you differentiating?
CampaignGrid is the only company that can target registered voters with online display, video and mobile advertising. We can reach over 100 million voters on our network, which puts Grid in the top ten of all audience targeting networks. Because of our National Online Voter File, which CampaignGrid owns exclusively, we have the ability to make creative media plans that match political micro-targeting programs.
This capability allows us to compliment other traditional media programs such as direct mail and television with online ads to the same groups of voters. Advanced segmentation allows us to reach the right individuals at the right time with the right message.
Can you characterize the momentum toward ad network services today on behalf of political campaigns? Thoughts on how that might play out?
When we started Grid, the average campaign spent one percent on digital media. In 2010 that moved to three percent of budgets in aggregate, and many of our clients spent upwards of ten percent online. As a result, CampaignGrid grew its top line ten times in 2010.
Political campaigns are increasingly sophisticated and can no longer afford to rely on a scattershot approach to paid media. Marketers have known for years that multi-channel programs are more effective, than a single medium. Television and direct mail will always be part of the media mix, but it’s increasingly evident that a wraparound of paid media is most effective, particularly when the message can be tailored to the individual.
In the end, we’ll see a departure from media that is not addressable. Radio and newspapers are toast. While addressable, mail costs are soaring and service is a mess.
Do you have to focus on one party or another? How do you manage that especially in that you may have access to sensitive targeting data?
We are working on ways to be bipartisan without alienating our past client base. All other major media companies are bi-partisan, including Google, Yahoo and the like, so there are companies in the marketplace as a precedent. Our platform can upload and use specific offline lists for individual clients, so we have firewalls in place to keep campaign and proprietary data in siloes.
What are the success metrics for your political campaigns, if you will?
Each campaign is different. Overall, most campaigns are looking for a combination of branding, list building, fundraising, persuasion and real time response to the news cycle and of course, turning people out to vote at election time. Depending on the point in the cycle, our metrics for success change. What’s great about this technology is that we can constantly change the media mix, which can’t happen in any other media.
What are your thoughts on good inventory sources today?
Since we are buying audiences, we are always learning which sites work best for the particular audience and have not found one rule of thumb yet. Grid is integrating voter targeting into private exchanges of some top news organizations. Our tools allow for publishers to ID voters and sell a higher CPM to their advertisers for this highly sought after audience. I believe this will become a larger portion of our business as time moves on, since the blind exchanges are not optimal for our clients or the publishers. We have just completed an integration of our voter data with a major broadcast television group and hope to be releasing the details of this private voter exchange shortly.
What types of datasets do you use for targeting? Where do they come from?
Our National Online Voter File allows targeting for various segments of political data. Geography where the registered voter pulls the lever, i.e.: State, Congressional District, and State House and Senate District, Voter propensity (i.e.: voted in three of the last four general elections), and of course party registration, Republican, Democrat and Independent. We also can identify prior donors for both candidates and causes.
Our platform also creates look-alike models, and with a large enough campaign, we can begin to find new donors that look like existing online donors who have moved through our funnel.
Grid’s platform also has a large amount of third party demographic data available from companies like Targus Info, Lotame, IXI, Bizo and others.
Any plans to provide services that will facilitate the purchase of guaranteed placements?
In most of our campaigns, we do direct placements. Mainly this is limited to local news sites important to the campaign. We also buy guaranteed placements on the portals and email engines. In the last cycle we took over the Fox News Home page and syndicated the buy geographically to create 50 state wide home page roadblocks. We expect to repeat this tactic again.
How is the company funded? Any big milestones that you’d like to achieve over the next 12 months?
We’ve had tremendous growth over the last two years and haven’t required outside funding. We’ve invented and have patents pending to hold the lead in online targeting using the National Online Voter File with both display and the enormous video inventory we’ve acquired through our partnership with TidalTV.
What’s next? Data Mining of our “Big Data Set”. The data exhaust we are collecting on the electorate is enormous and very valuable when mined correctly. Thus, we are working hard on data mining and benchmarking tools to get better lift in ad performance and political learning from our real time national poll. Politics will always be part art, and part science. We want to ensure the science is perfected.