Customer Acquisition Goes to Washington

In early July Jordan Cohen, CMO of ad tech company Fluent, checked the results of the company’s new Political Pulse polling service and thought it must have gone kablooey. “Donald Trump was on top among GOP candidates,” Cohen says. “There was no way I could release that. I was not going to be the first person to name Donald Trump the frontrunner. Then three days later CNN came out with the news.”

That’s when Cohen and founder Matt Conlin were confident their newly hatched customer acquisition service for political campaigns was ready for the big time. Today, the wide open world of ad tech officially merges with the incestuous world of political marketing when Fluent opens an office in the nation’s capital.

Jeff Pavelcsyk, who’s worked with political action committees and on presidential campaigns, will head the venture and try to bring a new kind of PAC (for Fluent’s Political Acquisition Channel) to candidate’s campaigns. PAC uses some of the same customer acquisition techniques Fluent employs in the private sector to recruit advocates via email, direct mail, SMS, and telemarketing. Real-time surveying helps campaigns clue into what issues are hot buttons among individual voters.

Cohen has been on the campaign trail himself of late, appearing on a political marketing panel in Denver last week and presenting at the American Association of Political Consultants (AAPC) in Austin the week before.

“Programmatic is the hot, sexy girl in the room with political campaigns, but we are talking about true cross-channel, one-to-one marketing with them,” Cohen says. “We have to acquire actual advocates for candidates cost-effectively and at scale.”

One of the key themes of Cohen’s presentation deck for AAPC, for instance, was that email—the channel that did the grunt work for Obama’s re-election effort in 2012—had become the “digital currency” of the 2016 elections.

Awkward efforts by campaigns on social media have been especially misguided,” observes Cohen. “Ted Cruz and his Machine Gun Bacon video got a million hits on YouTube, but Cruz is polling at two percent or less. A better social media strategy for Cruz would be to find out what young people really care about.”

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