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I was planning to do more live blogging from POLC yesterday, but the breakout sessions were in fairly small rooms and I ended up standing most of the day. That’s not terribly conducive to breaking out the laptop.

Morning Plenary Sessions

At any rate, day one was pretty decent. The first panel on using off-the-shelf business software in a campaign was almost entirely uninteresting to me. I sat in for part of it, but it was just too painful. If you’re looking for a CRM solution, then sure, will probably fit your needs. If you want to go beyond an electronic Rolodex and integrate your donor, voter, and microtargeting data, then you really need someone who understands how all of those pieces fit together.

That’s actually the problem a lot of people have buying software from political application developers. Take Vocus, for instance. They’re a good group of guys, but they developed their application around a PAC. If you’re managing a PAC, it’s a great fit. If you’re managing an advocacy group, or a campaign, you’re S.O.L. If you’re looking for a good package for candidates and, to a lesser extent, state parties, then Aristotle is great. It’s not so good for PACs.

I would never use Salesforce to try and run my campaign or an organization. If I were running a business, they would be high on my list.

The second plenary I touched on yesterday. It was a good discussion, but the people who most needed to hear it, as I said, were nowhere near the building, let alone the room.

Google’s Keynote

Google’s SVP for Government Affairs (or some such title) took the stage just after lunch. I honestly expected him to launch into a diatribe about net neutrality, but he didn’t. He did pontificate on the “information should be free” movement.

He also made some comments to the effect that Viacom’s copyright infringement suit against Google was being done solely “to gain attention”. He also joked that people think Google knows everything there is to know about them – and they do. He followed that up with a quip about how that would be a bad thing to have circulating via YouTube. I’ll make the video available to anyone who asks…

Afternoon Sessions

I was on a panel for the first session. It was sort of an odd mix of folks with me, Mike Liddell from the DSCC, and Neil Hare from an outfit called Neil suggested that the web could supplant direct mail and should be considered for low dollar races. I don’t agree.

I think the Internet is certainly a cheaper means of reaching people, but everyone has their preferred means of contact. If your campaign calls me on the phone, I’m likely to hang up on you. Send me a piece of direct mail, and I’ll read every word. I probably won’t respond, but I will read it. Send me an e-mail, and I’m likely to act.

The best campaign should a) incorporate everything you do offline – whether it’s political, fundraising, polling, communications, or anything else; and b) use every available medium to reach you. The old adage was a voter should wake up and hear your name on the radio, turn on the TV and see you, drive past a billboard and see your face, hear your name from friends at the office water cooler, see a bumper sticker on the car ahead of you while driving home, and see you again on TV that night. The only thing that has changed in that mix is the Internet.

Those water cooler conversations have gone online and are now the blogs we read. The Internet is the focal point of word of mouth marketing in the world today. If you ignore it, you ignore the greatest marketing tool known to man.

The Internet also gives you the greatest advertising medium known to man because you can so carefully target your message. Why buy an ad in the local paper that relies on generic simplistic messages when you can move that ad online and target exactly the person you want to reach with exactly the message you want to deliver?

Need to reach people in precincts 415-421? Buy and for that zip code. You’ll probably spend about $30/M, and I can almost guarantee you will reach only the people who are in those precincts. Your creative can talk to them specifically about the local streets and the need for a speed hump.

That’s a capability that direct mail, television, and telemarketing (for the most part), do not offer. That doesn’t mean there is no place for other media.

The final session I attended largely repeated sentiments from the others. I sat in on a session on the “technology candidate”. Mike Connell, who I have worked with for several years, made the best point I heard at the conference.

I’m paraphrasing, but he said the one thing a candidate who gets technology really needs to do is surround himself with people who get technology. I could not agree more. There is nothing on earth as annoying as working for a guy who gets it, but knowing that almost everyone he has hired doesn’t.

If you understand the transformative power of the Internet in politics, one of the first questions you should ask any potential campaign manager or communications/political director is how they see the Internet playing a role in what they do. If they offer you platitudes about the Internet, and tell you how important it is, show them the door.

They should talk to you about integrating cell phones and PDAs into a walk program, making call and walk lists available via the web, being able to register people, and track the status of that registration to ensure it gets completed, and the importance of bloggers to both spread and amplify the campaign message as well as to attract and mobilize activists, hire them.

The “technology candidate” cannot continue to hire people who have no understanding of the capabilities of a modern campaign, and expect to be successful.

That’s the takeaway from POLC this year. The conference is going on today, and I may head over this afternoon. If I do, I’ll offer more thoughts later.

Written by Michael Turk