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Conversation with Michael Turk

September 11, 2004

Michael Turk is the e-Campaign Director for Bush-Cheney '04 campaign. He graciously agreed to answer some questions about the campaign’s Internet strategy, the credentialing of bloggers at the Republican National Convention, and the future of online advertising. Here are his comments:

CWR: What do you think the role of online advertising is in politics/political campaigns? How much online advertising has the campaign done to date? And will the campaign use online advertising over the final two months of the campaign to persuade voters or encourage turnout?

Michael Turk:I think it is unfortunate that online advertising has been used primarily for fundraising so far. I think the real power of online advertising is so much greater than that. With the internet, we are able to target specific segments we may not reach with traditional media – whether they have moved online and away from that media or if we just miss them in the media mix. Take for instance the Education ad our campaign ran in May featuring the First Lady. We were able, through the targeting criteria online advertising offers, to run that ad on sites like InStyle or FamilyCircle and reach working mothers who really care about education. These are voters who have moved away from television and typically spend a lot of time online. Because we know who the audience is on those sites, we know we’re reaching the right people. In many cases, you can go beyond the site demographics and target specific users. If a site asks for your age, gender, and year of birth (as many newspapers now do) we can match our ads to very specific segments. That gives us the ability to cut through the clutter and deliver a message that really resonates with the recipient.

CWR: What kind of expectations do you have for your grassroots tools? How many more people can you reach, or do you anticipate turning out to vote as a result of your precinct program?

Michael Turk:So far we have had tremendous success with the tools in our Volunteer Action Center. Using our Party for the President tool, volunteers have hosted more than 30,000 parties with over 350,000 people attending. Our viral marketing tools (recruit Volunteers, sign up friends) have been tremendously successful as well, accounting for a substantial portion of our Volunteer and e-mail list growth. We’ve got a number of things planned for using our online tools to turn out the vote, and I can’t let the cat out of the bag just yet, but the numbers could be significant. We have more than a million volunteers that have the power to mobilize a tremendous vote. If each of our Volunteers reached out to 20 voters through our Neighbor-to-Neighbor tool and 5-10 friends and family through our Virtual Precinct, that represents a potential pool of 25-30 million votes.

CWR: Terry McAuliffe said that liberals and Democrats have been more successful with blogs? What do you think?

Michael Turk:I just think there is a difference in approach to online politics. The Democrats have been very successful at creating an online echo chamber that draws in and reinforces the beliefs of committed activists. We have taken a different approach. We have looked at the types of grassroots activities that drive elections and spread the message outside the ranks of the committed (phone banks, door-to-door efforts, letter writing, talk radio etc) and identified ways to allow people to engage in the process, without relying on the campaign apparatus. Our Volunteers are self-starters that are more interested in sharing the President’s message with the undecided than sitting online and reinforcing one another’s beliefs. So we created tools that didn’t previously exist to target potential voters and deliver phone and walk lists to volunteers who would reach out to them.

While we have focused on online activism, we also value our blog. It is the journal of our campaign and it has hundreds of contributors. These contributors range from our Campaign Manager Ken Mehlman to volunteers hosting a Party for the President.

CWR: Why don’t you open the campaign blog up to comments?

Michael Turk:As mentioned, we accept blog submissions from anyone who wants to contribute. We have hundreds of contributors who post regularly from all over the country. That speaks to the larger point that most people make when they talk about blog comments. People believe you can’t have a sense of community on a website without comments on the blog. Most often when people raise the comments issue it goes to that deeper issue. The trouble is there is a somewhat flawed notion that only blogs create a sense of community.

There are a lot of different ways to express that sense of community. For instance, we have over 500 bloggers who have built Blogs for Bush. Rather than come to our site and talk with each other, these people have taken it upon themselves to build their own blogs to spread the president’s message and encourage discussion among their circle of influence. If these people were hanging out on our blog, talking to one another, the impact would be diminished. By expanding the reach of the President’s message via their own site, they are much more effective.

Also, we encourage a sense of community by hosting regular chats where visitors can engage with people other than fellow supporters. We have had many of our surrogates from the First Lady and Ken Mehlman to our millionth Volunteer host chats where they take questions and talk openly about the campaign. I’m not aware of any other campaign that has made the senior staff of their campaign – everyone from our senior advisors and policy experts to our strategists and media consultants – available to answer questions.

CWR: What do you think of the Kerry campaign’s web effort?

Michael Turk:I’ve looked at it a couple of times, but I spend more time thinking of ways to achieve our goal of utilizing the web to spread our message and mobilize a huge turnout. As a student of politics and the web, I’ll likely look back after the election and dissect their site.

CWR: Did you make the right choice in credentialing bloggers?

Michael Turk:Absolutely.

CWR: What did the bloggers add to the Convention?

Michael Turk:Bloggers provide a window into the convention that the traditional media don’t provide. To get the perspective of someone who is not with the media, not a delegate, and not a part of the campaign is good. It gives people a chance to get a completely unique perspective.

CWR: How should bloggers be treated – as media, as guests, as operatives for the Party, something else?

Michael Turk:All of the above. They have been invited to be our guests as a part of the process, so they should be treated as such. We tried to make sure the bloggers were located with the other media so they would have access to surrogates from both sides of the aisle as they came in and out. We also recognize bloggers are activists and operatives so we tried to also provide a strategy briefing from the campaign so they would have access to the same information our delegates and coalitions were receiving.

CWR: What impact do you think blogs can have on this election?

Michael Turk:I think bloggers serve to raise the level of awareness and also to serve as a fact check. I have seen many sites that have done a good job of debunking some of the misinformation circulating on the web and reinforcing the factual. That benefits the process. They also serve, as I mentioned above, as a unique perspective on the campaigns. They allow people to view the campaign from the perspective of someone who is knowledgeable of politics, and spends a good deal of time studying and thinking about the issues, but who is outside the media and campaign bubbles.

CWR: What do you think are the most exciting political developments online in 2004? Do any of these efforts reflect the lessons learned by previous campaigns, or online pioneers?

Michael Turk:I built my first political website in 1994. Marc Andreesson’s team had released the browser about a year earlier and we were very excited about the ability to leverage this new technology to drive our message. Unfortunately only a handful of people were looking at it. Just ten years ago, the thought that anyone in the world could look at your website and see the things you wanted to talk about was very cool. The fact that mosaic had created an inexpensive browser that would soon open up the web in ways we couldn’t imagine was amazing.

Needless to say, the technology has changed. At the time Mosaic was released, it was exciting to think of the controls we had to layout the page. The concept of database driven content and geographic information systems driving that page was light years beyond that first page. But those things have been key to how we do politics online just ten years later. The level of targeting available through a combination of a GIS and a database is tremendous. To know who and where your voters and supporters are and put them together through a tool like our Neighbor-to-Neighbor program is incredible. It opens the door to people who want to participate on their terms at their own pace.

The targeting available for advertising on the web is also key. Knowing the person you are reaching is the person you intended to reach is a tremendous development. Politics is all about being able to reach pockets of swing voters. If you know who those voters are, and can ensure they are exposed to your message your chances of success rise greatly.

CWR: How many people do you have on your team? What do they focus on (i.e. are there specialists for blogging, for web development, for database setup, for online advertising/promotion)?

Michael Turk:Our eCampaign team is made up of about 12 paid and volunteer staff. It does break down on a largely functional line – communications, website/blog, development, videography, Parties for the President, etc. It is probably the best team I have ever worked with. They do a tremendous job, work long hours, and are absolutely dedicated to the re-election of the President. Everyone here gets up in the morning, comes to work, and stays late because they believe in George W. Bush. I think I speak for all of them when I say we are absolutely honored to serve.

CWR: Anything else interesting you want to add?

Michael Turk:Just a note of recognition for everyone here on the campaign... We have assembled what I believe to be one of the finest campaign teams I’ve ever witnessed. Beyond the eCampaign team to our policy team, our communications folks, our strategy group, our political operations, our management and operations team and our field staff in the states, this is probably the most dedicated and professional group I have seen. I’d just like to recognize the hard work and commitment of everyone here.

CWR: Thank you.

Comments (1):

I think that the online campaigns of both candidates could have enticed more young voters to turn up at polling booths.

Nov 4, 2004 10:02:45 PM      Posted by Brennan McDonald.

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