Planning large-scale paid media campaigns
Ryanne Brown breaks down her approach to political advertising
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Political campaigns (particularly at the statewide and federal level) have long been defined by blanket TV advertising, with voters’ televisions in October filled with glossy voiceover spots and menacing attack ads. As we’ve mentioned before, that single-channel approach to campaign advertising is slowly starting to change, with campaigns taking a more holistic approach to reaching voters with paid media. For this week’s Campaigner, we spoke with Ryanne Brown, Paid Media Director at Democratic Super PAC Priorities USA, about her ideal media mix and how she approaches planning large-scale ad campaigns.
Q&A with Ryanne Brown, Priorities USA
Campaigner: How’d you get your start in politics?
Ryanne Brown: Since college, I’ve always been focused on advertising. My major was in marketing; and to date myself a little bit, digital advertising was in its infancy back then. I had a job right out of school where my boss was more of a traditional media director, so she focused more on TV and radio. Digital advertising was still new at that point so we learned a lot of it together. And so I came in and she was just like, well, okay, we're putting these ads on Facebook? Can you help figure this out? Since then, I feel like my career has evolved as the digital landscape has evolved. I got started in politics at Organizing for Action after the 2012 election, and later worked at a couple of digital firms - 270 Strategies and then Do Big Things. Now I lead Paid Media for Priorities USA.
Campaigner: Can you talk about the changes that you've seen in political advertising over the past few cycles?
Ryanne Brown: I think there are a few ways to answer that question. I think with more transparency and everything that’s happened post-2016 - policies and platforms have changed a lot of how we advertise. It requires you to put a lot of thought and strategy into what you're talking to folks about and how to communicate it creatively, given the parameters and restrictions that come with advertising on digital platforms.
I also think there's been a strategic shift in how we approach this work. The number of platforms that we use to reach voters now has exploded. As a result, there are more avenues to reach people and we have to consider that for all kinds of programs including list-building, persuasion and mobilization. We have the opportunity to think more creatively about the right type of content to reach voters on each platform, rather than just thinking about getting a message out no matter where it's run.
Campaigner: Not just speaking about your own programs, but the industry at large - do you think folks like starting to move more away from TV advertising?
Ryanne Brown: I would say there is a better understanding and acknowledgment that digital is a crucial part of a campaign’s program. Digital isn’t an after-thought, it’s central to a program’s success. People understand that this is an important strategic place that we need to be, to reach the voters that we're trying to talk to.
So while I still think largely there are more conversations to be had, what works is still dependent on the individual program, campaign to campaign. What I’m trying to push, and what I think a lot of people are talking about, is making sure campaigns and programs have a holistic approach to paid media plans. There's always going to be TV advertising in some form, just like there's always going to be digital advertising moving forward. We need to be focused on how we can leverage each platform to meet voters where they are with messages that resonate with their lives. How can we work together and develop a media mix to ensure that we're pushing a well-rounded plan that delivers our message to voters effectively?
Campaigner: Can you talk a little bit about your own program this cycle, and the different messages or audiences that you’re trying to reach?
Ryanne Brown: We're running campaigns based on where folks are spending their time. One of the things that we've been finding a lot with our internal research and polling is that people are exhausted from politics. So right now, we've really focused on an audience that we're calling New Biden Voters. These are people who voted for Biden in 2020 and had never voted before or voted rarely. We want to make sure these voters stay engaged. This is a critical group to engage not only ahead of the midterm elections this year, but also as we think about 2024 and beyond. All of that is to say we're running persuasion and mobilization programs that aim to meet people where they are. If voters need information on specific candidates, we’ll do that. If voters need information about how to cast a ballot, we'll do that. If we need to drive enthusiasm about voting on Election Day, we'll do that. But it's really about meeting folks wherever they are.
Campaigner: What are some of the different pieces of your media mix that you or your team prioritizes?
Ryanne Brown: I think about media planning from the individual level – where are voters seeing these messages and how many times are voters seeing these messages matters. How are they going about their day and where are they going to engage with content? So my ideal media mix includes things like CTV (connected TV) because a vast share of the country is cutting the cord. It also means that YouTube and Google search have to be there. Social media obviously includes Instagram and Facebook, which each reach different audiences but are important. I also think about streaming audio - people are working from home, they're listening to music more - so streaming platforms, whether on Alexa, Google Home, or if you listen to an app on your phone or computer, that's important too.
So for me, an ideal media mix would have all of the above. A holistic approach places the focus on finding all the different touchpoints where I can make sure people are seeing or hearing our ads.
Campaigner: Everyone has a hot take on this year's midterms, and what Democrats should do to better communicate to our audiences. What’s your take?
Ryanne Brown: When I'm thinking about the content that we're putting out, I always want to consider what is the most authentic, relatable way that I can deliver a message. We can’t BS folks. Voters are smart and they are tired. We need to convey information with that in mind.
I don't want to put out fluff. As an advertiser, it’s easy to say, hey, this political issue is really scary or bad, and we need you to pay attention. Instead, we should always make sure that we’re having a conversation with our audience, and think about how we can deliver a message in the most authentic way to make voters want to pay attention. That’s one thing we can do better. I think it can be hard to balance wanting to represent a candidate or an issue in a more formal way with messaging that actually starts a conversation. But I think that what we're finding, especially with the younger audiences, is that they expect more authenticity. I think digital advertising offers a lot of opportunities to strike that balance effectively.
Campaigner: Advertising, and particularly digital advertising, can seem like a kind of black box for entry-level staff. What’s your advice for people new to politics and are interested in moving into the digital advertising space?
Ryanne Brown: I have a couple of different answers! One, I’ll take this opportunity to plug our fellows program, which is just for this sort of thing. This is for people who are looking to break into digital media. We have a program where we take on fellows to show them the ropes with the goal of landing a digital job within the progressive space. So that's one way.
Saying the space is kind of a black box makes my heart sad, because we see digital media in our lives every day. It's all we do. So it shouldn't be intimidating. I think that people need to take a step back and realize that we engage with digital media every day, and you already have a base knowledge of the kinds of platforms we run ads on because of your own daily engagement and interactions with digital media.
The last answer I would say is that I think it's on people like me, in leadership, to make sure that we are visible and talking about this issue and doing our best to make it easier for people to break into digital paid media. There are people and programs out there who are willing to help and train you to get along the way. Just because you don't start out in a job that's in digital advertising does not mean that you won't get exposed to some of it as part of another job, and there are so many more skills that are valuable to this work beyond setting up a Facebook ad. So just making sure that leadership folks are out there talking about the opportunities available and making sure we're doing our due diligence to connect with new folks is important.
In partnership with Acronym, we’ve created the Digital Ads Playbook to help demystify digital ads. Check it out and build your skills>>
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