Feb
07

Trade: A Look Ahead at the Policy Landscape

Jim Meszaros

This is part of a series examining the legislative outlook in the 113th Congress. In the coming days, our leadership team will share its views on key issues facing our clients across various sectors. 

In his second term, the Obama administration's international trade agenda will focus on completing old initiatives while taking on new ones, most notably launching an effort to deepen trade ties with the European Union.

Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

The ongoing agenda includes President Obama concluding and passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Despite the slow grind of 32 months of talks, the negotiations still face significant obstacles on the toughest issues – competition policy, intellectual property, labor rights and others – and may not wrap up until 2014. Canada and Mexico have just joined the negotiations, and Thailand and Japan may do so shortly. The new entries make the agreement more economically significant, but also more difficult to conclude.
Once TPP negotiations end, the administration must secure fast-track authority from Congress in order to subject the agreement to an up-or-down ratification vote. The White House says it will ask for authority "at the appropriate time" and for a specific use, but have not yet decided if this will be for TPP only or include a broader range of trade initiatives. Congressional Republicans may cooperate with the White House if U.S. business supports the final TPP structure; securing Democratic support may be the President's greater challenge.

European Union

The European Union and United States are moving towards launching bilateral trade negotiations in 2013. This will involve high-stakes negotiations for both
Other Initiatives

Among other efforts, the Obama administration has notified Congress it will begin negotiating a plurilateral agreement on trade in services with 19 members of the World Trade Organization (WTO). It will also seek an expansion of the 1996 Information Technology Agreement, and plans to negotiate bilateral investment treaties (BIT) with China and India. The Obama administration will likely continue to aggressively pursue anti-dumping cases against China and other Asian exporters. It is uncertain how China's new leadership will react to the increasing state of friction in bilateral trade relations.
What This Means for Communicators

Trade policy with Asia and Europe today extends beyond traditional tariff and market opening issues, encompassing a broader range of challenging business factors – competition policy, intellectual property, patents, government procurement and Internet freedom, among others. Communicators need to define the evolving stakes for U.S. multinationals and help them navigate this new policy environment.

Feb
05

Social Impact and CSR Leadership Get Serious

Paul Massey

To jump-start our work this year, my colleague Sheila Redzepi and I looked at key trends in corporate social responsibility and offered our perspective on why 2013 may stand out as a year of social impact. See below for our thoughts, which were included in a recent Weber Shandwick publication, "Engagement: Weber Shandwick Trend Insights."

 

Feb
05

Why It Takes At Least Two To Tango On Op-eds: Part 2

Bob Brody

Here are our top five takeaways on how to do this delicate dance of push and pull we do with clients on op-eds and achieve the right results.

1. Ask if you should pursue an op-ed in the first place. Virtually every communications plan carries a reference to op-eds as a block-and-tackle vehicle. Yet some clients may prefer, or be better off – for reasons practical, proprietary and possibly material – keeping certain opinions to themselves, and letting the facts do all the talking. Vet the pros and cons, the likely ROI. “See if it passes the smell test,” Morgan suggested. An alternative approach may come in handy -- an off-the-record meeting with an editorial board or elected official, say, or an advertorial.

2. Establish the intent of the op-ed, clearly, concisely, right upfront. Define the issue at hand, the topic of focus, the research materials needed, and also of course your point of view about it. Our internal survey asked for the biggest obstacles in partnering with clients on op-eds: “poor choice of issue and topic” came in second, with 31% of the vote. “The piece has to take a position,” said Files, “and our job may be to push the client toward saying something forceful and counterintuitive, maybe even to stick his or her neck out.” An outline of 50 to 100 words, initially agreed upon by all involved, might be useful as a starting point. So might a 15-minute Q&A with the intended author, either live or by e-mail, to try to gain insight and capture the right voice and sensibility. “If you want us there at the landing,” said Morgan, “we should also be there at takeoff.”

3. Educate about expectations, especially regarding the media outlets in your sights. The New York Times receives some 200 op-ed submissions daily, and only one or two might eventually make the cut. “Unrealistic expectations” ranked first as an obstacle in our survey, garnering 53% of responses. So exercise caution before proceeding. Explain why, for example, a national newspaper will call for a perspective broader in scope, while a regional paper will generally prefer a narrower, more local version. List your publication targets in order of priority, feeling free, of course, to aim high (The Financial Times), but always balancing your plan with backups (going local with a hometown newspaper).

4. Court the concept of compromise. Over here you may have what clients want to say, while over there you may have what the public is actually interested in hearing – namely, something of merit, even newsworthy. Diplomatically find the sweet spot in between.

5. Negotiate to maintain high standards. Op-eds should generally adhere to certain criteria, whether about tone, style or length. Clients should understand, for example, that an op-ed should rarely, if ever, be a recycled press release, a mélange of self-serving boilerplate messages – an infomercial, in other words, less an op-ed than an op-ad. In the best, most influential op-eds, clients advocate for causes beyond themselves.

For more information on how to approach op-eds, check out our previous post about our survey of op-ed editors.

Feb
04

Why It Takes At Least Two To Tango On Op-eds

Bob Brody

Collaborating with clients on op-ed pieces may sometimes feel, to all parties concerned, like the editorial equivalent of waterboarding. The agency ghostwriter may get the first draft all wrong. The intended author may take three weeks to review it. Consensus by committee may be required for approval. A shame, given that op-eds are already hard to write, and even harder to place.

Then again, write and place op-eds our agency most certainly does. Sometimes the whole process comes together perfectly. Said ghostwriter nails that first draft. Author and committee are tickled pink. Voila! The op-ed appears verbatim in The New York Times, triggering universal acclaim.

That’s why Powell Tate recently held a panel discussion to explore how best to work with clients on op-eds, that ever-challenging holy grail of public persuasion, a unique opportunity to express a viewpoint unfiltered by reporter. Lance Morgan, Chief Communications Strategist, and John Files, Senior Vice President, joined the conversation, with me serving as moderator. The three of us combined have more than a half century of teaming up with clients on op-eds, including some that have shown up in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Washington Post and, yes, the aforementioned New York Times.

For starters, beware. We three agreed the opportunities to go awry in developing op-eds with clients are abundant. Neither agency nor client may have yet have a clear idea of the point of view to be conveyed, or may disagree with each other about just what it should be, or both. Expectations about where the op-ed should ultimately materialize may run unreasonably high. Everyone involved in the decision-making process may be determined to smudge the manuscript with a fingerprint (the too-many-cooks syndrome).

“The benefits of doing an op-ed are substantial, but so are the risks,” warned Morgan, who has contributed op-eds under his own name to The Washington Post. “For example, you run the risk of rejection by your target publication, which could hurt your relationship with your client.”

“Some clients may reflexively urge us to pursue op-eds without asking if that’s really the right course of action,” cautioned Files, a former reporter with The New York Times.

To prepare for the panel discussion, we conducted an informal online survey of Weber Shandwick staff, mostly senior managers and media specialists, with seven multiple-choice questions. 

The survey asked, for example, how well do we collaborate with clients on op-eds on a scale of “1” to “10” (with “10 being highest). Result: 85% indicated a “5” or higher, with most (31%) giving a “7.” Happily enough, we often find homes for the op-eds we craft with clients: 61% of respondents typically publish one to three op-eds per year, with 16% even placing three to six. 

So what are our top five takeaways?

P.S. – Please see part 2 tomorrow

Feb
01

Killer Content (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying about the Next Big Thing and Embrace Awesomeness.)

Amil Husain

You might have heard about Twitter’s recent announcement of Vine, a new companion video app that allows users to create looping short-form video. Vine allows users to create six-second short films that can then be shared on Twitter and Facebook. Think of it as an easy way to make an animated GIF.

You also might have heard many self proclaimed social media experts laud Vine as a revolutionary new tool that will change the Twitter landscape forever. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t but that’s not really the point.

What Vine, Pintrest, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and every other social network has taught us it’s easy to fall into the hype of a new tool or app but at the end of the day only one thing really matters, awesome content.

Whether it’s a six second video or a feature length documentary, engaging content eventually wins. Let’s take my phone as a case study. I get excited about the next big app like anyone else, download it, take it for a spin, and then rarely use it again. Think about how many apps you use on your phone in a given week. I’d be willing to bet that hot new app from three months ago hasn’t made it to the lofty home screen position.

Should you using vine? If it’s right for your content, mix, hell yes! Short-form video is a perfect medium to tell engaging stories. 5-Second videos have been a popular mainstay on YouTube for years. But let’s not oversell what Vine is. Vine is *another* way to communicate our story to the world. As digital communicators we can use a multitude of channels to get our message out and luckily for us, there will never be a lack of the Next Big Things to tell our stories on.

Dec
21

Lessons from the 2012 election campaign

Lauren Balog

It’s been a month since election season concluded, which means it’s the perfect time to look back at what worked and what didn’t when it came to engaging and organizing audiences online.

Recently, a group of Powell Taters headed to RootsCamp, an “unconference” hosted by progressive organizations and spearheaded by the New Organizing Institute (NOI). The event serves as a two-day campaign debrief where organizers, data scientists and campaign managers come together to share best practices about what worked and what didn’t in the last election cycle. While there are lessons to be learned from both sides of the aisle, this was an event for left-leaning groups to come together to learn from each other.

The agenda for the conference is set on the fly by the attendees, and a giant wall is constructed where participants map out the various sessions posted throughout the day. Some planned their sessions in advance, and some decided on the spot there was a gap in the sessions and created one the same day. It’s all in the beauty of an unconference! 

Sessions were varied, including: 

Powell Tate also participated as presenters in RootsCamps, leading a session outlining the successful content strategy behind This Is Personal, a campaign we are helping to support for The National Women’s Law Center. We were able to share some key philosophies that guide our work for this client:

  • Research on your audience matters for targeting and content creation: Before we started creating content, we set out to understand our target audience; from what they care about, how they view our issue set, and even down to their social behaviors. Learning everything we can about our audiences makes our content smarter and more effective. 
  • Design leads content: Our lead designer is not just in charge of design, but also in charge of leading our editorial conversation, and is involved in the content develop process every day. Everything we do is literally led by design and design isn’t something we push to the background. Design is a major part of the process. 
  • Your content strategy must also have a paid strategy: We all know that social media is a crowded place, and you have to shout sometimes to be heard. Platforms are getting smarter about making ads less disruptive to the users and pushing their advertisers to actually create content their audiences want to see. Ads aren’t just about impressions anymore – they are about pushing quality content in stream instead of in banner out to your audience and getting eyeballs, and ultimately clicks on it. 

The presentation drew a substantial crowd during a packed morning on the second day of the unconference. We even received some high praise from those in attendance:

Needless to say, our team is back to work and inspired by the amazing organizers and organizations that did some incredible work during the 2012 election cycle, and we’re grateful for opportunities like RootsCamp to learn how to make our campaigns more effective and engaging.

Dec
18

Happy Holidays From Powell Tate

Thanks for making 2012 a memorable year! 

All of us at Powell Tate join in wishing you a wonderful holiday season. 

Click below to view our holiday video. 

Season's best, 

Powell Tate 

Dec
17

Are You Building a Culture of Testing?

Michael Connery

If you’ve read a rundown of the 2012 political campaigns, you probably know one of two things: big data played a big role this cycle, and everything the Obama campaign did – from web design to email subject lines – was tested and retested to identify the most effective way to recruit volunteers, raise money and turn out voters.

Evan Zasoski, the Obama campaign deputy director of analytics and Michelangelo D’Agostino, a senior analyst from the Obama campaign, spoke at the Roots Camp event earlier this month about some of the ways this team used big data to improve campaign performance. A few key points stood out:

  • There’s more to testing than A/B. You can test to optimize a particular email send (A/B testing a subject line), or you can perform tests with more long-term value that can inform your entire program. Campaigns should use both, but make sure you know when a test is situational and when it is foundational.
  • Behavioral targeting worked better than demographic targeting. The Obama campaign spent a lot of time modeling their supporters to determine how to make the most appropriate asks. Over time, it became apparent that a person’s past activation history was far better as a predictor of future behavior than their demographic profile.
  • Automate, iterate and push down. As often as possible, the analytics team automated processes or built front-end tools that less tech-savvy staffers could use to replicate their work segmenting and targeting supporters. That freed up their own staff time to conduct additional tests or build more tools.

Not everyone can afford to hire dozens of in-house developers and data scientists. For those operating on less stratospheric budgets, a number of sessions at Roots Camp focused on simple ways that campaigns and organizations can build testing and measurement into their work on any budget.

The key in these sessions, as outlined by Daniel Mintz of MoveOn among others, is to build a “culture of testing” within your campaign or organization.

What does that mean? Philosophically, it means recognizing that your digital platforms are never “finished.” There’s no such thing as the perfect subject line or call to action that you can hone in on. There is only “today’s” most successful subject line, and what works today may not be what works tomorrow.

It means recognizing that, as great as your new website design is, launch day is not the end of a process you undertake every five years. It’s the start of an iterative process that always seeks to improve the experience of your users and optimize performance to reach your goals.

Practically speaking, it’s easy to get started. All modern CRMs and blast email systems are capable of basic audience segmentation and can execute A/B tests on subject lines or body copy. Tools like Optimize.ly offer an affordable way to perform A/B or multivariate testing on pages of your website dedicated to user conversions. And books like Sasha Issenberg’s The Victory Lab can walk you through the basics of campaign testing and the significant impact it’s had on driving volunteers, dollars and votes in recent elections.

What’s clear from this election – and the excitement at Roots Camp – is that testing, measurement and analytics are only going to become more important to successful campaigns in the future. The question we should be asking isn’t whether to start testing, but rather how to set appropriate goals and start building that culture of testing into all of our work. 

Dec
12

How to more effectively utilize your time on social media

Jennifer Palmer

More and more organizations are beginning to realize that 1 million likes on Facebook or 1 million Twitter followers does not equal a good social media strategy. The bigger concern is whether your Facebook and Twitter communities are actually engaged with your product or cause.

Beth Becker of Progressive Social Strategies, who gave a talk earlier this month at RootsCamp entitled Measuring Engagement Or How to Tell You’re Not Wasting Your Time on Social Media, summed up her engagement strategy with the following phrase: “Don’t be a Newt.” She was referring to former presidential candidate Newt Gingrich, who discovered that of his 1.3 million Twitter followers, only 106,055 were real humans

Since Newt had been concerned with getting high follower numbers with no regard for who the followers were, he was not able to meaningfully engage with his Twitter following. Beth pointed out that it is called social media for a reason; if you’re not online to have a conversation and engage your community, then why are you on social media?

For our clients, we use audience research and careful targeting to make sure we are reaching our target audience. For example, our upfront research for the National Women’s Law Center included focus group testing and a national survey with KRC Research. Taking the time to test variables such as tone of voice, messaging and storytelling approach allowed us to craft content that was highly engaging for our target audience. Tools like Attentive.ly can help you discover what your audience is talking about online and ultimately help amplify your message to the right audience.

There are two sides to this coin: organizations should try to foster engagement on their social channels but they should also make an effort to engage with their communities. 

This means creating engaging content that encourages your Facebook fans to join the conversation around your product or organization by commenting on your content or sharing your posts. But it also means taking the time to respond to comments and tweets from your community. 

For example, you can share posts by partner organizations on your Facebook wall or tweet about news articles that are interesting to your followers but may not be about your organization specifically. 

Are you replying to comments on Facebook and replying to people on Twitter? Engaging your fans or followers is a process that requires continuous time and effort. 

Developing a long-term content strategy and a steady drumbeat of content will ensure that you are effectively using your time on social media. 

Dec
07

Panel Recap: Social Media In Sports And How It’s Changing The Game

Jackie Titus

Last night we had the pleasure of hosting a great line-up of panelists from the DC Sports community to discuss the role of social media across the industry and the influence it has had on social impact issues. Our team member Mark Wysocki put together a full recap below: 

As DC sports are on the rise (Redskins, Nationals, DC United and maybe the Wizards after Tuesday’s win over reigning champion, Miami Heat), the conversation around sports influence and social impact has become increasingly relevant. The past five years have witnessed the growth of social media which has only heightened these dialogues. Our team decided to host a panel featuring thought leaders in the space to explore sports influence, social media and social impact. 

Sports. Social media. Social impact. 

Matt Winkler, Associate Dean of the Georgetown University Sports Industry Management Program moderated our #SportsImpact panel which showcased the following experts:

• Chad Williamson, Director of Philanthropy for Dhani Jones & CEO, BowTie Cause
• Mike Donnelly, Senior Communications Manager, Head of Social, NFLPA
• Chad Kurz, Director of New Media, Washington Nationals
• Joe Briggs, Public Policy Counsel, NFLPA

The event welcomed 50+ attendees observing and participating in the dynamic discussion. The agenda was broken down into three segments; 1) how leagues/teams are active and regulate social media, 2) how fans are engaging and interacting over social media, and 3) how social platforms are being used and can be used to facilitate social impact. The audience challenged panelists with questions that sparked debate around past, present and future opportunities to better capture sports influence in the social impact space. We hope this panel will be the first of many to bring awareness to this apparent gap in the industry.

Top Ten Takeaways from #SportsImpact Panel:

10. Players with a long term view can create and leverage an online audience to make a difference after football yet many do not. Chad Johnson, ex-NFL star, has near 4 million Twitter followers but has not taken advantage of his influence.

9. If you don’t control your message, somebody else will.

8. Players with huge potential in social impact space include RGIII, Arian Foster & international soccer stars such as Ronaldo, due to likeability, influence and leadership.

7. Not all leagues have the same approach in regulating social media. Rules and sanctions vary across leagues/teams. Operationally, the MLB is unique in which each team must work with the interactive online branch of the league, MLB Advanced Media, to update their respective websites. 

6. ROI = Return on Influence/Impact

5. Implementing an integrated approach across channels to deliver a uniform message in vital. As the NFL lockout was nearing, the NFLPA bought nfllockout.com and properties on Facebook and Twitter to be the initial online point of contact and frame their message accordingly.

4. Social media is effective for connecting and spreading influence but traditional marketing tactics are still essential in building a brand and communicating effectively.

3. Players/leagues/teams/entities receive requests for retweets and mentions all the time. You don’t have to respond! It’s essential to keep accounts authentic and organic or else fans can tell.

2. Case Study of the Year: Brendon Ayanbadejo, Baltimore Ravens linebacker, and his advocacy behind marriage equality in Maryland.

1. Most athletes aren’t having the right conversation. Give back, social impact. Be a better person. A great deal of CSR opportunities exist across professional sports with thousands of present and past players that hold influence.

Nov
29

Powell Tate Serves as Host for the National Urban League’s ‘Urban Ideas Forum’

Nicole Todd

Presidential elections often provide the opportunity for renewed conversations on the direction of the country and innovative ways to effectively communicate with the public and elected officials on important issues.

Last week, Powell Tate served as a host for the National Urban League's “Urban Ideas Forum,” a half day conversation about the disparities in jobs, education, and wealth in urban centers and among minority communities all across America. This panel brought together thought-leaders and policy experts representing the private sector, community-based organizations, academia and the policy world to our space for this engaging discussion.

Topics ranged from the importance of educational funding to the value of homeownership and the “wealth gap” in America. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart moderated the panel and Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, Janet Murguia, president and CEP of the National Council of La Raza and Bibi Hidalgo, Senior Policy Director of the U.S. Department of Treasury, were among the panelists providing insight on issues and solutions for urban communities. The panelists offered financial literacy, savings and investment as solutions for achieving economic parity.

Powell Tate played an important role in the execution of the Urban Ideas Forum. As a leading public affairs firm, it is our goal to sustain partnerships with organizations like the National Urban League that prove vital to our clients’ business, and facilitate conversation among thought-leaders around the country. Through hosting events like the Urban Ideas Forum, Powell Tate is further established as a conduit for engaging and timely conversations.

Please click here to view C-Span’s video of the Urban Ideas Forum. 

Nov
27

You’re invited: sports impact discussion with the NFLPA and Washington Nationals

Jackie Titus

Sports. Social media. Social impact.

These three topics alone can create a lively discussion and many times over have done just that. Next week, we look forward to hosting a panel with guests from Georgetown University Sports Industry Management Program, the NFL Players Association, and the Washington Nationals to discuss the convergence of all three topics.

The past few years have shown us the dramatic impact social media can have on the game itself from the team, player, and fan perspective. We'll explore topics such as the business incentive for a "socially responsible personal brand," the upside/downside of athletes using social media for sharing their personal beliefs, and how player organizations are evolving their digital policies for athletes.

We hope you can join us.

Please RSVP to reserve yourself a seat.

Nov
05

What Editors Want In An Op-Ed

Bob Brody

What’s the single quality you require in an op-ed piece above all? On the flip side, what’s the single quality that most undermines an op-ed submission? Finally, what’s the most important advice that we communications professionals should share with clients in working on op-eds?

Those are the three questions we recently asked, in an online survey with multiple-choice answers, of op-ed editors at newspapers and magazines around the country.
The results – from 17 respondents, including editors at The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg View -- surprised me.

The choices given for the single quality most required were “news value,” “marquee-name author,” “hot-button issue,” “contrarian viewpoint,” “new research,” “persuasively argued” and “brilliantly written.”

The top pick was “persuasively argued,” with 43% of the vote. Third was “brilliantly written” (21%). “News value” came in second (36%). “New research” drew 7%. Nobody opted for “hot-button issues” or the others.

I would have bet otherwise, laying odds on substance over style, with “news value” coming out ahead, followed closely by “hot-button issue.”

The answers to the second question, about the single most undermining quality in an op-ed, equally surprised me. The choices available were “self-serving,” “conventional viewpoint,” “evergreen,” “dated issue,” “poorly argued,” “badly written,” “unknown author.”

The winner was “badly written,” with 44%, followed by “poorly argued (25%). Third and fourth places went to “self-serving” and ”conventional viewpoint” (tied at 19%). “Dated issue” pulled only 6%. Again, I anticipated a tilt toward the material itself – namely, “evergreen” and “dated issue.”

The theme of style over substance held true for our final question, too, about advice to give clients about op-eds. The options were “It’s a tough sell,” “offer context,” “give practical advice,” demonstrate your authority,” and “speak plainly.”

“Speak plainly” garnered 64%, the strongest of all responses. “It’s a tough sell” and “demonstrate your authority” came next (tied at 21%). Only then did “offer context” come into play (14%). Me, I would have speculated on context and advice claiming the day.

The topline takeaways? The editors surveyed prefer op-ed submissionsthat are “persuasively argued” and “brilliantly written,” albeit accompanied by news value. They’re also averse to op-eds that are “badly written” and “poorly argued.” In short, the rhetorical skill you bring to the table, how well you argue your case, could make all the difference. 

Oct
22

Tweet with Respect

Alix Floyd

Tonight marks the last of the traveling circus that has been the presidential and vice presidential debates. While constituents will tune in to see the main act, it’s the debate on social channels giving rise to those turn-key laugh-out-loud, landmark social media gaffes that have really stolen the show. And although more and more Americans are using Twitter, Facebook and other social media to express their political opinions, vent their frustrations and sharpen their critiques of the opposition, our social manners are becoming less and less refined.


For example—there are whole meme sites dedicated to the now infamous tweets like those from KitchenAid and Delegate Eleanor Norton, which have gotten national attention for their vulgarity and have since been deleted from the accounts.

So, tonight, in the hopes of avoiding a top spot on a Buzzfeed or Gawker-esque “Top 10 most inappropriate debate tweets,” here are a few debate social channel etiquette reminders that won’t make your mother gasp: 

1. Steer clear of personal attacks on candidates and their families. If you were having dinner with them, would you say it to their face?
2. Snarky and creative are fair game, insults are not.
3. Use hashtags like #DemsIRespect or #RepubsIRespect to note that while you disagree, you respect other opinions.
4. Call out misrepresentation of fact and keep people honest. Listen to the conversations carefully and promote productive learning on platforms and issues.
5. Keep it short, simple and to the point. Rants don’t prove your point.


Given that the presidential debate on Oct. 3 was the most tweeted about event ever in U.S. politics, topping President Obama’s 2008 election victory and inauguration, tonight’s debate with salient issues like the Benghazi consulate attacks and Israel-U.S. relationship is sure to be another record breaker. As you watch the debates and (hopefully) engage in this election, consider the advice of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, and tweet with respect for those on the other side of the aisle. 

Oct
18

Facebook ads - useful when used correctly

Bradley Portnoy

Flickr Creative Commons Photo by SchmilBlick

Online advertising is an evolving landscape - and one that will certainly come in for much scrutiny, academic and otherwise. But I was surprised to see the headline of Dylan Matthews' story on Wonkblog - "Why Facebook campaign ads are a sucker's bet."

The post is a summary of an article draft by Prof. David Broockman of Berkeley and Donald Green at Columbia, which purports to show little to no lift of a state legislative candidate's name recognition based on a treatment group exposed to several Facebook ads.

Unfortunately, Broockman and Green seem to misunderstand the Facebook platform and how advertisements both function technically and can be most effectively used.

The first hint of trouble comes when they state that users appear to have seen the ads they ran "on every Facebook page all week" (emphasis theirs). While they do later establish that the campaign was unable to spend its $150 daily budget despite their high CPM (cost-per-thousand-impressions) bid, they attribute this to having exhausted Facebook's inventory for their targeted users.

Facebook — which is self-interested in creating a product that people will come back to — will show ads to users online a limited number of times in a given period. This is a variation on the Facebook EdgeRank algorithm that selects the posts you see in your Newsfeed. Thus, while the campaign was unable to exhaust its budget, it cannot be assumed that this is because Facebook exhausted its inventory.

This is where the candidate's advertising strategy comes in. The authors state that their click rate of 0.1% was "encouragingly low… as we are primarily interested in the impact of exposure to the candidates' name and message in the ad listing itself." Facebook Marketplace ads, with a 25 character title, and a 90 character body, a 100x72 pixel image, are to say the least not ideal message delivery vehicles.

Instead, their power is in their ability to create a lasting relationship between advertiser and user — typically through a user clicking the "like" button and consequently receiving messaging from a candidate or other advertiser in the future. By ignoring this most fundamental aspect of Facebook advertising strategy, the authors discredit their results.

It is as if they have concluded that there is no brand lift from television advertisements that people see in a crowded bar out of the corner of their eye. Of course there isn't — because that is not how people experience the medium, and the best ads are not calibrated for corner-of-the-eye viewing.

Moreover, the ad units purchased are the most basic on Facebook. In our work, we have found these to be ineffective. However, we have found great success at using newer ad units such as "Like" ads and Sponsored Stories, which encourage both current and potential fans to interact with page content. Recently, Facebook has allowed ads to be placed directly into Newsfeed, and we have seen even better results with these ads.

Those TVs in the bar? Turns out they were 15" black and white boxes, not today's 52" flat screens.

What lessons can we take from this? Certainly not that all Facebook ads are ineffective. The lesson here is that an advertising strategy cannot exist in a vacuum. At Powell Tate, we run ads only when we know that we have great content to promote, whether it's a video, an image or an interactive experience. At the same time, we don't put out content without an ad strategy to promote it.

In today's media landscape, reaching people means drawing on emotion and forming a lasting relationship — not carpet-bombing their periphery with a brief, un-engaging message.

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