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Should Campaigns Use Digital Staff or Digital Consultants?

By Kari Chisholm:

A recent article from e.politics asked the question, "Should campaigns use digital staff or digital consultants?"

As a digital consulting shop are answer is, both. Both, but with the right mix. For tasks that are one-time projects, outsource. For tasks that require substantial expertise, built on experience from dozens of campaigns, outsource. For tasks that require substantial embedded blow-by-blow daily knowledge, keep it in-house.

The best campaigns that we work with break that down like this:

  • Website build and tools: digital consultant
  • Online advertising: digital consultant
  • Email list-building: digital consultant
  • Email writing/engagement/fundraising: digital consultant, with heavy engagement from campaign staff
  • Social media: campaign staff, with heavy engagement from consultant when it relates to email list-building

The "controversial" one above is probably email writing. My take is that it used to make sense that it should live inside the campaign. Back when it was mostly "art", i.e. staying on-message in a compelling way, that was fine. But these days, the email stuff is much more "science", i.e. subscriber bucketing, A/B testing, multi-layer and multi-touch campaigns. And that means it should be done largely by folks with way more experience.

Of course, it all depends on what scale of a campaign we're talking about. A presidential campaign can afford to bring in consultant-level folks on staff. A Senate race will almost always have a digital communications person (who, in my book, should also do a lot of candidate staffing/driving) to go along with a press/communication person. These days, most Congressional races don't even have communication directors (choosing instead managers with communication skills), which means that those races tend to rely more heavily on digital consultants.

Even the very best staffer only sees one campaign at a time, albeit in a much more intensive way. A digital consultant can see dozens of campaigns each cycle, and bring lessons learned to the campaign much more quickly.

Posted by Kari Chisholm
on January 7, 2014.