Romney’s tech guys win everything except for the election

Christopher Bedford Former Editor in Chief, The Daily Caller News Foundation
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Remember Targeted Victory? That’s the outfit that “ran testing and optimization for the Romney campaign.” Remember that campaign? It’s the one where an immensely unpopular president presiding over mass unemployment and up to his eyes in scandals and broken promises handily beat a wildly successful businessman and governor.

So what? That’s old news. But Targeted Victory just caught our attention again Thursday afternoon when they advertised that they “took home a total of 35 Pollie Awards” — an award bestowed “to honor the ‘Best of the Best’ in political advertising and communications.”

Now this was great for a good chuckle. Imagine the headlines: “Targeted Victory Wins Every Prize Except Election” Or, “Targeted Victory Wins Six Bronze Awards for Romney Campaign — in Two-Party Race.”

After we’d tired ourselves out, we got to thinking: This whole thing stinks to high hell. We mean, they won 35 awards (we know — they told us) for gigs including Mitt Romney for President, Scott Brown for Senate and American Crossroads. Well here’s an awkward question: Did President Romney or Sen. Scott Brown attend the awards dinner? No, it was only for the elite consultants. Hell, as one ad in the dinner brochure told the attendees, “You’ve reached the top of your game.” Soak it up, gang.

But all this hoopla peaked our interest and we took a look at what kind of stroke fest the Pollie Awards are. Here’s the lowdown: The Pollies are an annual award dinner where the American Association of Political Consultants charge members hundreds of dollars a category to nominate themselves for hundreds of categories of awards, each with a gold, silver and bronze winner, plus the possibility of an honorable mention. Then, “nearly 300 judges” pick the slew of winners who get all gussied up and come to collect the praise they paid their buddies to give them for how awesome they are. And for just $199, they can order duplicates of the award to “recreate that winning experience.” And after the $96.4 million Mr. Romney paid Targeted Victory for his winning experience, what’s $199 on an extra award?

And the judges don’t skimp — the awards these guys give themselves pile up. Flip to the end of the brochure and one ad reads, “128 pollies in 5 years. We’re taking this year off to build a bigger trophy case.” The consulting life is a hard one.

But what did our “winning” friends at Targeted Victory win? Well, mostly digital advertising, which they’re actually decent at. Awards for their use of established channels like Twitter, Facebook and Pandora rained from the sky, but what about technology — that troublesome bit that Mr. Obama cleaned up in? Well, that’s where the questions — and answers — get scary.

“Most of the [post-election] criticism is how the Republican Party is very far behind on technology, not so much on digital marketing,” Aaron Ginn, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who worked for Targeted Victory during the 2012 campaign, told The Daily Caller. “The problem is how do we actually make a mobile application? Those are unanswered questions, and if they answered, the answers are sub par… Targeted Victory doesn’t understand proper metrics, the value of data, and it’s reflected in how they order their team: Their chief technology officer was not an engineer; they were running the most expensive Republican campaign in the history of the world and they didn’t have one real data scientist on staff. The list goes on and on about how poor the engineering culture was.”

This is troubling news when Targeted Victory claims to provide “each of our clients the ability to create and maintain every facet of their organization’s online advertising under one roof.”

“That’s why none of the big donors right now are really engaging with the RNC [(Who won 13 Pollies)] and most of the digital consultants — because they don’t trust them,” Mr. Ginn told TheDC. “Instead of being honest and saying we’re a digital marketing shop, they don’t want to admit that: They want to do a Machiavellian approach and come to D.C. and say ‘We have no weakness.’ [Meanwhile, Obama for America CTO] Harper Reed will tell you what he can’t do.”

“They’re going to screw us all,” Mr. Ginn worried, “by pretending to be something they aren’t, and failing, and discrediting the entire technology industry.”

And how is the customer to know when they’re getting screwed? They probably won’t. If a fancy national firm tells the state chairman of Rhode Island that they know what to do, why wouldn’t the chairman trust them?

“Targeted Victory’s ad work is great,” Ginn added. “Their product was crap. Their conversion rate was awful — mediocre, at best. We didn’t do any real targeting on emails until the last two months of the campaign. And when we did, targeting was really broad, like ‘Do you live in this state?’ Not ‘When was your last engagement with the website,’ ‘What was your last donation,’ ‘When was the last time you volunteered?'”

We’re talking about Targeted Victory, now — it’s important to keep the name of the firm in mind here.

“We need to be honest with ourselves as conservatives and Republicans, Mr. Ginn concluded. “We need to stop being political about skills and saying, ‘Oh, this person is so good at this’ when in reality they suck. I want Targeted Victory to succeed in what they’re really good at and let other people do the rest.”

And this last bit is important. Because unlike in New York, Hollywood and Silicon Valley, in Washington, D.C., a man can convince the world that he’s something he really isn’t. Because in industries like finance, entertainment and tech, there’s a bottom line that is so easy to uncover, it will run a man out of house and home even if he does his best to ignore it. In politics, not so much.

Because for some dumb reason, in the world of politics, Romney pollster Neil Newhouse can make election-night predictions that are actually outside the margin of error — and meet with Jeb Bush to plan the next campaign just 20 days later. Because for some dumb reason, in the world of politics, pundit Michael Barone can predict a landslide Republican victory and in January, sit on a panel to predict the next election. Because for some dumb reason, in the world of politics, Targeted Victory can lose every single thing they’re paid to do, buy some shiny medals and then brag about it on the Internet.

But here’s where the worlds will collide: Groups like Targeted Victory are now claiming some expertise in technology, and that can’t be faked. Technology does what it is supposed to do or it doesn’t, and the results are clear even to the untrained eye. In a just world, this would mean that the charlatans have waded in one step too deep.

There’s a new culture war brewing in the GOP: Claims vs. results. Conservatives saw how that story ended on Nov. 6. We, for one, don’t care for an encore.

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