By: Matthew Oczkowski, Head of Product at Cambridge Analytica
Imagine this scenario:
You have less than six months to scale an organization to include thousands of staff, you need to raise and spend hundreds of millions of dollars by a definitive end date, and on that end date, you need to own 50+1% market share.
Daunting, right? This is the problem that campaign professionals and consultants tackle every four years in the United States. Granted, every campaign is different and most end up having more time to plan and build than the Trump Campaign, but even a year-and-a-half doesn’t suddenly make this a walk in the park.
When I was brought on as a vendor and an advisor to the campaign and I was told “we need to fully scale a research, data, and digital operation in less than six months”, my initial thought was that this would be impossible. I had worked for Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin for the better part of three years building and scaling a technical operation for this very purpose, so I knew the time, planning, and resources that went into building up a ‘proper’ operation. The idea of walking into a campaign that didn’t have a database of record, let alone any type of data science program, was so foreign to me by this point (not to mention the fact that the digital and tech operations were being run by one guy with a small team in Texas).
Most of the story that follows from here has largely been written about, and I think it’s clearly no surprise to anyone that we ended up taking on the business and doing our best to not only catch up to our competition, but also continue to innovate along the way. We were fortunate enough to get to work with some excellent people to really build a truly collaborative ecosystem that operated much more like a business than any campaign that I have been a part of.
The story that ensued will be a large focus of my presentation at ‘Data Day’, but to add to the dramatics with a bit of foreshadowing... the result ended up working out in our favor and it was the most difficult project I have ever tackled in my professional career. Consistently tracking and analyzing over 15 million voters across 17 battleground states to help inform everything from media spend to the candidate’s travel schedule was a herculean task, especially given the fact that our candidate could move the entire electoral landscape with one tweet.
We weren’t always right, and it certainly was never easy, but I’m proud to be able to sit here today with several of my colleagues from the campaign and the party infrastructure and say that we were able to see this coming and learned more than we could have ever imagined along the way.
When I’m often asked by strangers what I was hired to do, I simply answer, “I was hired to quantify the Trump effect.” Understanding this effect, and the impact it had on America, was the key to everything that unfolded during the election.
At the end of the day, people are people regardless of the marketing campaign. I’m not a political pundit or policy maker - I’ve spent my career helping organizations, inside and outside of politics, figure out who they should be talking to and what they should say to them to produce a measureable effect. Whether it’s voting for a particular candidate, purchasing a consumer good, improving the view of a brand, or donating to a personal cause, the sooner that agencies begin to understand the human element that underlies all of these things the more effectively we will be able to communicate to the world.