As candidates ramp up the spending on their US presidential election campaigns, we look at some of the businesses that do very nicely when the party purse-strings are open.
Think of it as the $8bn stimulus bill. That’s how much could be spent on US political campaigns this election season – in races from president down to state legislator and sheriff – by candidates, parties and independent groups such as the super-pacs created by the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision. Much of the money goes to what amounts to a political-industrial complex: a consulting class of marketers, pollsters, researchers, fundraisers and data-sellers who thrive in the even-numbered years when Americans vote. No one fares better than the media consultants who specialise in television ads – and the studios, voiceover artists, sound engineers, graphic designers and media buyers who produce and place the ads they script.
But a lot of campaign spending filters down to other businesses that end up satisfying the basic needs for equipment, transportation and sustenance that campaigns and their staff have. Many of these businesses existed before Barack Obama and Mitt Romney arrived on the scene and will survive their contest for the presidency. This year, however, they will do particularly well, although companies that have won business from past campaigns will likely share cautionary tales about candidates who spent themselves into debt, leaving small businesses behind as their creditors. The 10 companies on these pages are all making money out of the 2012 campaign but on election day their accounts-payable department will be focused on one thing: making sure invoices get paid before the campaigns disappear.
Cleveland’s NBC affiliate has the top-ranked newscast in Ohio’s largest city, which puts its commercial breaks in very high demand with political advertisers. It’s not as lucrative as selling ads to Coca-Cola but it can be a lot less work: stations are required to offer ad time to candidates for federal office at a discounted rate but rarely need to take account reps to lunch to close the deal. Campaign media planners believe that local-news consumers offer the best target audience for reaching those who will actually vote.
Many firms promise to help political campaigns find voters online and deliver them ads, but Targeted Victory works from a position of strength. One of its founders, Zac Moffatt, is Romney’s digital director, the first time a Republican presidential campaign has created a senior-level job overseeing hi-tech communications. Now, while Moffatt directs strategy from inside, his firm has a contract to place Romney’s web and mobile ads, usually by profiling computer IP addresses for narrow geographic targets, right down to a single apartment building or block of homes.
Every campaign office seems to keep a local pizzeria on speed dial to feed staff and volunteers: they are cheap, deliver at nearly all hours and provide food that is easy to share and universally acceptable. (During the 2008 campaign, when a major donor had contributed the legal maximum, Obama staff would have him leave a credit-card number on file at a Chicago pizzeria so they could place orders on it at whim.) At Romney’s headquarters in Boston’s old Italian North End neighbourhood, the local delivery of choice is Pushcart.
It is a rite of passage for a primary-season candidate to graduate from flying commercial to controlling his own schedule on charter flights. A nominee usually gets his own crew and a dedicated plane large enough to carry staff and a press corps. Romney has a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 he rents from the Michigan charter firm USA Jet Airlines. After the convention, he emblazoned its livery with a Romney-Ryan logo.
The corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 17th Street Northwest doesn’t feature Washington’s highest foot traffic but the location has turned one of the city’s several outposts of Caribou (a Minneapolis-based Starbucks competitor) into a political clubhouse for team Obama. Upon taking office in 2009, Obama agreed to release lists of all White House visitors. As a result, when administration staffers invite allies for political meetings – such as lobbyists, fundraisers and operative outside groups – they are likely to propose a meeting at Caribou. Leaving the White House grounds is the only way to keep the session private.
Obama’s decision to use Gotham across campaign materials in his 2008 run created a global fascination with the durable sans-serif typeface. But there are no off-the-shelf fonts for his presidential re-election campaign: Obama ordered a new version of Gotham from the New York typography studio behind the original. The result fits with the nostalgic Americana that pervades the visual identity of Obama 2012. The typographer behind it has said little publicly but acknowledged the collaboration on the studio’s website. “Can we add serifs to Gotham?” studio president Jonathan Hoefler wrote. “For the president of the United States? Yes We Can.”
Television may be the best way to reach voters but when campaigns want to target individuals they turn to direct mail. Campaigns often save their sensitive appeals (such as those around abortion) for the mailbox. One of Romney’s top direct-mail strategists has a lot of cachet within his campaign: Redwave founder and Iowa native Dave Kochel masterminded Romney’s surprisingly strong caucus performance in the state. Now he has campaign contracts in key states to design, print and help target brochures that are likely to overwhelm postal carriers in the closing days of the race.
There’s still a bit of romance about designating a stretch of ground-level campaigning as a “bus tour”: the cheering crowds lining the route, the chance for a candidate to stop off at a celebrated local diner. When Obama did two days in Florida this summer the campaign turned to the Wisconsin-based charter company Lamers for the buses used to ferry the press corps that travels in the president’s motorcade. Obama, of course, had a more august ride: the Secret Service.
You usually have to spend money to raise money to spend money in politics. That’s where Bryan Rafanelli comes in. During election years the Boston event planner serves as a linchpin of the secondary industry of caterers and florists who thrive off the circuit of political fundraising dinners. Politicians often breeze through their own fundraisers just long enough to give remarks and take pictures, but for the event planner making a good impression on the guest of honour can return dividends for a long time. There’s a reason Rafanelli was hired to design Chelsea Clinton’s 2010 wedding.
Obama’s campaign probably commissions as much polling as any campaign in history but when it wants to move beyond the hard numbers to measure more complex voter attitudes it turns to Binder. The San Francisco-based firm has reprised the role it played in 2008, directing much of the qualitative research that guides Obama’s strategy and message, including almost nightly focus groups around the country. It also trials his ads and direct mail with online viewers before they’re rolled out to the public.