I recently sat down with Ryan Jetton, co-founder of Utility Digital, a company that balances technology, data utilization, and custom strategies to build successful and innovative advertising campaigns, both on- and offline. I asked Mr. Jetton a few questions about their business practices as well as his opinion on voter file-driven ad targeting and data-focused media buying.
Tim Nichols: Utility Digital works with a wide list of ad technology vendors. How do you choose which vendor will work best with what project?
Ryan Jetton: Primarily it’s a mixture of performance and creativity. We have learned that not every campaign is the same nor is every client, so we have created a variety of partnerships to create the most successful campaign for every client. We work directly with publishers and exchanges as well as clients and agencies, we know that goals change so we try and find the most direct route to create the most cost-effective campaign/strategy.
TN: I’ve heard Utility Digital has been very busy this political cycle. How useful is voter file-driven ad targeting and how often is this data targeting type requested?
RJ: Voter file-driven targeting has been a hot topic this election, much more than previous elections on the digital side. We have worked on campaigns as well as for national parties and learned that just because you have access to it, doesn’t mean it’s always the best for your campaign. In direct mail, voter files are a cost-effective way to target your message. When spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on production and postage you really want to trim the fat from your mail list. I think that is one thing digital has gotten wrong. There are plenty of vendors out there selling digital voter files but the lists are not that accurate. There is an important question you must ask yourself, how much does it actually move the needle?
Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe in data-driven campaigns, but when you are adding $1-$2 CPM for a campaign you are significantly decreasing your reach. Let’s say you have a 50K budget @ $5/CPM; that yields 10 million impressions. If you have, let’s say, a 0.70 percent CTR, that’s generating 70K clicks. If you were to increase the CPM by $2 to account for the voter file, you would decrease your total clicks by 20K. You have to ask yourself, is the targeting worth the decrease in audience? What harm is there to a non-registered voter, before registration has ended?
TN: Do you foresee online advertising and data-focused media buying going more to a self-serve model or will there always be a hybrid between a self-serve model and full-time account management?
RJ: I think you will continue to see both, in sectors like politics you see very lean campaigns that don’t have the staff or employee retention to invest in an internal media buyer and manager. They love quick turnaround campaigns, which they can’t do with one or two internal staffers; they will continue to look outside for help. For advocacy groups and PR firms, they have much larger staffs and longer employment cycles that a self-serve model would benefit them. They are able to build, start, stop campaigns on their own without having to play middleman for their clients and the media buyers. So in short; yes, I foresee both models being successful.
TN: In 2008, a lot of people felt like the Democrats had done a better job using the Internet to advance their cause. This year, looking at it from a fundraising and spending perspective, it appears the Republicans have caught up, and maybe passed them. What is your take on that?
RJ: I wouldn’t go as far to say that Democrats did a better job of using the Internet to their advantage, I believe their audience actually used the technology more than Republicans, which caused everyone to think they were doing something drastically different the McCain campaign wasn’t. I would argue that Republicans have embraced technology more than in 2008 than previous cycles but don’t see it as one party is better than the other online.
TN: How do we measure tangible metrics? How do we know this is moving the needle?
RJ: Great question; it really depends on the client or organization, and even sometimes the campaign. There are multiple needles for any given campaign. You may want to generate a low CPA for a bottle of wine. We have to look at a number of factors to generate that low cost. We oftentimes will test a CPM model and a CPC model to see what is a better profit margin for our clients by looking at the type of traffic we are generating and the domains and categories that are performing. When you work with exchanges such as AppNexus you are able to look at multiple networks and negotiate better rates at a network level versus a site or category level.