When you’re setting up a communications program for your political campaign, one of the hardest questions you’ll face is how much your campaign digital budget should be. When you’re thinking through your budget, three main factors will influence how much money you put into digital.
How to Create a Digital Political Campaign
- Who is your audience? When trying to decide what portion of your budget to devote to digital, it’s important to look at who you are trying to reach and where they spend their time. If you are running in a part of the country where access to the Internet is more limited or your constituency doesn’t spend much of their time online, you may want to focus on TV and mail. In this case, unless your budget is very strict, we still recommend that you include digital as at least 10% of your communications budget. If, on the other hand, your audience is more digitally-inclined (i.e., a millennial audience in a big city), you will want to consider dedicating a large portion of your budget to digital (as much as 75–90% of your budget). Keep in mind that dollars spent digitally can be more efficient and flexible than other mediums, as long as it makes sense for your audience.
- How big is your audience? The size of your audience, and therefore your budget, is dependent on the office you are running for and who you want to target. For example, if you are running for statewide office and want to cast a wide net and target a broad demographic within your constituency for more than a couple of weeks, you’re likely going to need to spend at least six figures on your ads. If you are only running ads in a small area like a state senate district or targeting ads to a narrow population of likely primary voters, you can spend a lot less.
- How long is your campaign running? Did you jump into a race eight months before Election Day, or is this a last-minute special election? A longer campaign, of course, demands a larger budget so you can spread out and pace its spend, so you must make sure you are taking the length of a campaign into account when building out your budget.
What Small vs. Large Budgets Get You
One of the best parts of digital advertising is that it’s scalable. This means that you can do something online regardless of your budget. Below is a breakdown of what a small vs. large campaign digital budget can get you.
- Small budget: With a smaller campaign digital budget, you may need to be selective about the geography you choose and the audience you target. For example, with a small budget you may want to identify certain areas and certain demographics that are most likely to be swing voters—you may focus persuasion ads on certain zip codes within your district or a narrow demographic (i.e., women under 50 who have voted in two of the three past municipal elections).
- Large budget: With a larger budget, on the other hand, you have the opportunity to expand your audience. This means you can open up your demographic/contextual targeting to reach more potential voters or supporters.
- Small budget: With a small campaign digital budget, you may not be able to serve ads to each voter very many times. However, you never want to serve an ad to someone just once and then never serve them an ad again. Therefore, with smaller budgets, sometimes you may have to narrow your audience/geography and sacrifice reach for a higher frequency.
- Large budget: The larger your campaign digital budget is, the higher your frequency can be. This means that if you increase your budget (without expanding your audience and therefore reach), on average, each person in your audience will receive your ads more often.
- Small budget: With a smaller campaign digital budget, you often have to choose between platforms. To avoid spreading a small budget too thin across multiple platforms, it is often a good idea to just focus on just one or two. For example, Facebook/Instagram is a good option for when you have a very small budget, especially since you may have someone in-house who knows how to use these platforms.
- Large budget: With a larger campaign digital budget, you can layer in more platforms. This is especially desirable if you’ve already hit your goal reach and frequency on some platforms. For example, while a smaller budget may limit you to just Facebook/Instagram, a larger budget may allow you to expand to programmatic platforms, Twitter, Google AdWords, Pandora, Spotify, Teads, etc., without spreading yourself too thin.
- Small budget: With a campaign digital budget on the smaller end, you don’t want to spend too many of your communications dollars on creatives so that you can dedicate as much money as possible to the buy. Therefore, you want to limit how many ads you design and the complexity of the designs themselves (unless someone is designing your ads in-house at no added cost). This might mean designing only 2–3 basic static ads and/or one low-budget video that is cut into 6-, 15-, and 30-second ads.
- Large budget: A larger campaign digital budget allows you to design more creatives and higher-impact ads. This might mean investing more time in creating more complex and engaging static and video ads, animated ads, or interactive ads. A larger budget also allows you to create new ads throughout the course of the campaign if some ads aren’t performing well or if you want to focus on different issues later(i.e., for a political campaign with a large budget, you may start with name recognition ads and add in more issue-specific ads throughout the course of the campaign).
Have more questions about how much to spend on digital or how to design strategic communications programs for your political campaign?