No campaign — or country — is too small to benefit from political technology.
That's the approach Ben Schaffer, head of Media Mezcla, brings to his business. In 2008, for example, Schaffer's firm worked for a client in the first free presidential elections the Maldives has had in 30 years.
He applied the same ideas there that he applies for his clients in the United States: Take his full-service software solution, Campaign Engine, and customize it for each customer.
"We do a lot of work in the design process to figure out what people's goals are for the site," Schaffer says. "Is it fundraising, is it [volunteer] sign ups? We design pages appropriately so they're directed towards what's most important for them to be doing."
The software is provided as a service — you don't need your own hardware — but it isn't the only service. Schaffer sees the software as one aspect of a broader product.
"What candidates want now is to be Barack Obama," he wrote in an e-mail. "Of course, there are a lot of strengths that Obama and his team had that are hard to come by. But we believe their real strength was in setting up a strong foundation both technically and in their messaging, and then being wise and flexible enough to respond to and take advantage of crisis and opportunity along the way. That's something campaigns on every level can learn to do."
This technology purveyor to Democrats came to be thanks to another, less successful presidential candidate in an earlier race: Howard Dean, the unsuccessful 2004 contender. During Dean's pioneering presidential run, as a campaign media consultant in Burlington and New York, Schaffer met other people who would go on to consult on smaller races — and, over time, started asking Schaffer if he knew about better software than what they were using. Media Mezcla's first clients went online in 2005, and Schaffer's firm has been powering progressive politicos every since.
At the core of Media Mezcla is Campaign Engine, designed to be an easy-to-use, all-in-one solution for campaigns. Now in its third iteration, Campaign Engine rounds many bases: It handles online contributions, fundraising and event organizing, mass e-mails, content management, volunteer management, and social network integration, tracks site traffic, and allows users to manage all the resultant data in a campaign-centric constituent relationship management database.
Details include the ability to do A-B testing — sending out the same e-mail with different subject lines to different groups and keeping track of which one is opened more often — detailed site analytics, and sophisticated form generators. Schaffer boasts that any data a campaign can get into Microsoft Excel can make its way into Campaign Engine.
The system is OpenID-reliant, which means people can take existing online identities with them to a hosted site from Facebook or Google; in demos in other industries, this has been proven to increase the frequency with which people take the time to create a user profile. If a campaign site has a fan page, Campaign Engine can import the Facebook fan page's news feed to the website — showing the status updates of the campaign's supporters.
"Of course you're going to see stuff that's not necessarily relevant," Schaffer said. "What it shows is that there's a community and that they're active."
He adds that ease of use trumps his desire to stay on top in the bells-and-whistles tally. The point for Media Mezcla, he says, is for these tools to be easily wielded by someone who is not technologically savvy.
A former media consultant, Schaffer says Campaign Engine has its place.
"We make tools and tools are very important, but tools, what they are is tools, and really what's important is your message."
- Education advocacy group Education Reform Now's website is powered by Campaign Engine.
- When Democratic New York City Councilman David Yassky was running for city comptroller, he translated the city's 2009-2010 budget into a searchable online database, It's Your Money NYC, which also used Campaign Engine.
Campaign Engine is geared for political campaigns and progressive organizations that want a made-to-order website and technology hub but don't necessarily have a lot of technological know-how. Media Mezcla has worked with candidates at all levels, as well as political organizations and non-profits, in 21 states and Washington, D.C. Schaffer says he also has a special focus on education.
"Because we're small," Schaffer wrote in an e-mail, "all clients get the attention of the owner of the company and receive the same high calibre of work."
Media Mezcla also hires out as campaign consultants to campaigns that need extra help getting their technology off the ground, and can bring in additional consultants for anything from video production to financial reporting.
A hypothetical state senate campaign would cost $400 per month with a $1,000 one-time setup fee; a U.S. Senate campaign would cost $1,650 per month with a $3,000 one-time setup fee.
Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fl.); Gov. Ted Strickland; Friends of New Orleans; the National Stonewall Democrats