One-on-one with Raphael Warnock’s Digital Director
Also inside: GOP Governors make 2024 digital moves
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Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock built a digital-first campaign operation that has now propelled him to victory in two high-profile runoff elections. The pastor-turned-politician spent more this year on digital advertising than any other candidate nationwide - and in turn, raised a whole lot of money. In this week’s FWIW, I sat down with Andrew Jorgenson, the Warnock campaign’s Digital Director, to hear how his team approached online engagement and defeated Herschel Walker.
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By the numbers
FWIW, here were the top-spending political advertisers on Facebook + Instagram last week:
One notable new advertiser last week was The Windward Fund, a pro-environmental group with ties to major progressive entities. The organization spent around $48,000 last week running ads from two different pages: “Americans for a Prosperous Future” and “Americans for a Safe Future.”
Here’s where things get interesting: the group is simultaneously running ads that are in direct conflict with each other. Ads from one page are urging support for the creation of new wind farms, against coal production, and in favor of solar energy. On the other page, the group is running ads claiming solar panels are toxic, coal jobs are necessary, and wind farms are “destroying our way of life.”
It's likely these ads are part of some digital experiment to reach different audiences and test messages against each other. The pro-climate ads had around $40,000 behind them, while the group only spent around $6,000 promoting the anti-climate messages. 🤷
Meanwhile, here were the top-spending political advertisers on Google and YouTube last week:
Political ad spending on Google continues to decline, with most organizations only spending a few thousand bucks on the company’s platforms last week. One top spender was Jennifer McClellan, who just declared victory in Tuesday’s special primary election to fill a vacant congressional seat around Richmond, Virginia.
…and FWIW, here were the top political advertisers on Snapchat this year:
From around the internet
The Washington Post has an inside look at how President Biden’s political advisors are approaching digital strategy for a 2024 re-election campaign. According to the story, they expect a heavy focus on content distribution, influencer outreach, and relational organizing. It’s a BFD.
No longer a Democrat, Kyrsten Sinema is set to lose access to some of the party’s most valuable campaign resources. According to the Huffington Post’s Kevin Robillard, NGP VAN, which provides candidates with organizing, fundraising, compliance, and events software, will cut off the Sinema campaign from its products next month.
Testing the 2024 waters
A pair of ambitious Republican Governors dipped their toes in the 2024 waters this week, running digital ads in early presidential nominating states or nationwide. First, we found that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had relaunched digital ads for the first time since he won reelection in November.
Not to be outdone, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu joined the fray, specifically targeting voters in South Carolina and Iowa with an introductory video ad on Facebook.
One-on-one with Raphael Warnock’s digital director
Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock built a digital-first campaign operation that has now propelled him to victory in two high-profile runoff elections. The Pastor-turned-Politician spent more this year on digital advertising than any other candidate nationwide - and in turn, raised a whole lot of money. I sat down with Andrew Jorgenson, the Warnock campaign’s Digital Director, to hear how his team approached online engagement and defeated Herschel Walker:
Kyle Tharp, FWIW: The role of a digital team on a campaign can mean a thousand different things to different campaigns - everything from digital organizing to fundraising and advertising. What was your team’s role during this cycle?
Andrew Jorgenson: The role changes and grows every cycle. A lot of it depends on who your campaign manager is and how large your race is. Digital is such a huge part of every single other campaign department, from communications to research and political. We’re everything from graphic designers to ad makers.
The fundraising part in particular was such a huge piece of what we were doing. We had all sorts of different channels that we were using to do so, from email to ads to the web and bundling money (which is a fun way of asking other Democratic candidates or groups to fundraise for us).
Kyle Tharp, FWIW: Let’s talk more about the money side of things. Raphael Warnock had been running for election nonstop for like 3 years… how did that impact your ability to raise grassroots money? What was your small-dollar fundraising operation like, and how did you continue raising money in the face of potential donor fatigue?
Andrew Jorgenson: I think [Warnock] running for that long back to back was actually a good thing for fundraising, because he stayed in the news and top of mind to supporters. For example, they were always talking about him on CNN or cable news where many of our donors were camping out. That media attention often drove people to Google his name, and we made sure that the #1 Google result was always a “donate” link, which we’d try to target to the people most likely to give. The return on ad spend when it comes to search ads is just astronomical. It really pays off.
So sure, donor fatigue is a thing. But I think with Warnock, the power of his story, the power of his candidacy, fighting for voting rights and women's reproductive rights kept him top of mind for people.
In terms of other platforms for fundraising, we also used Facebook ads, email, and texting. [Facebook] wasn't nearly as profitable as it had been in previous cycles due to some iOS changes, so we really leaned into email and grew our texting program significantly too. We left no stone unturned when it came to fundraising online, throwing everything at the wall to make sure we had the resources that we needed.
Kyle Tharp, FWIW: What were some of the most compelling messages for fundraising?
Andrew Jorgenson: We really stuck to Warnock's story and where he came from. He grew up with 11 brothers and sisters in Savannah. He's the pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is the former pulpit of Dr. King.
We had that as a “home base” for our messaging when it came to fundraising. His personal story was really powerful and helped us maintain that sense of authenticity through all of our “asks.”
The other thing I was going to say on the fundraising piece is that we focused on using key moments of the campaign and we tried to anticipate and be prepared for them. For example, when your opponent is in the news or making headlines, that's a good moment to capitalize on for fundraising, because that’s when your potential donors may be most engaged.
Kyle Tharp, FWIW: I was going to ask: what were some of the most successful fundraising moments on the campaign?
Andrew Jorgenson: I think the fall of Roe v. Wade was a big one. Georgia held its primary at the end of May, and there was a lot of donor energy when our opponent was officially decided as Herschel Walker. I would say our biggest moment though was after the general election on November 8th, when it was clear we were going into a runoff and the Senate majority wasn't yet decided. Catherine Cortez Masto hadn't been declared winner in Nevada yet, and there was still a period of thinking it could come down to Georgia.
Kyle Tharp, FWIW: Your candidate was unique in that he’s a pastor with this nice-guy image. On the other hand, Herschel Walker was a deeply flawed individual in so many ways - almost a historically bad candidate. How did your team run against Walker online without being seen as mean or bullying?
Andrew Jorgenson: I think you're exactly right. We felt a lot of pressure to run our Senate race similar to other Senate campaigns around the country. But we held firm and let Warnock himself lead there. If he was going on the attack, he would do it in a very Georgia way, in a very Southern, “bless his heart” kind of way. When it got closer to Election Day, he would say that in his stump speech and had a line that was like “Come on folks, we have to show up and vote, I can’t have Herschel Walker representing my mama.”
Letting the candidate lead with that kind of messaging was important - we were always trying to think in his voice. On the other hand, we created this “Team Warnock” social media brand/account as a way to speak one step removed from his voice. That was where we could really let Herchel Walker speak for himself there using his own words to show folks that he just wasn't ready to represent Georgia.
We had an ad that we used on TV and digital that featured people just watching clips of Walker and responding to the stuff that he was saying on camera. That spoke for itself - which I think was a huge part of our strategy - letting Georgians just kind of see and decide for themselves. We made the choice very clear.
Kyle Tharp, FWIW: Warnock in 2022 was probably one of the highest-spending statewide campaigns on digital ads in political history. What platforms did your team prioritize the most?
Andrew Jorgenson: For persuasion, we focused a lot on YouTube, and then Facebook and Instagram were probably a very close second. We prioritized those platforms to make sure we hit the certain groups we wanted with our persuasion messages. Snapchat was also a small piece of the pie there too - we really wanted to make sure that we talked to young people for the duration of the cycle. Me and my friends maybe have moved off of Snapchat, but a lot of Georgians younger than myself still use the platform a lot.
It’s hard to ascribe what success looks like when it comes to persuasion tactics, in the runoff, younger voters and Gen Z voters outpaced most other groups, according to like the Secretary of State. So I think prioritizing some of those platforms like Snapchat and our youth targets was huge.
Kyle Tharp, FWIW: That’s what I was going to ask: It seems like younger voters - and whether or not they turned out - have become a major story of this election. How did you all prioritize reaching out to them online? Was it all TikTok and Snapchat?
Andrew Jorgenson: We did have a TikTok account, and a lot of our stuff that we were putting on other platforms ended up going on TikTok too. We had some really good ones [unique to TikTok]. For three of our fall interns, it was their main priority and they were just churning them out right and left. They kind of understood the platform a little bit more than some of the people on our approvals chain, so that could be a struggle to make sure things made sense to post from our accounts and how they would reflect on the campaign.
But more than just the platform, I think it comes down to what type of creative we’re showing young people and what do they want to see? Is it Raphael Warnock content? Is it just general voting explainer stuff? Is it ads about Warnock’s work on forgiving student debt?
We did a lot of campus visits and engagement, and a lot of our posts would be screenshotted by some of these groups and accounts that a lot of young people follow. Accounts like Butter ATL and ATLSCOOP. So we worked with some of those groups, and we also did an HBCU influencer program with folks on college campuses. We threw everything at the wall to see what stuck.
Kyle Tharp, FWIW: One last question: I wanted to get your thoughts on how you think the digital landscape changed this cycle and what folks should be prioritizing in terms of online political engagement moving forward?
Andrew Jorgenson: I think above all, someone who has a digital mindset needs to have a seat at the table in all circumstances, everywhere. Campaigns need somebody who knows how to take a communications goal or a messaging strategy and turn it into something that an online audience is going to read and share.
I think more and more campaigns are going to be tied to when “the big moments” are, when people are going to be talking about your race online and when people are going to be paying attention to you. Anticipating those key moments in an election is incredibly important. Don't just do your one-statement tweet. You should have like four or five different things ready to put out - videos, graphics, static posts - and then pivot to using that for fundraising or persuasion or whatever. Being able to move with immediacy is going to be huge.
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