Automated Personalized Phone, Video and Social Media Systems with James O’Hara CW 28- transcript

Personalized robocallsJohn Tsarpalas: Today my guest on Commonwealthy is James O’Hara, co-founder of Extended Data. You go, “Okay, what does that mean?” Well, this company does some amazing things in the realm of automated phone calls, social media, and video.

You are going, “Oh, no, robo-calls. I don’t listen to them. Those are horrible.” Well, I think you think to think about that.

Automated calls are part of that portfolio that every campaign manager and campaign strategist needs to think about. They are very cost effective. You get things done very quickly. They have a short turn around time. And with the personalization that’s available through extended media, people feel like you are talking to the.

So I think it’s worth your while to listen to today’s episode, automated personalized phone, video, and social media systems with James O’Hara, Commonwealthy #28.

My guest today is James O’Hara, co-founder of Extended Data Solutions. But James and I are old buddies. When did we meet? 2001? 2002?

James O’Hara: Some of our most early meetings went back to 2001 when I introduced myself to you and let you know that I wanted to run for state representative.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Tina was around then. If you listen to this podcast, you know who Kristina Keats is. She has been on many of these podcasts with me. She’s sort of my old partner in- I hate to say crime because we were up to doing good deeds for the world.

James O’Hara: You had just come off helping Senator Mark Kirk get elected into the 10th Congressional district. He won congressman in a very, very tight race. The New Trier Republican organization had a big role in that.

John Tsarpalas: Right. We had just had our first big congressional win with Mark. We were optimistic that we could continue to do well in a very Democrat area, which it was. And you are a Northwestern grad, so then you were living in Evanston.

Back in those days, which we still do, we called it the People’s Republic of Evanston because it is so far to the left. You decided you wanted to run for state rep in that area, which was, just bless you for trying. It was such a hard district in terms of the way it was gerrymandered. The principles of the people of Evanston is progressive.

James O’Hara: Not just Evanston, which is a town that I do love having gone to Northwestern, but there was a giant section of Roger’s Park. I’ll never forget after you and Tolbert and Tina and I had sat down and said, “Great. Okay, James, let’s have you run. This is going to be a good experience. Let’s have a good time with this,” the NTRO picnic in Kenilworth occurred a few weeks later.

I met a guy named Dan Proft who had graduated from Northwestern a couple of years behind me. I was like, “Hey, Dan, how is it going? Nice to meet you. I’m running as a Republican in the 18th district of Illinois for state rep.” He said, “Why?”

John Tsarpalas: Well, Dan has always been one to cut to the chase. Dan’s on the radio here. If you are a Chicago resident, he’s heard every morning. He does a conservative talk show here and doing very well with that. He’s still around.

Yeah, why? Well, why? Because we needed a candidate and it was worth trying. That’s why. But, gosh, it was a tough district.

So you were one of the first to, in my mind, start automating things. You just kind of went with that and created a whole business out of it. You still are at it.

But back in those days, I remember Tina and I had talked about this in one of our previous podcasts about using Access for a voter database. You had taken Access and somehow created a way to make queries much easier for us. That’s one of the first things you did for the system.

And then you barcoded Get Out the Vote for us, which was a completely new concept. Then you kept going.

James O’Hara: That was a novel concept, which I think many federal and statewide organizations use today, but I want to say that we were one of the first organized groups that attempted this. Basically what I learned from you and Tina, which every candidate running for office needs to understand… In fact, I’ll go back as far as a preliminary meeting I had with Dan Rutherford, whose is well known in the state of Illinois.

John Tsarpalas: He’s a former state treasurer. A state senator and then state treasurer.

James O’Hara: So Dan Rutherford had a meeting with a group of candidates. It was put on by the House Republican organization. He did an educational session. He said, “Alright, you got this organization going forward. Let’s talk about what you guys are going to do to win. So let me just ask you first (I want you to raise your hands) whose got a databases of pluses?”

I don’t think anyone in the room knew what a database of pluses actually meant. So what we learned is that database of pluses means that you have a district and you have a voter file. You have individual voter records listed in that database. Within that database, you identify who are the people who have least said to you on the phone or when you have knocked on the doors, “I will support you, James.”

I don’t think anyone really knew what that meant. One of my first lessons was you have to understand who your pluses are. Once you understand who your pluses are, then you can deploy various technologies, systems, and procedures to make sure that those identified supporters are actually going to go out and vote for you on Election Day.

John Tsarpalas: Right. Well said. And we are still preaching that here. You’ve got to find your pluses. It’s all about knocking on those doors and finding pluses.

James O’Hara: It is. And if you don’t know who your pluses are, then how do you have an effective GOTV strategy. So without going into too much detail, essentially what we did is we assigned codes to every voter in the district. We identified codes for supporters and pluses.

Then what we did is we put poll watchers at each polling location and would have them send a text messages (and this is before smartphones, so we were using old AT&T or Nokia phones that had very basic, rudimentary text messaging capabilities) with the code for the identified plus who actually came to vote.

We would receive that and import it into the Microsoft Access database. Then we would know, “Okay, among our pluses, who has actually voted today?” So then our target became pluses who had not yet voted. With those pluses who had not yet voted, around 3 p.m. we deployed a volunteer and an automated strategy to contact those households and encourage them to vote on Election Day.

John Tsarpalas: Right. You rigged it. People need to understand this was primitive back in the day. I don’t know how you did it. It was genius. It would call and if they answered, it would hang up. Then it would refer it over to someone to live call it.

James O’Hara: That’s right! I forgot about that, John. You are right.

John Tsarpalas: And if no one answered and it went to a voicemail, then you played a recorded call that said, “It’s Election Day. It’s going to be very close Please show up at your polling place. Please vote today before 7 p.m.” So it kicked over to our roomful of volunteers.

Then there is something else I need to just praise you. You did one of the most magnanimous things ever. That’s when you got close to the end and you realized that your district just was overwhelming Democrat.

Yet the next district over had a Republican incumbent and it was winnable. You threw all of your resources for Beth and backed off your race. Beth won by 600 votes and it’s because of you that she managed to hold that seat.

James O’Hara: That’s very nice of you to remember that, John.

John Tsarpalas: Who can forget that? My gosh! Who has that kind of take one for the team spirit, but also the ability to control your own ego and realize that it wasn’t going to happen for you. This was down to the last week or two.

We just knew how many pluses you had and how many you needed and how many they had. It just didn’t add up. You knew it, and you had people and resources that you threw to Beth, who was literally just down a few hundred votes. In the end she won by 600 votes. Thank you! It was huge.

James O’Hara: It all goes back to you and Tolbert and Tina and a lot of leadership at NTRO who could actually motivate and get people to volunteer and agree to knock on doors and make phone calls. I always say with politics, it’s got to be fun.

I think for a successful local campaign, you have to create fun environments for people to volunteer. If you can bring a bunch of likeminded individuals together with some pizza and soda and say, “Hey, let’s work on this for three or four hours then talk about the fun stories that we had,” you actually can make a difference.

John Tsarpalas: We really did and we really can. And you still can. It’s still the same thing. It is about a feeling of spirit and having fun and team camaraderie.

You mentioned Tolbert. I should throw in here Tolbert Chisum, one of the best people I’ve ever met in my life, mentor, and part of the team of Tina and myself and James and a whole lot of other people back in those New Trier Republican days, which were really great days for Tina and I. And for you, too, I know.

James O’Hara: It was a lot of fun. Some of my great memories from my adulthood stem from being in that office on Park Drive and formulating some great relationships. But again, it all goes back to people having a common interest and a common goal and bonding over that and saying, “Okay, great. Let’s put some elbow grease together as team, have some fun, and try to change something.” That I think was the most important part.

John Tsarpalas: Right. So let’s bring it more to the present day. You got your feet wet, teeth cut (I don’t know what the right analogy is) on campaigns and how it works. You’ve put that together with your technical abilities. You had Extended Data, but you turned it into this technology resource for Republicans and conservatives and free market campaigns.

So let’s talk a little bit about that and what technologies are out there and how people can do that. Perhaps we should start with some real simple things. Most people are familiar with the automated phone call. I think that’s one of the first areas you moved into, correct?

James O’Hara: Yup.

John Tsarpalas: So let’s start. There’s the basic recorded message that gets played. But talk to us a little bit more about the details of how that works. It has to have a database behind it, etc.

James O’Hara: Sure. So the automated phone call business has been around for quite some time. It’s exactly what you described, John. You record a message, you have a database, and you basically blast out the same message. I can remember you and I having conversations back in the day about this.

As a state rep candidate or running for school board or municipal office or city council or whatever it might be, you don’t spend a lot of money on television and radio or a campaign strategist. You basically spend money on phone and mail.

So that’s what I did when I ran for state representative. I would ask my friends, people I knew who lived in the district, “Hey, did you get my phone call?” or “Did you receive my mail piece?” Invariably the answer was, “No, when I get those automated phone calls, I often times will just hang up or if it is on my answering machine, I hit the delete button.” With mail they said, “Once I realized it is political, I just kind of toss it in the garbage.”

I thought, “This is kind of ironic.” We spend our time doing two things, which you have to do: doing persuasive activities, like knocking on doors and making phone calls and going to debates and convincing people that you are the right candidate, getting volunteers, etc., and then raising money, like asking people to donate to your campaign.

You raise this money. You put in some money yourself. What do you spend it on if you are running in a local office? You spend it on mail and phones.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And people are deleting it, hanging up on it, or throwing it in the garbage.

James O’Hara: Exactly! So I thought, “This is crazy.” What I did in 2001 was, as we talked about I living in Evanston, Illinois with my young family. I took my database and I just took the Smith families. I did have a four port dialer, which means I could make four phone calls with an automated phone delivery system at the same time.

I took all the databases’ Smith families, uploaded it to the dialer, and recorded a message which said, “Hi, Smith family. This is James O’Hara, a Republican candidate for state representative. It’s a beautiful Saturday morning in Evanston. Let me tell you why I am running.” And then I would give my points.

I did that and then I did it for the Johnson family and the Jones family. And then I called the John’s and the Mary’s and the Tom’s. I did it for several days. I did the same thing for Evanston and Wilmette.

John Tsarpalas: How did you think of that? That was genius.

James O’Hara: I don’t remember how I thought of that.

John Tsarpalas: You are the first person to do that.

James O’Hara: I think we were in the political arena. I just realized if people are going to say, “When I get an automated phone call, I am going to hang up,” I thought what if I speak their name? They say you only have a few seconds when you are marketing yourself, whether it is the corporate world or the political world. You only have a few seconds to capture someone’s imagination.

So I thought if I greeted them by their name immediately, they would at least pay attention. I went back to some of those people and said, “Hey did you get my message?” They were like, “I heard it. That was awesome. I heard your message.”

I kept doing that. We did it with mail as well. We would personalize mail with the household’s first name and their town. We put graphics for their town, be it Wilmette, Winnetka, or Kenilworth. I think we got traction that we might not have otherwise gotten.

John Tsarpalas: Right. I remember you would have variable pictures. It would print different backgrounds so it looked like it came for just that town or that school area. I remember you even going by schools and kind of relate people to their neighborhood school in some of the literature you were doing. It was really brilliant.

James O’Hara: Yeah, that philosophy is still very, very much attend of what we do today. I think Tip O’Neill said, “All politics are local.” People care about local initiatives. They care about federal. They care about state. But they also care about what’s going on in their backyards. If somehow or another you can appear to be showing that you have a focus towards the local angle, you are going to capture their imagination more effectively than if it is something generic.

John Tsarpalas: Let’s give them a little bit more of an example. For instance, did you have Mike Ditka record this? Did we do that? Can we talk about that?

James O’Hara: Sure.

John Tsarpalas: I remember people saying to me, “I can’t believe Mike Ditka called me.” Your equipment senses if it is voicemail or it is live, correct?

James O’Hara: Yup, absolutely

John Tsarpalas: So it would hang up if someone answered. But if it was voicemail, it would leave a message. It would be like, “Hi, James, Mike Ditka. I am calling people on Washington Avenue today because I am supporting John Doe for Congress. I am sorry I missed you.” People think Mike Ditka really called them. People were talking about that for a long time.

James O’Hara: A few follow ups there. So Congressman Peter Roskam is the only person to date that has recorded street names. I think he fully understands the capability of the technology. What we did is we provided him a list of the top street names in his districts. So he would record messages.

If I am reaching out to you and your neighbors on Main Street and your neighbors on Oak Street and your neighbors on First street. He actually did that. I believe that is a very effective use of the technology. I need to do a better job of helping others understand.

Sure, you have to spend maybe thirty minutes out of your busy day. Pick a day, a weekend or a weekday or whatever it might be, and let’s record the streets in your districts. But it is very, very effective. When you get a phone call from your congressman saying, “I am reaching out to you and your neighbors on Wilmette Avenue,” that’s going to be meaningful.

John Tsarpalas: Right.

James O’Hara: The other thing, too, regarding the live versus answering machine devices. We first started off- you are exactly right, John- believe that if the person answers live, then you don’t want to say, “Hi, John” or “Hi, Marybeth” or “Hi, Stephanie” because if the person who is answering is not Marybeth or John, then it is going to confuse them and be ineffective.

What we realized (and this goes back to another point you just raised), we are actually not trying to dope them into believing that the person has actually called their home. Certainly people do think that has happened. But what we are trying to do is capture their attention.

If I get a call at home for Stephanie and the recorded message says, “Hi, Stephanie,” and it’s actually me, James, answering the phone, at least I know this call is intended for my household. So I am not going to hang up. I am going to pay attention to what is this message for Stephanie.

So we changed that very, very early on. So we will speak the voter’s first name. If it is the last name, like “Hi, Smith family” or “Hi, Johnson family,” it’s a no brainer. But if it is just a voter that we are targeting the household, we’ll speak that name even in a live answer because we know all we are trying to do is get them to listen and pay attention.

Most importantly, then we can track how long these people who answered live listened to the message. What percentage of people listened to the entire message? What was the average message listen rate among all live listeners?

John Tsarpalas: Tina always says we need to ask questions, even if it is an automated call. You want to get their attention somehow. So scripts are really important here. Do you have some secrets to scripts?

James O’Hara: Yeah, again I’ll go back to Congressman Roskam, who is brilliant. He did a fundraising call where they sent him a letter. The letter arrived in people’s homes. We timed this personalized phone call to arrive at the same time that we expected the mail to arrive. What he did as effectively as anyone I’ve ever worked with is to sound very colloquial in his message.

So he leaves this message and says, “Hi, Smith family” or “Hi, Davis family. It’s Peter Roskam. I just want to let you know we just dropped a note to your home about our current fundraising efforts. If you should receive it- Let’s see, today’s Wednesday, so you should receive it either tomorrow, Thursday, or Friday.” Very colloquial and very, very natural sounding.

I think that’s one of the secrets. You can’t sound like it’s a staged recording. It has to sound colloquial. Then when you bring the variable components together, whether it be a reference to their street name or their hometown or their last name or first name, the end product has to sound very user-friendly and natural.

John Tsarpalas: I want to bring up some thoughts on why phones are so important, this type of phone. Number one, they are fairly inexpensive. If you are just doing a simple message, they are downright cheap. When they are variable, there’s a lot more work involved. But they are still effective and inexpensive.

The other thing that happens with a phone system is it can respond quickly. If you’ve got that October surprise and you’re attacked one week before Election Day or the weekend before and there is no time to respond, a phone system can respond within an hour or half-hour.

So I really think it is important for a campaign to have a relationship with someone who is a vendor for these products, such as yourself. I also think it is important to have recorded, just as Peter Roskam has, all those street names and variables so that a variable recording can happen. Do one earlier on, but then you’ve also got the fire power if you need to drop something quickly.

James O’Hara: Absolutely. Most candidates need to understand that you need to be able to respond to issues in a very timely basis. Mail is great. Mail is a great medium. Radio ads if you can afford them are a great medium. But sometimes you need to respond very, very quickly, as you just mentioned, John, with a very timely response and message. Phones offer you a way to do it.

With variable voice technology, what’s great is the way we set it up you can record the household’s first name or last name. You can make a reference to their street or their hometown. And then you build the script so that whatever your message is, it can be used in a variety of different situations, whether it is Get Out the Vote, early voting, a respond to an attack ad, or fundraising. So it is going to fit in in any effort.

So the candidate at that point, having done the upfront work, which again I always say takes less than one hour to record these variable, personalized components, can in a couple minutes record the main message if you will for what they want to deliver. They can then have that go out.

Obviously in this day and age in 2015, there’s a lot of negative feelings towards automated phone calls. We don’t feel like a personalized, targeted phone call is the same as a traditional robo-call. You can actually provide value.

In many Midwestern states, the concept of early voting is still new. When does early voting start? Where do I vote early? Is it at my regular polling place? Is it at my church? Is it at my elementary school?

So if you can provide a personalized, targeted phone call which provides information which is value added to the voter, regardless of how they are going to vote, then that is something that is not in the same league or ballpark as a traditional robo-call.

John Tsarpalas: I agree. I think that’s really important. For instance, here in Illinois it starts thirty days before, but it is much more limited in where you can vote. Most people don’t know where those places are. They might know where their regular polling places is at the local school, church, or whatever. But the early voting sites are farther apart and fewer. That’s really a great use to remind them.

James O’Hara: The information just isn’t there. The intel isn’t there. These early voting locations change all the time from year to year. As you just mentioned, John, they are not at your traditional polling place. The times change based upon the day of the week. And it’s a huge value to the voter to be able to say, “Hey, I am not going to wait in line on Election Day. I am going to vote early.”

An automated phone call which provides that voter and that household the details of where their early voting location is is a great benefit to a citizen, a voter. But also if you are running a campaign and you’ve got your identified pluses, why wouldn’t you tell your identified pluses where they can vote early or when they can vote early to help get out your vote before Election Day?

John Tsarpalas: Right. And the phone system, the database can be current. It could be the people you identified up to the day you send it over to the phone system, versus if you are going to mail this, it’s got to go to a printer, get barcoded, and go through the postal system. So you have missed three, four, five days of people that were identified, versus the phone call is going to give the database probably an hour before or less than a day before.

James O’Hara: Absolutely. I think that also helps with volunteer recruitment. If you are going to ask people to go out and knock on doors and make phone calls for you in the campaign days, which is great, it’s really a value added statement or a benefit to that volunteer to be able to say, “Hey, besides having a party, we are actually going to leverage your work. The pluses that you identify, we are going to use some techniques which are going to ensure those people.”

You know, John, polls mean nothing. It’s how can you get your people to the polls on Election Day. If you can be the biggest supporter for candidate A for the school board or candidate B for state rep, but if you don’t actually go to the polls on Election Day, it doesn’t matter.

John Tsarpalas: Right, it doesn’t count. We have not gotten to Get Out the Vote in our podcasts. We are sort of working our way there chronologically, talking right now sort of systems. We just talked about data systems not long ago. We are talking about your system. We are going to be talking about mail and mail vending, things like that, in the next few podcasts.

So you can do other things with phones, though. You mentioned polling. There are automated robo-polls. Do you get into that?

James O’Hara: Absolutely. I am glad you brought that up. Automated polls, right now we are in the midst of every day reading articles about what is the latest poll in Iowa. What’s the latest poll in South Carolina or Florida or New Hampshire?

A lot of these polls are done by human beings that are sitting in a call center and going through a script and asking people. They are not just asking them, “Are you voting for Trump or Bush or Cruz?” They are asking them questions about their background, their ethnicity, their age, how likely they are to vote, and they are marrying that with actual voter history data.

Did this person vote in the last election cycle? How many times in the last four years? Do they vote Republican? Do they not vote in primaries? Companies like Real Clear Politics are able to provide some fairly sophisticated analysis.

But all of that is expensive. When you put someone in a calling center, a professional individual in a calling center, and staff that calling center, it’s pricey. What we are able to do, and very effectively, is the same thing but with an automated phone call.

Again, it goes back to you, okay you have to engage that person. You have to make sure that they are going to answer the questions that you are asking. We have found with our methodology of greeting the household by name or the voter by name.

We will even go so far as to say, “This call is for John. Am I speaking with John?” So if John answers the phone, he might press one, but if it is Mary Beth, she might hit two. We verify that we’ve got the right voter. We can track his or her voter history in the databases.

And then we go through a series of questions. Again, without going into a lot of detail, there’s two metrics that we use. The first metric is what percent of people who take a personalized, automated survey will answer at least one question. So the first question that you ask is probably the one that surveyors are most interested in. I need to get at least this one.

But you can have a survey, which we’ve done, with twenty or twenty-five questions. So the next metric is what percent of people will answer all questions, take the full survey. We’ve done municipal and statewide and federal campaigns polling where we use those metrics.

The answer is yes, when you can speak their name and make a reference to something that is meaningful to them with a personalized phone call up front, before you start answering the questions, your response rate is significantly higher. It really represents a hybrid, we like to say, between the more expensive personalized but live call, where you paying for someone who is in a call center, and a less expensive personalized experience that is automated.

We feel that we can get very similar results as a live experience solution would provide as you would imagine at a far lesser price.

John Tsarpalas: Okay. How big of a universe or how small of a universe is this worth bothering with? Is it ten thousand households? Ten thousand people? A hundred thousand? What scales of economy does this work for?

James O’Hara: Another great question, John. So we’ve worked with scales of five hundred people to ten million people when we’ve done federal races. For the client, if I am running for school board and I am trying to contact five hundred pluses, it is going to work for them.

It’s a question of a partnership: does it work for both sides? So what we try to do is make sure that is something that is affordable, meaningful for the client, and it is going to be meaningful for us as well. As you mentioned earlier, there is a lot of work with setting these up.

Compare with what we do to the price of the stamp and a mail piece. At the end of the day, you just have to pick and choose what are the weapons you are going to use to get out your message. No matter what the universe is, we are always more effective than even a generic mail piece.

John Tsarpalas: Oh, absolutely. The other thought is push polls. You can do negative messaging via the pretense of a poll, correct?

James O’Hara: Yes and we’ve done it.

John Tsarpalas: I know. I have done it, too. That’s why I am bringing it up. “Would you vote for John Smith even if you’ve realized he’s embezzled more than one hundred million dollars?” Stuff like that.

James O’Hara: Yeah, we had a congressional candidate in Illinois. I give him a ton of credit. He had all these ideas of things that we could do. So they are very effective. They are above board. There is nothing which can be scrutinized in a negative way or called out as being improper.

There are many things you can do to kind of spin the message if you will, as you just suggested with the push poll, in a way that is going to be favorable to your client.

John Tsarpalas: I think I should define what a push poll is. I push poll is you are trying to sway someone’s opinion under the pretenses that this is a poll. So you are using negative terms about your opponent and positive terms about yourself, if you are using both sides in the same poll. Or they could be separate; one’s just a negative and one’s just a positive. Then they are separate polls.

But you are trying to push the voters thinking in the poll versus a true poll is neutral and is trying to find out what you are thinking, not trying to sway your thinking. That’s what a push poll is. The difference is that.

James O’Hara: And if you look at society today, in many, many forms and mediums of marketing, they are all push polls. It is not necessarily candidate A versus candidate B. But a lot of the messaging that we receive today as Americans are kind of constructed in a way to kind of guide the recipients thinking into a certain direction, which is really no different than what a push poll does.

John Tsarpalas: Right. And we see that every day with our news media and their liberal bias. They are trying to guide us to where they want us to go versus the neutral position and letting us make up our own minds.

James O’Hara: Exactly.

John Tsarpalas: So now you’ve also taken this to social media, correct?

James O’Hara: Absolutely.

John Tsarpalas: Tell me more because I haven’t seen a lot of this.

James O’Hara: Really, the layer before social media, John, is video, which you referenced up front. It’s the same concept. Again, the universal landlines is dwindling. More and more of my friends do not have landlines anymore. We have a landline at our home because we’ve got two children who don’t have cell phones. If there is an emergency, we need a landline.

The reality is that as a country, we are moving away from landlines and moving more towards cell phone only households. We have to be able to be diverse and progressive in how we get our client’s message out.

Certainly video is a big way to do that. Variable interactive video, more specifically, is the way to do that. We have to do that in a kind of ubiquitous manner, so that is computers and laptops and cell phones and tablets. That’s how people are competing today.

It doesn’t matter whether you are running for federal office or school board, you have to think about how you are going to communicate with the constituents in your district. Video, again, (it sounds crazy to say this) but corporate America is moving towards video communications as a way of marketing and getting their message out. In the political arena, the same thing is happening.

So we are doing that, but we are doing it I would say in a three point fashion. The first is the same thing we talked about with voice, with personalized video and greeting the viewer by name. Or maybe not greeting by name; that’s a prerequisite. Maybe we refer to the hometown. Maybe we know something about their interests or their profiles, so talking about talking specific issues that are going to be relevant with them. So personalization is one.

The second one is interactivity. So within the video itself, you have the ability to allow the viewer to press a button, which indicates they are interested in lower taxes versus creating jobs versus rights for gun owners versus protecting life. So interactively allowing a viewer to make options in the screen and then have that video content which follows be specific to what they are interested in.

Finally all the way down to capturing data. So someone could say, “Yes, I want to volunteer. Here’s my email address. I am interested in a yard sign or making phone calls.” And even donating. So within the video itself (it sounds crazy) we can have the candidate or a voiceover encourage someone to donate to the campaign. And within the video itself, allow them to enter their credit card number and their billing address and hit the donate button and capture that information.

So we call it variable interactive video. We feel that this is the next frontier in the political domain.

John Tsarpalas: How much data can you supply people who haven’t done? For instance, are you able to get lists of hunting licenses and things like that so that you can add that into the database to figure out who might be gun owner or things like that.

James O’Hara: That’s a fabulous question. I think going back to President Bush’s first election-

John Tsarpalas: That’s when it all started.

James O’Hara: That’s when it all started. You remember you had a representative from the firm that helped President Bush in his first election cycle talk about… He came in when you were the head of the Illinois Republican Party. He came in and he talked about what that did to aggregate all of this information.

That’s a great example you just gave, John. Someone who subscribes to Field and Stream or who buys at a Field and Stream type of store-

John Tsarpalas: Right, Bass Pro Shop or Gander Mountain or one of those outdoor sporting goods places.

James O’Hara: So this data is collected and aggregated. It’s called micro-targeting. You can basically, without knowing if this household or if this voter in this household is going to support Republican candidate A versus Democratic D or Independent C, leverage this data to make assumptions.

Say, “Hey, we’ve never contacted this household. They’ve never answered this door. They’ve never taken a phone call. They’ve never taken a survey. But they subscribe to these magazines and have these profile characteristics and they do vote. We know from their public voting history they actually vote. So we are going to assume they are on our side.”

So to answer you question, John, we don’t do that. Our particular firm doesn’t do that. But there are a lot of really good organizations that provide that. That intelligence is absolutely critical to formulating a voter contact strategy.

John Tsarpalas: So you can buy it. It has a price, but you can buy it for your campaign if you want to go that way and if you have that kind of money and those kinds of funds.

James O’Hara: Absolutely.

John Tsarpalas: I probably should have a whole podcast on whole micro-targeting concept. Although for a local race, this is expensive. It takes it to a whole other level. But it is fascinating.

When I heard about what they were doing in 2004… One of the reasons why Bush won big in 2004 was micro-targeting. It was a brilliant concept. Of course the other side’s caught up on it now.

James O’Hara: I don’t think the term before 2004 of micro-targeting existed.

John Tsarpalas: No, it didn’t. It did not.

James O’Hara: It didn’t exist. So what these early firms were doing with micro-targeting, as you said, is now in a different perspective and different landscape. But the same concepts apply.

John Tsarpalas: Right. A real simple one is that 98% of people who drive Subaru’s vote Democrat. It’s that simple. So don’t mail to Subaru drivers if you are a Republican.

James O’Hara: What about Volvos? Who do they vote for?

John Tsarpalas: Volvos used to be bigger. Now it’s switched to Subaru.

James O’Hara: Okay.

John Tsarpalas: In 2004 Volvo drivers were the problem. I had a Volvo and I was like, “Hey, wait a minute!” But anyway.

James O’Hara: The other one that I recently heard was that 72% of men who buy their suits at Joseph A. Bank are Democrat. I am like, “Hey, I’ve got three Joseph A. Bank suits!” So I don’t know what that means.

John Tsarpalas: Yeah, I don’t know what that means either. So anyway, micro-targeting data is available. That helps to append to your file so that you have even more ability.

But what I wanted to also say was this is a reason why a campaign if it starts early or keeps going can be out doing issue IDing of voters. You are not only calling to say, “Are you voting for John Doe?”

You are calling up in an off year to say, “Do you support lower taxes for your school? Are you concerned about higher property taxes?” Or whatever some issues are that you can identify. You get that in your file so that come election time, you’ve got that data to target those people with specifics.

James O’Hara: Absolutely, John. Your narrative is perfect. I know the timing of your podcast and the type of interface you are providing, the timing is perfect. Your duty efforts have to be based on data.

As we just talked about, you can buy that data and do different things. But in the actual campaign in May through Labor Day and into Halloween time periods, collecting information about the voters in your district is absolutely key.

We did a program several years ago in the state of Ohio where the ballot issue was “Should the state of Ohio allow legalized gambling in X number of sites in the state: Cincinnati, Dayton, Cleveland, Columbus, etc.?” One of the larger kind of P.R. organizations in the state hired us to ask people, “Where do you stand on this gambling issue?”

So we asked a bunch of questions. “From one to five what do you think about this? And what about this? And would this motivate you?” So what we did was capture a bunch of intelligence down to the household level. That intelligence then drives your GOTV efforts.

So it is all related. They are all tied in to one another. Whether you are running for school board or state rep or state senator or Congress or President, your strategy has to be a cohesive strategy over a period of time.

What you are talking about now is collecting that data up front, identifying issues, what’s important to you, what’s not important to you, where do stand middle of the road. And then when it comes time to deploy your Get Out the Vote strategies, leverage that intelligence to effectively drive your GOTV efforts.

John Tsarpalas: Correct. And also your persuasion efforts, even before GOTV. If you know they are worried about property taxes and you are the candidate running on that issue, they need to know your name and they need to be supporting you. So you can then target them with information about you to win them over to supporting you.

James O’Hara: You nailed it. As you and I both know, what motivates one household is going to be different from another household. So if you can collect that information upfront, and then sell them and say, “Hey, I am the candidate who is going to…”

Let’s go back to school board. There are things that certain families care about and things they don’t care about. So you are exactly right; if you can then capture that information and then deliver it back to them in a way to say, “Hey, I am going to fight for this particular issue,” it is going to cause them to be more inclined to vote for you.

John Tsarpalas: Correct, and if you can get it down to each person in that household because there are houses that are divided on issues as well, which is frightening but true.

James O’Hara: It’s very frightening and it is tough.

John Tsarpalas: It is tough.

James O’Hara: It is easier when the households are united.

John Tsarpalas: Yes. So back to what you are up to. So we talked about video. We never did get fully into social media. You can also do targeting with social media, correct?

James O’Hara: Absolutely. So the fun thing with social media is that you have the ability to essentially allow the campaign to have an application. That application can interface with social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. If you have an individual who is willing to provide you with access to their social media profile, then you can do a lot of fun things.

We’ve done programs with Congressman Kinzinger, for example, in which we launched a personalized variable video Facebook campaign that would allow a Facebook user to view a video from Congressman Kinzinger on a variety of different topics and then select a friend from their friend to send it.

So I would send a video from me, James, to you, John. Congressman Kinzinger would say, “Hey, John, I heard from your friend James. He said you were interested in this issue about guns” or taxation or creating jobs. So it creates this kind of viral message opportunity to share issues that the candidate believes in, subscribes to, and allows voters or constituents to then in a viral fashion spread that word among people they know are going to be receptive.

John Tsarpalas: Cool. There’s a lot here. It’s sounds a little more complicated than it is. Well, it is and isn’t. On the tech end it is very complicated, but none of us have to worry about that. What we need to think about is what is our strategy? What is our budget? Who are we trying to reach? When? Do we have some backup plans in case problems arise, like attacks?

Anyway, there are these different techniques and possibilities. How do they best fit your campaign and your plan? Think about them. Investigate them. Ask questions. Feel free to reach out to James. James, how can people get a hold of you to ask questions about your systems?

James O’Hara: I can always be reached directly in my office at 312-953-9560 or via email

John Tsarpalas: They have a beautiful website, by the way., take a look there. It really is nice. 

James O’Hara: Thank you. As we’ve been focusing more on what we are doing with personalized and targeted communications, there is a link to our secondary site, which is We go into a lot more detail about some of the things that we are doing with variable video, variable voice, and interactive video on our Personicom site.

John Tsarpalas: First of all, it has been fun to talk to you. Second of all, I think we gave people a lot of ideas and thoughts. I think it has been not only educational, but also informative.

I just feel like it is one of the first podcasts where we are really starting to get to strategy as well as the tools and putting them together. That’s what these are. You offer a lot of different tools and they come in different price ranges and they come ideally for different situations.

People need to think more about these tools, find out more about these tools, and put this into their plan early on and work with them. James, thanks. I really appreciate it. It’s been so fun. We got to hang together soon. I don’t know when we are going to be in the same city again.

James O’Hara: I am coming up for homecoming.

John Tsarpalas: Good! Okay, great. We’ll have to get together. I look forward to it. Thanks!

James O’Hara: Thank you so much, John. This has been really fun and entertaining.

John Tsarpalas: If you think your campaign can use automated personalized phone, video, or social media systems, check out James is offering a fifteen percent discount to listeners of the Commowealthy podcast. Just use the offer code COMMONWEALTY.

As always, we have transcripts, show notes, and links to everything we talked about in this episode. So feel free to check us out at Please pass on the word about Commonwealthy to your friends and those that are politically active. We’d love to grow our community and we are here to help you. We are here to answer your questions. Thanks for listening!

James O’Hara: What we realized (and this goes back to another point you just raised), we are actually not trying to dope them into believing that the person has actually called their home. Certainly people do think that has happened. But what we are trying to do is capture their attention.

If I get a call at home for Stephanie and the recorded message says, “Hi, Stephanie,” and it’s actually me, James, answering the phone, at least I know this call is intended for my household. So I am not going to hang up. I am going to pay attention to what is this message for Stephanie.

So we changed that very, very early on. So we will speak the voter’s first name. If it is the last name, like “Hi, Smith family” or “Hi, Johnson family,” it’s a no brainer. But if it is just a voter that we are targeting the household, we’ll speak that name even in a live answer because we know all we are trying to do is get them to listen and pay attention.

Most importantly, then we can track how long these people who answered live listened to the message. What percentage of people listened to the entire message? What was the average message listen rate among all live listeners?


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