Rocket Fuel’s Medici: Within Two Election Cycles, Everything is Going to Be Done Programmatically

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It’s campaign season, and as the field of presidential candidates gets whittled down over the next several months, we can expect the traditional rush of political commercials that have become impossible to avoid in our age of multiscreen connectivity. But ad-tech developments, especially around programmatic, are providing plenty of other creative options for campaigns and advertisers.

As Street Fight reported this summer, the convergence of social media and local is providing ways to target and reach audiences like never before. There are so many new opportunities that Rocket Fuel, a dominating presence in programmatic advertising, has given its director, JC Medici, a new title — national director of politics and advocacy — to handle campaign-specific challenges. Street Fight talked to Medici about election strategies and the link between programmatic and local.

Medici will join us as a speaker at the Street Fight Summit in New York on October 20th. Click here for more info and to buy tickets.

What accounts for all the attention programmatic is getting, especially in this election cycle?
It’s creating a massive degree of scale that we didn’t have before. It’s really a seamless mechanism for bringing in data. If you can bring in data and scale, work with the right companies, and manage to do that cross-device, it’s an amazing way to put relevant, meaningful messaging in front of people.

Over the last year, you’ve changed titles and overseen an evolving political department within Rocket Fuel. Can you talk about the company’s strategy for handling the upcoming election?
The reason why the [new] position is here is because with politics, you have to have everything centralized. Part of the challenge is how quickly you have to turn things around. You’re going from the idea that the campaign wants to a live campaign within two to three hours, so one of the most important things is to be efficient. I’ve worked for ad networks, and in a typical digital setup, you don’t have that level of efficiency. Technologies and the companies behind them are used to planting a flag and having brands learn how to work with them, but in politics, you have to learn how to work in the political arena, or you just don’t win any business.

What Rocket Fuel decided to do is create a whole new infrastructure within the company. We’re hiring upwards of 20 people for the upcoming election. That way we can execute quickly and meet the demands of the turnaround times. We anticipate the number of campaigns we’re going to be running will be three to five times higher than what we did in 2014. We knew the model we had in place in 2014 wouldn’t be sustainable for 2016, so there was a need to invest and do things differently.

To what degree is the political advertising mix following the shift toward digital?
In politics, advertising is definitely still a TV-centric world: roughly 90 to 95 percent TV and then a five percent allocation for digital. For the last three months, all we’ve been doing is running TV ads online via pre-roll. There are other things that grab headlines and garner attention, but when it really comes down to it, especially as the campaign winds down, you’re really only doing two things: leveraging a voter file for the audience segment that you’ve created through various partnerships, and running pre-roll ads online. That’s the essence of it.

Until the digital and offline landscapes are better integrated — we’re getting there thanks to the advent of programmatic TV — advertising will remain siloed and TV will continue to dominate. We’re moving in a direction where the voter is going to be a 360-degree touchpoint, and the media accessibility is going to be very easy. Everything is going to be done programmatically, and I think you’ll see that shift within two election cycles.

Is programmatic enabling political marketers to more easily reach voters at the local level?
One thousand percent, absolutely. We’re running campaigns in single congressional districts. Without programmatic, we wouldn’t be able to turn these campaigns around and run individual messages in different districts. Not only that, we’re leveraging third-party data, so we’re able to use highly specialized audience segments in very granular locations, and run effective messaging. And then you’re able to reach people through cross-device mechanisms. That’s something we didn’t have access to six to eight years ago. Now it’s readily available and making campaigns scalable.

Annie Melton is Street Fight’s news editor.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.