Friday, November 16, 2012

Electing Obama, Saving Puget Sound

It might be instructive to take a look at the successful Obama campaign playbook when pondering how to build a constituency around restoring Puget Sound to health.

First of all, people have to know what’s at stake— and then need to know what they need to do to make a difference in what’s at stake. It took many millions of dollars to get that done in the presidential campaign.

And it was smart people spending money very smartly.

“It was called ‘the Optimizer,’ and, strategists for President Obama say it is how he beat a better-financed Republican opposition in the advertising war,” writes New York Times reporter Jim Rutenberg in “How Obama Won.”

“Culling never-before-used data about viewing habits, and combining it with more personal information about the voters the campaign was trying to reach and persuade than was ever before available, the system allowed Mr. Obama’s team to direct advertising with a previously unheard-of level of efficiency, strategists from both sides agree.” 
“Through its vast array of information collected via its e-mail list, Facebook and millions of door-to-door discussions conducted by volunteers in swing states — and fed into the campaign database — the campaign devised a ranking scale for voters ranging from likeliest to support Mr. Obama to least likely.”

From those voter profiles and ratings, the campaign developed its advertising campaign targeting specific messages via specific media, timing and frequency in swing states. Combined with volunteers on the ground, they got enough people to recognize what was at stake— and to get them to act — vote -- to make a difference.

Washington wasn’t a swing state so most of the Obama campaigning came to me via email messages from Barack, Joe, Michelle, Jim and a host of others I came to know nearly every day on first-name basis, inviting me to enter drawings to have dinner with the president and to join him election night in Chicago. Nothing out of the ordinary for a small amount contributor.

But the Obama campaign’s use of data mining and using that data moves way beyond even the sometimes amusing promotions I get from Amazon based on past purchases and purchases made by others whom they think I resemble.

The Obama campaign makes the campaign to save Puget Sound— the polling, data collecting, profiling and segmenting-- comically anachronistic. For years, the Puget Sound Partnership has been laboring under early polling that nearly three-quarters of the population thinks Puget Sound is in OK shape. That’s led leaders to shy away from decisive actions until more people see Puget Sound’s health as a problem.

Efforts to change that awareness — if in fact it is so sanguine — have proceeded like a low-grade infection. So how do you strategically go about getting enough people to recognize what is at stake— and to get them to take actions that will make a difference?

We’ll continue to nibble around the edges of the problems in Puget Sound until we take real action.

It costs money but there are smart people who know how to spend money very smartly.

--Mike Sato


  1. Great point Mike. The folks who jig smelt at Cornet Bay will need a much different message than those who live on the waterfront of Bainbridge Island - and I suspect there are pointed messages each would respond to. Tell it to Mr. Wright and Ms. Kongsgaard!

  2. Right on Mike! But today I still see the enviros and the agencies using the same old tools they've beeen comfortable with. it's kind of like never retiring the horse buggy whips in the age of freeways.

  3. As someone who is part of new methods of messaging being considered and implemented within the next few months from a consortium including Puget Sound Partnership, Department of Ecology, and many local municipalities, there is a thawing in the government sphere to begin using social media tools more creatively for environmental goals. True, it is new, we are as yet awkward, and many jurisdictions are still uncomfortable with it, but have faith, there will be a tipping point that will carry us forward in this new century. And believe me, Ms. Kongsgaard is very aware of this effort. By April 2013 check out the new Website at and join our social media networks. We will make a change.

  4. It's more than a new web site and social media networks, Doug. This is about data mining, profiling and segmenting strategically so you develop relevant content to communicate and persuade. Or, as Rabbit's Guy says above, "The folks who jig smelt at Cornet Bay will need a much different message than those who live on the waterfront of Bainbridge Island - and I suspect there are pointed messages each would respond to."


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