A Year In Lockdown: 3 Ways COVID Changed Campaigns

At the beginning of the pandemic, worry ensued that campaigns gearing up for the 2020 elections were headed for financial disaster. With in-person fundraising events canceled, a core part of many campaign strategies were also canceled. But in crisis, came opportunity. 

Campaigns quickly evolved to a new reality in 2020. Now, as we see a glimpse of life beyond the pandemic, many of these “temporary” digital-first solutions are here to stay and the pace of digital transformation for campaigns is only quickening.

1. Virtual Events

Many campaigns quickly adapted to hosting virtual events instead of in-person ones. Candidates up and down the ballot hosted events from virtual town halls, Facebook Lives, and even virtual cook-alongs. 

The Democratic National Convention successfully pivoted to virtual in 2020 by having a completely virtual convention. They also replaced previously quarterly telephone town halls with Virtual Grassroots Town Halls held online. By moving them online, the DNC was able to double the average watch time (compared to telephone town halls).  

By having virtual events, campaigns have widened their audience and reach beyond traditional means. For example, by reducing travel a candidate can host several virtual fundraisers in the same span of time that conventionally you’d be able to host only one. 

This efficiency ended up being a boon for fundraising efforts. It’s hard to believe that more virtual events weren’t being held before the pandemic, but now that they’re here, they’re here to stay. 

2. Digital Fundraising

Last summer A+G’s Giovanni Hashimoto wrote on ways to keep fundraising alive during Covid-19 in Campaigns & Elections. He suggested mixing up your non-fundraising appeals, finding new call-to-actions, being aware of supporters’ evolving financial situation, and thinking about the big picture. With campaigns utilizing these tactics and more, digital fundraising took off. The DCCC posted a record-breaking fundraising haul of $345 million dollars in 2020, much of it coming from digital. That’s a 16% growth from the previous cycle.

While digital accounts for a significant amount of the fundraising haul, most campaigns rightfully focus a lot of their attention on getting a candidate to do call time and hosting high-dollar events. Our friends at HoverCast, an interactive video events platform, found really positive numbers resulting from adding fundraising graphics like meters and shout-outs to individual donors. For ticketed grassroots fundraisers, their clients on average saw more than a 100% increase in live donations (i.e additional donations after the event started.) For non-ticketed fundraisers, that difference is even more pronounced. Andrew Yang increased his live fundraising by 4x during his live-streamed town halls.

3. Video Creation

Well before the pandemic, video was the prevailing content-type across your online channels. That’s only magnified since lockdown. Whether cuts from a livestream event, motion graphic videos, or cuts from smart phone footage, creative teams evolved and campaigns also realized that making videos didn’t necessarily rely on flying someone out on location. 

When A+G produced a video short for Tim Ryan at the end of the cycle, we couldn’t send a team in to record. Instead, we interspersed preexisting b-roll with audio recorded on an iPhone to tell the story of why Tim Ryan is such a strong champion for working families in Northeast Ohio. 

The Upshot

New digital-first strategies pioneered during the pandemic are here to stay. Disruption often produces progress and that’s certainly true of the innovations seen in political campaigns during the pandemic. Covid-19 forced campaigns to think creatively and evolve. 

Going forward, campaigns will have to adapt to a new reality where digital-first strategy is central to success — or be left behind. Pre-Covid strategies will no longer cut it when virtual, digital events have become normalized. But that’s good news: The new digital-first era of campaigning allows campaigns to engage with more agility and efficiency. It allows candidates to be visible in new ways and show versatility. 

While we turn the corner in the fight against Covid–19 and in-person activities resume, many activities that went virtual will once again be held in-person. But some level of virtual events, heightened online fundraising, and remote video creation is here to stay. Smart campaigns will take a hybrid approach that combines the benefits of in-person events with the benefits digital innovations created during the pandemic.