The Washington Post last week profiled Republican National Committee eCampaign Director Cyrus Krohn, who has the difficult job of helping to transform a political machine that hasn't been inclined to evolve for some time. There are two parts to this story that I think are very important to highlight. I'll hit the second in a following post.
First, it is important to remember that the political environment has changed in many ways, technological and sociological. The future will be won by the people who both (a) understand how to connect the new technology with the new social landscape, and (b) can figure out when the tools and social landscape are ripe to be connected. Drill Here, Drill Now could have been executed two years ago, but it wouldn't have blown up like it did. Moveon.org began in 1998, but didn't really gain power and momentum until talk of a war in Iraq gave the Left and Moveon.org a cause célèbre - their unifying grievance.
So, Soren Dayton and Michael Bassik are both correct here.
To outside observers, it seems that Krohn has been given more leeway than his predecessors. Under Krohn, GOP.com competes directly with Democrats.org, the DNC's online headquarters, they say. "No doubt it, he's providing a level of expertise that we have not had in the party," says Soren Dayton of the PR firm New Media Strategies and co-founder of TheNextRight.com, a new conservative blog. "This is a guy who comes from the high-tech and media world. He actually understands how people consume media, how people interact with technology."
But Michael Bassik, head of interactive marketing at MSHC Partners, a Democratic communications firm, says Krohn can only do so much. "Sure, you can build the best, most sophisticated, most interactive political site out there," Bassik says. "But at the end of the day, what counts online are the eyeballs. And objectively speaking, it seems that the Democrats are getting more eyeballs, at least right now."
Cyrus Krohn is brilliantly merging a lot of ideas and tools for the Republican Party, and that's a crucial step. But Bassik is correct that the surrounding environment is inseparably crucial to online success. When the political pendulum is swinging your way, it's easy to look like a genius. But when the political pendulum is swinging against you, even a genius is limited in what they can do.
Ezra Klein makes that point very well in his post, "The Myth of the Unstoppable Adversary".
Still, it is the work done during the difficult times that enables the pendulum to swing back your way. The Democrats spent their time in the wilderness building an infrastructure - both organic and cultivated - in order to create the political opportunity they are currently exploiting.
Seth Godin recently wrote about this problem...
Are they ready to listen? Most marketers forget to ask this critical question. [...]
[In the early 90's], I had published a book about a political issue. An activist's handbook. I had 20,000 copies in my garage when I found out about a large march in Washington. I bought an outdoor booth and trucked the books down to DC. I stood on the Mall in my little booth and watched more than 250,000 people walk by in less than two hours. Every single one an activist. Every single one a demographically perfect match for my handbook. After 100,000 people had walked by and we'd sold only one book, I lowered the price from around $10 to $1 just to prove my point--that it wasn't the book and it wasn't the price, it was the ability of the audience to listen that mattered. This group, in this moment, was there to march, not to shop.
Most people, most of the time, steadfastly refuse to pay attention.
Tools are important, but the larger environment is crucial. The Right should be focusing a great deal of attention on developing tools and infrastructure that create a better environnment. If the innovations that people like Cyrus Krohn are creating are going to have a truly profound impact, the Right is going to need the branding/framing/messaging, informational and discipline infrastucture to get us to that next tipping point.