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Targeting Likely Advocates With Web Ads

B.R. McConnon III is chief executive of Alexandria's Democracy Data &  Communications LLC , a company that lobbying firms rely on to effectively place their Web-based advertisements.
B.R. McConnon III is chief executive of Alexandria's Democracy Data & Communications LLC , a company that lobbying firms rely on to effectively place their Web-based advertisements. (By Michel Du Cille -- The Washington Post)

In addition, the types of sites you might think would draw a lobbying crowd often don't. For instance, when the American Medical Association, the doctors' lobby, went looking for patients who would push for its policies, health Web sites didn't bring the best results. Game and puzzle sites were far superior.

The AMA hired DDC in 2003 to recruit activists for its then-nascent Patients' Action Network. On May 19, DDC placed 50 different ads on 7,500 Web sites soliciting people who agreed that Washington should crack down on lawsuits filed against physicians. Six weeks later, it had whittled that down to four ads on 123 sites.

Based on its observations, DDC decided to drop commercials that were sarcastic or vague: one that featured a photo of George Washington with a Band-Aid on his forehead, another that pictured a pregnant woman and asked, "Having trouble finding an ob-gyn?"

It settled instead on ads that had a plain white or blue background, pictured a red-tie-wearing President Bush and urged, "Save the U.S. healthcare system! Frivolous lawsuits are raising costs for YOU!" People clicked their "Tell Congress" buttons with alacrity.

DDC then concentrated these ads on news and reference sites (such as dictionaries and thesauruses) that had proved to attract primarily men and on entertainment sites that worked with women.

By the end of the six-week program, people were clicking on commercials twice as often on average than they had at the start. Those who did click though, in addition, were five times more likely to sign up as advocates than those who had clicked initially. The C.P.A. was ultimately cut to under $2.

Today, the Patients' Action Network has grown to more than 1 million members and the AMA is using its activists to press lawmakers to rescind cuts in Medicare reimbursements. OnPoint/DDC helps the AMA keep the network's membership large and eager by e-mailing updates to the advocates at least twice a month.

"Our Patients' Action Network allows us to reach more than 1.2 million people at the touch of a button," said Cecil B. Wilson, AMA's chairman. "More than 320,000 patients have already urged Congress to stop the Medicare physician payment cuts this year." Carefully honed online advertising made it all possible.

WPP Picks Up Public Strategies

London-based WPP Group PLC, already the owner of many of Washington's best-known lobbying and public relations companies, has purchased Public Strategies Inc., an Austin-based public affairs firm. Public Strategies, which has done lobbying and PR for major corporations since 1988, has nearly 175 employees in 15 U.S. cities as well as offices in London and Mexico City.

Like other WPP acquisitions, Public Strategies will operate independently under its current management. Its top officers are chairman Jack Martin, a former aide to former Texas senator Lloyd Bentsen; vice chairman Mark McKinnon, who was a media consultant on President Bush's two presidential campaigns; and Jeff Eller, president, who worked on media affairs in President Bill Clinton's White House.

WPP executive vice president Howard Paster, who worked with Eller in the Clinton White House, said he had been trying to buy Public Strategies for years. WPP, which has made a habit of grabbing up valuable government relations firms, already owns Timmons & Co. and the lobbying shops founded by former President Jimmy Carter aide Anne Wexler and former chairman of the Republican National Committee Edward W. Gillespie, among many others.

Rumor has it that WPP is about to buy another K Street company soon. Paster declined to comment.

Jeffrey Birnbaum writes about the intersection of government and business every other Monday. His e-mail address iskstreetconfidential@washpost.com. He will be online to discuss high-tech advocacy and K Street's recent hiring of more Democrats at 1 p.m. today athttp://www.washingtonpost.com.


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