New Firm Mines Its Polling Expertise

By Cecilia Kang
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009

A bipartisan group including some former senior White House staffers today will take its polling know-how to the Web.

Sara Taylor, who worked as the political director for President George W. Bush, has brought together some unlikely bedfellows to form Resonate Networks, an advertising firm that will use data on political leanings and attitudes to help companies and interest groups sell online ads.

"This is the Web 2.0 of the micro-targeting world," said Taylor, who co-founded the firm with investments from people including President Bill Clinton's deputy chief of staff, Harold Ickes. "For public affairs advertisers, the micro-targeting possibilities are limitless when it comes to identifying, persuading or motivating high-quality online audiences for an issue-based or branding campaign."

The firm will sift through demographic and other profile information it has gathered on its own or acquired from other marketing firms to help advertisers figure out the political leanings and attitudes of consumers they are trying to reach. Taylor worked with Bush aide Karl Rove to use similar micro-targeting techniques in the 2004 presidential campaign. She said Resonate will take those techniques a step further by using information from surveys and the tracking of online behavior to directly target consumers.

It's part of a nascent field called attitudinal targeting that could allow a food or health-care company, for example, to sell ads that push an industry viewpoint to sites most frequented by mothers concerned about childhood obesity. Or the technology could help an environmental group sell banner ads on sites most frequented by moderate Republican voters who are concerned about global warming, the firm said.

The company has raised $2 million in seed funding from investors including Alexander Gage, founder of TargetPost Consulting, who also worked on the Bush 2004 campaign; Steve McMahon, media consultant and strategist for Howard Dean's 2004 presidential run; Rich Tarplin, a strategist for members of Congress; and Linda Tarplin, a former senior staffer at the White House and Department of Health and Human Services under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Ronald Reagan.

"The big challenge has always been segmenting audiences based not just on who they are, where they live and what they earn, but what they believe, how influential they are and the degree to which they are willing to engage on an issue," Ickes said.

Resonate's launch comes amid renewed scrutiny by lawmakers over the privacy of online users. Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) held a hearing last month on techniques telecommunications network operators use to monitor data of users, and he said he plans to introduce new Internet privacy legislation this year.

Online search engines, content providers and network carriers have all moved toward advertising models that attempt to better target the behavior of users so that advertisers get better returns. Consumer groups have raised concerns that such practices may infringe users' privacy, and they say that in many cases people aren't aware when their online behavior is being tracked.

Resonate co-founder and public affairs veteran John Brady said the company gathers only information voluntarily provided by survey respondents and said online privacy legislation wouldn't affect the firm.

The firm already has 10 clients, the names of which Brady would not disclose. Resonate could sell advertising that runs on Web sites that compete with The Washington Post.

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