Stuart Stevens, chief strategist for the Romney campaign, is not amused that some GOP operatives and independent campaign analysts in Washington are knocking Romney’s media and advertising operation.
Independent analysts at these sessions said the Obama campaign had been more sophisticated and efficient than Romney and his GOP allies, who spent more on advertising but failed to reach key audiences as effectively.
“We lost, which meant we failed in our goal,” Stevens said in an interview Thursday. “But if one is just examining the pure efficiencies of dollars spent for voter acquisition, the Romney campaign did an unusually good job. We were outspent two to one on TV buys and in every market, yet we moved more voters than the Obama campaign.”
Some attending the meetings questioned structural decisions of the Romney campaign, because it set up an in-house ad buying operation through a small company that employed fewer buyers and analysts than the number working on the Obama account. Obama, they argued, was able to find more precision in advertising because he made use of an outside advertising firm, GMMB, that assigned 30 or so people to study ad buying data and opportunities.
Such complaints, Stevens said, come from commission-based advertising consultants threatened by the notion of campaigns running their own ad operations. Agencies can earn commissions of up to 15 percent on advertising buys.
Stevens, a partner in a Washington-based agency, said he recused himself from decisions involving the ad buying structure.
In making his case, Stevens provided The Post with analytical reports used in making advertising decisions in individual markets. He said that the campaign took extraordinary steps to be efficient and monitor spending.
“By moving our operation in-house, we paid everyone a salary and saved anywhere from $8 to $14 million dollars,” on commission fees, Stevens said.
Others in the campaign have defended the ad buying and contracting process in the past. Since the election, Stevens has done only a small number of interviews and wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining his perspective on the campaign. Thursday’s interview was the first in which he described the media buying operation in such detail, including its rules and efficiencies.
Stevens was critical of the way data was presented at the consultant sessions by media analysts who compared spending by Obama against the combined spending of Romney and allied super PACs.
“The data presented jumbles together Romney and super PAC ads which makes any comparison meaningless,” Stevens said, noting that super PACs pay higher rates for advertising than the campaigns, which get preferential treatment. Romney relied more on super PAC support than Obama did.
Since the election, the president of the Campaign Media Analysis Group, Ken Goldstein, a political scientist, has been recapping the advertising strategy of the two campaigns, making presentations to political operatives from both parties and to academic audiences. Goldstein has called attention to the Obama campaign’s outsized advertising presence during college football games, which some consider to be a critical audience. Goldstein’s media group is part of Kantar Media.
Stevens said the decision to spend less on college football ads was deliberate, not an oversight. “We found that we could air all the spots we wanted on football shows and and it had much less impact on the dialogue of the campaign” than other advertising. He also rejected suggestions by some Republicans that the Romney campaign was outmaneuvered by Obama because the Democrats had access to superior tracking and consumer data.
“This notion that we didn’t employ highly sophisticated tracking tools and analytics is ridiculous,” he said. “What’s not ridiculous is that we organized this information and integrated it into the campaign very efficiently by bringing on board highly trained professionals who were willing to make the sacrifice to move to Boston and make less money than their normal jobs.”