It's rare during an election season to hear from the folks behind the curtain, but attendees of this year's Personal Democracy Forum were privy to a panel discussion with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's campaign digital director Zac Moffatt. The conversation, of course, revolved around the hyperactive and evolving media landscape pervading every aspect of the 2012 presidential race.
Moffatt started off with some kind words for President Barack Obama's campaign and expressed amazement at what the Obama camp built with a very large team—a clear attempt to remind the audience of the formidable infrastructure the Romney camp is up against.
While others on the panel, like The Nation's Ari Melber, argued that the Romney campaign was clearly behind in the digital campaign race, Moffat contended that the specific metrics vary; he placed great importance on the Romney campaign's engagement figures, which he argued make his campaign competitive with Obama's. "I don't think it is fair to say that one side (GOP or Dems) owns [the] digital space," Moffatt said.
CNNMoney's Laurie Segall echoed this statement to a degree, arguing that the tech and innovation playing field will be leveled as the cutting-edge social and online strategies successfully used in Obama's first campaign become second nature to all.
Turning the conversation to social media, the crowd perked up at the mention of the incessant parade of memes—like the Romney camp's "Amercia" app flub, which quickly went viral. "With memes you evaluate them like everything else," Moffatt said. "You can't get in the way of the Internet; you can only hope to possibly deflect it to the left or right a little."
Social media is an important tool for Moffatt and Romney, but one that the digital director is quick to qualify, saying that while it has a role, it has to "fit in holistically with everything else you want to do." Moffatt noted that the overall strategy has to serve a greater goal of being inclusive and reaching the greatest number of potential voters. "There's a difference between paid media and advertising and the hope that something is sticky and goes viral," Moffatt said. The distinction is an important one, as viral content is highly sought, but incredibly unpredictable and, much like the "Amercia" instance, can backfire.
With an eye to the future, Moffatt told the crowd he believes that television ad budgets will go down for campaigns as political strategists narrow their focus to target voters at increasingly fine levels, and attributes much of that transition to the rise of mobile. "Mobile is the ultimate final decision point for voters' 'zero moment of truth,'" he told the audience, referencing a popular theory that voters head to their mobile devices for last-minute advice before entering the voting booth. "You'd be willing to pay quite a premium for influence during that zero moment."