Right after Christmas, Senator John McCain was at his national headquarters being briefed on the progress of his presidential campaign. McCain asked what would happen if he won the New Hampshire primary, and a young aide expressed his belief that they should be prepared to spend the money necessary to increase server capacity in order to handle more hits on the campaign Web site.
Right after Christmas, Senator John McCain was at his national
headquarters being briefed on the progress of his presidential campaign.
McCain asked what would happen if he won the New Hampshire primary, and
a young aide expressed his belief that they should be prepared to spend
the money necessary to increase server capacity in order to handle more
hits on the campaign Web site.
McCain took his advice, realizing that the Web site would generate money
that the campaign could spend elsewhere. Within four days after the
senator’s victory, his campaign had collected over dollars 2 million
The young aide’s name was Max Fose. Odds are that 10 years ago, Fose
would be a rising yet faceless aide whose service as McCain’s campaign
treasurer would only be news to Mom, Dad and the campaign media
But after Fose delivered a talk before the Public Affairs Council
recently, the woman who shared the dais playfully bowed before him - a
sign that the smartest politicians, organizations and companies realize
the increasing importance of Web strategists and the influence that can
be wielded over the Internet.
Wired and ready to give
Only about 30% of America is wired, but the potential exists for
non-profits to build considerable popular and financial support online.
Estimates extrapolated from a survey conducted last year by Democratic
pollster Mark Mellman for progressive fund-raising firm Craver, Mathews
& Smith indicate that nearly 50 million Americans over 18 have Internet
access and are active donors and supporters of causes and charities.
Thirty-two million expressed a willingness to take action online, and 16
million would be willing to donate online to a charity or non-profit
advocacy group. Yet Mellman’s poll indicates that only 3.5 million
Americans have given online.
’It’s remarkable the number of organizations that do not use basic
technology such as e-mail lists effectively,’ says Rob Stuart, a
principal in the Technology Project, a group sponsored by the
Rockefeller Family Fund that puts organizations online.
PR professionals, particularly those engaged in helping non-profit
advocacy groups and charities, should study closely the strategies and
tactics used by people like Fose, Steve Forbes’ Rick Segal and Bill
Bradley’s Lynn Reed of NetPolitics Group. ’Bush and Gore may have been
the winners of Super Tuesday,’ notes Phil Attey, director of the
Washington-based Communications and Policy Technology Network, ’but the
clear winners of the Internet race were McCain and Bradley.’
In a survey conducted by PRWeek last year (November 22, 1999), Bradley
was found to have the best Internet presence of all the presidential
Gore finished second, followed by McCain, while Bush’s site beat out
only Pat Buchanan’s. Fose thinks Bush had less reason to be innovative
because he had corralled so much financial support and so many big-name
In contrast, ’we had to set up a virtual campaign headquarters,’ Fose
tells PRWeek, adding that his boss preached, ’Try new things!’
One important lesson that non-profits and corporations should learn from
all this, Attey insists, is that Fose and Reed served as integral
members of their campaign strategy teams. ’Some organizations are still
waiting for the Internet to prove itself,’ says Attey. ’The person
responsible for the Internet strategy is three layers down. They may be
doing well in the traditional sense, but if they don’t elevate the
Internet program to have a place at the table, then they’ll lose the
Fose also stresses the need to integrate the traditional communications
staff with the online team. ’As soon as a press release went out and
sometimes before, it was on the Internet,’ he recalls. When McCain came
under fire for having used his power as chairman of the Senate Commerce
Committee to aid corporations, his campaign used the Internet to post
relevant written material.
Before, asserts Fose, the letters would first have to be handed out to
the news media. But McCain was able to bypass the media, put the letters
online and e-mail supporters.
From global Fortune 100 corporations on down to local charities, all
parties can learn from this proactive use of the Web, say experts. Mark
Rovner, VP of the interactive division at Craver, Mathews & Smith, says
he sees too many non-profits engage in ’passive online fund-raising.’
Tom Hockaday of Alexandria, VA-based Hockaday/Donatelli Campaign
Solutions, which is advising the political efforts of New York mayor
Rudy Giuliani and assisted McCain’s campaign, is more blunt: ’Web sites
are not like Field of Dreams: ’If you build it, they will come.’’
McCain, Hockaday notes, viewed the Web as a tool for relationship
’Whether it’s for-profit or non-profit or politics, it’s all about
It really is about nurturing people.’ Fose emphasizes the importance of
keeping in constant contact with supporters, and no doubt McCain’s
campaign benefited from trumpeting its message online.
An important lesson for organizations and corporations alike is to be
prepared, says Roger Stone, VP of Juno Online Services. ’When something
big happens, people will turn to the Internet. Most organizations will
have something that generates interest over the course of a year.’ But
that interest can dissipate quickly if the organization or campaign
fails to take advantage of it.
Another Web strategy seems obvious in hindsight but is not commonly
used: asking supporters for dough. McCain’s campaign used pop-up screens
to remind visitors that their dollars were needed. McCain sent 60,000
e-mails the day after New Hampshire, which yielded over dollars 45,000.
’If you don’t do fund-raising online, you’re essentially turning down
free money,’ says Stone. Finally, the great advantage of online
communications is its lack of overhead.
But communications must be done with care, too. Early on, McCain’s
campaign deluged supporters with e-mails in the course of one day urging
support in an online radio poll. McCain backers said back off - they
wanted to be contacted, but only when it was essential.
Non-profits such as the American Red Cross and the Heritage Forests
Campaign (HFC) have done well online. HFC has used the Web effectively
for building support and amplifying it to Washington through e-mail
’What McCain did,’ says Phil Noble, publisher of Politics Online, an
online newsletter that tracks political uses of Web technology, ’is 100%
applicable to non-profits.’ But success stories are rare, as the Web
remains a new frontier.
David Eisner, VP for corporate communications at America Online,
believes the following: ’Whether it’s e-politics, e-philanthropy,
e-participation, this whole phenomenon is in its infancy. All we’ve seen
is a few highlights that show the enormity of the Internet’s size and