ANALYSIS: Online PR - Pols clear a path for Internet fund-raising - Senator John McCain and Bill Bradley earned kudos for their innovative use of the Web to raise both issues and money. Although both men lost their respective races, Steve Lilienthal finds

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.

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

online.



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

pack.



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

hopefuls.



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

endorsements.



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

Internet race.’



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

building.



’Whether it’s for-profit or non-profit or politics, it’s all about

community.



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.



Tread carefully



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

campaigns.



’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

potential.’



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