Industry Predictions for 2021: A Long Way From Normal

Originally Published on Campaigns and Elections

By C&E Staff

Last year, consultants predicted a bumpy ride  for 2020 and the political world got that and more during the last twelve months. Now, coming off a cycle where the pandemic reshaped nearly every aspect of how consultants work, there are some clear industry trend lines going in 2021. 

Here’s how 14 consultants see the next year playing out: 

Lindsey Kolb, VP of Digital Strategy at Rational 360

In 2021, I think advertisers will start to diversify media plans to include more platforms and inventory than your typical Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google, and Instagram platforms. 

We’ve learned a lot in 2020 about how only relying solely on these platforms can backfire when these tech giants make huge ads policy changes during an election cycle, or while a public affairs campaign is running. 

I think we’ll continue to see connected TV and streaming audio inventory skyrocket in use as more people are using these platforms more than ever due to the pandemic for entertainment. I also think advertisers will continue to push for programmatic display and mobile interstitial ads in the new year as well — as they have similar click-through rates as social ads, and when using the right vendor, can actually provide better targeting than social ad platforms.

Lauren Richards, partner/media strategy, Sage Media Planning & Placement, Inc.:

Facebook will resume accepting political ads in 2021, likely soon after the Inauguration. Any changes to content moderation and advertising policies will be merely cosmetic and users, campaigns, and advertisers will continue being frustrated. Campaigns will keep using Facebook for social media and to promote events, but it will be a much smaller portion of advertising budgets as usage continues to decline.

Cheryl Hori, founder, Pacific Campaign House:

Digital advertising and organizing aren’t going anywhere in 2021, but Facebook might be. Even when the world goes back to ‘normal,’ a lot of our behaviors we’ve adapted during 2020 (i.e. at the end of the day moving from the medium screen to sitting in front of the big screen, while scrolling the little screen) will likely still continue. 

This year, we saw Hulu sell out a week before the election, and campaigns across the country pivot to other platforms beyond Facebook and Google (even if not by choice). 

Beyond the Facebook blackout, we know that Gen Z voters aren’t scrolling Facebook the way millennials used to. In 2021, finding new pathways to engage young people will be a top priority for both parties. We’ve already started to see that organic and user-generated content can help bridge the gap. Walls are coming down between candidates and the public — whether we like it or not. And that means we’re seeing Chipotle orders, devastating attempts at TikTok dances, and haircuts that should be left in the 80s.

Chris Russell, co-founder, Checkmate Strategies:

Continued and constant innovation. As crazy as the world gets, campaign politics has proven over time that it is pretty much impervious to any external force — even a global pandemic. So, whatever comes next, people will still want to run for office and they will still want to get elected, so there will always be a place for people who can help and figure out how to build a better mousetrap.

Andrew Bleeker, president and founder, Bully Pulpit Interactive:

COVID has proven how interwoven digital is throughout every aspect of a campaign. Our siloed approach to marketing by channel cannot continue – campaigns will start to follow the integrated model of consumer marketing.

Mark Jablonowski, managing partner and chief technology officer, DSPolitical:

With the slow death spiral of the cookie and Apple essentially killing IDFA in iOS14, serious work must be done in 2021 to ensure individual-level targeting can continue. Firms will try to spin a switch to more broadly targeted programmatic digital media as a ‘strategy’ when it becomes more difficult to keep up on the tech side. Creativity and innovation will be key when dealing with this ever-evolving technological landscape.

Francesca Dulce Larson, partner, Mosaic:

Technology continues to propel transparency and provoke direct speech. For 2021, I’m predicting that diversity, equity, and inclusion will not only become shared vocabulary but result in shared expectations for candidates, consultants, and vendors. In 2021, we’re shifting the power.

Adriel Hampton, chief strategist, The Adriel Hampton Group: 

Under increasing pressure over disinformation and election interference, Facebook will make several prominent hires from Biden allies and confidants to ensure that federal regulators continue to turn a blind eye. Facing this continued regulatory vacuum from the U.S., the European Union will step in with privacy and competition regulatory actions against the social media giant.

Adam Probolsky, president, Probolsky Research:

Business travel is not dead, but it will be cut in half at least from what it was pre-pandemic. The reckoning for people who worked in Trump-world will not be as dramatic as predicted. But they will face hard questions. We will find out what Putin has on Trump.

Patrick O’Keefe, director of customer success, Anedot:

Teamwork will continue to become more prevalent in the fundraising space. In 2020, we saw joint Zoom fundraisers between candidates and increased partnership fundraising. That will continue into 2021 as more candidates and organizations learn of its effectiveness from their colleagues.

With the 2020 election cycle behind us, the entire industry will come under increased regulation in response to consumer frustration. This could extend to aggressive fundraising tactics, text messaging, and more. With some emerging technologies, 2020 represented the wild wild west. This will change as we look to 2021 and 2022.

Nicole Schlinger, founder and president, CampaignHQ: 

Even though the vaccine is here, the pandemic is far from over. It will be a long time until in-person campaigning returns to ‘normal.’ With the ongoing economic and political volatility, voters remain uneasy, angry and anxiety-ridden and are seeking two-way interaction with elected leaders. Successful candidates will pair tools like Telephone town halls with Facebook Live, Zoom, and peer-to-peer texting to reach their target audience. 

The Iowa State Fair will take place in 2021, and at least one potential candidate will make the age-old mistake of eating the corn dog. I wouldn’t look to see a candidate kissing a baby until 2024.

Jordan Lieberman, VP & general manager, political & public affairs, a4 Media: 

The industry will hand out free CTV-capable televisions to all households in small swing states.

On the self-care side, now that he is released from Federal Correctional Institution in Loretto Pennsylvania, Paul Manafort’s white hair will regain its former velvety dark sheen.

Brent Buchanan, CEO and founder, Cygnal: 

Even with Republicans [having] a great cycle in 2020, there’s going to be a reckoning for [the] traditional approach to things like polling and TV buying. Committees, caucuses, and consultants will be assessing new technologies and approaches in 2021 to deploy the following year.

Brian Ross Adams, founder, Trust Messenger:

I think the shift to digital communications being a larger share of the campaign strategy and budget (especially for local campaigns) will continue. Campaigns and consultants need to adapt to involve their traditional field program and volunteers to what we could call “social media advocates.

I also think campaigns and candidates have to start earlier in developing great content for digital marketing — endorsement images and the like will not be enough. They need to plan for engaging videos, thought pieces and stay in tune with what is trending on any given day. With so many voices out there you have to figure out a unique way to breakthrough or you are just more noise.