As the political season continues to gain momentum, our latest Taboola Talks focused on the evolving role of digital media in the presidential election cycle. Last week, attendees gathered at the Associated Press offices in Washington, DC to hear from three leading executives in the political media realm today: Cally Stolbach, Managing Director at Politico; Ryan Coyne, CFO at Independent Journal (IJ); and Rory McCafferty, SVP Digital News Communications at The Hill.

Below is a quick recap of the night’s big questions, in addition to our highlight video included above.

What is different in this election cycle versus 2012?

CS (Politico): Everything feels a little different, but 2012 was the first time we really saw the power of harnessing and understanding data. Organizing For Action (OFA) did such an amazing job of activating around that, and this cycle we’re seeing a lot of organizations trying to replicate that gameplan.

RC (IJ): The trend has been going on for a while, but I think digital has become much more important. Especially in this election season, if you’re a candidate, try to compete with Donald Trump on TV. There are big opportunities to use advanced targeting capabilities, reaching people on an individual level, and digital is the only way to do that.

RM (The Hill): The biggest change is that this is the first real “social” election. Facebook is now a primary news source for many young people. In the first 10 months of this year, 68 million people in America either posted, shared, commented or “liked” a Facebook story related to the election, and they did it a billion times. And we’re still warming up for the election.


On the use of data towards personalization and advanced targeting:

RC (IJ): Personalization is the key competitive advantage of digital, and it’s important to political organizations who are aiming to reach a very specific group of people. Many ad buyers today expect these capabilities.

CS (Politico): You can also take it a step further by layering in the troves of information that political organizations often have about their constituents. That level of collaboration is something new to 2016.

On the changing dynamics of political ad spending:

RC (IJ): Over the past two or three cycles, reports have shown there is an overall trend towards more money flowing into digital. But at the same time, more money is flowing into politics in general, especially TV, so the big seismic shifts may still be a couple years away.

RM (The Hill): The Wall Street Journal reported that spending on TV advertising is up 900% from this stage in the 2012 election. Budgets are shifting towards digital, but analysts don’t expect it to surpass TV until 2020. Ben Carson is a great example of someone using digital to his advantage, having secured the biggest organic and paid reach of any candidate on Facebook.


We just finished the fourth of twelve planned GOP debates. Are you starting to see any kind of burnout among audiences?

CS (Politico): We see the biggest spikes in activity before and after the debate, when people are either figuring out what the candidates will be talking about, or looking for the quick recaps and post-analysis takeaways. There probably will be fatigue, it’s inevitable, but right now, it’s such a “wild west” of a race, people can’t look away.

RC (IJ): You’ve got to remember that the first of these debates got 24 million people. Every single one has been the record-setting number of eyeballs for America’s largest news networks. There may be fatigue, but there are also a lot of things being driven out of these debates, and for many candidates they present a do-or-die situation.

RM (The Hill): There are no signs of burnout yet, though I’m sure we’ll see it at some point. What I think is interesting is that a lot of the action comes afterwards. There are story arcs that emerge from the debate, and the candidates will go to social media to try to change the message and re-frame it so that they won.

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