Jeff Link has spent much of his professional life helping political campaigns, but the newly formed Analytics Media Group of New York and Chicago will take political marketing lessons and apply them to big national businesses. Analytics Media Group, recently featured in an article in The New York Times Magazine, formed from the team that marketed President Barack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. The team matched voter registration data with data from television set-top boxes to more effectively target likely voters who were undecided. Set-top box data comes from digital cable boxes and satellite television boxes. The subscriber’s viewing history can be recorded by the provider and sold anonymously. The Obama campaign used data from a company called Rentrak, which had a database of 11 million households. Link was an outside adviser to the campaign while he managed his political consulting firm, Link Strategies. Prior to that, he was the deputy director of paid media for Obama’s 2008 campaign, and before that managed Sen. Tom Harkin’s 1996 and 2002 campaigns.

What is your goal with Analytics Media Group?

What we’re really trying to do is to change the way marketers are approaching television advertising. It is a broadcast medium, but we are trying to get people to think about really narrowcasting what they are doing. What’s happened is, the way Nielsen was set up originally, there were three television networks. And if you wanted to catch everybody in America, you bought (advertising) on those three networks. Think about how diversified your options are in watching television now. I mean, you literally have hundreds of options. Our big challenge in this company is to convince people that you can’t keep using the old methodologies with the new realities of what’s going on in the way people are consuming television. 

What led the Obama campaign to try a different way of advertising?

In about the spring of 2011, it was sort of conventional wisdom that for the first time in history, the incumbent president was going to be outspent by the challenger. We had better figure out some way of increasing our efficiency in terms of advertising. 

Describe your methods of targeting voters

Voter registration lists are required to be publicly available in all 50 states. So the campaigns started to obtain the voter files for all 50 states, and then for every voter in every targeted state, they were assigned two scores. One was your likelihood to vote on a scale of 0 to 100. And the second score was whether you were likely to vote for Obama or (Mitt Romney), so you had to have a number for that score – 100 meant you were certain to vote for Obama; 0 meant you were certain to vote for Romney. And essentially what we decided to do is we wanted to point all our advertising at people who were between 40 and 60 on that scale of who you were going to vote for. People you could swing. We created a list of about 15 million people who were the key targets for the campaign.

We’re saying: ‘Holy cow. We have a name and address list of 15 million people. Let’s buy advertising that goes to these people.’ So we sort of pushed aside the traditional model of using Nielsen ratings, and we went and obtained set-top box data from 11 million households. And we combined our list of 15 million against 11 million households that we had set-top box histories for, and we created our own ratings system for the 15 million people we cared about.

How do you handle privacy issues with data?

Any data that we get from a client, we have strict procedures and rules about how we handle it. There are data agreements that we have with (clients), on just how we would take (data) and analyze it. The second thing is, whenever we match a name and address list of targets to set-top viewing information, which is address-based, we’ll match addresses but we’ll strip names away.

Do you have any interesting stories about Obama? 

There was a meeting early in 2012 where we presented the idea that we should spend a big percentage of our television budget in June and July to really try to define Romney early in the cycle ... (and) we might be exposed in October and September to be really outspent. He asked some tough questions about how exposed and how much we might be outspent, and finally gave the green light to be able to go ahead and do this strategy, which had a lot of risks involved. Turns out it was one of the smartest decisions of the campaign.