Digital Campaign: Digital In-House or Hire a Firm?

by The Campaign Workshop

People sitting around table with notebooks, graphs, and computers

Digital Campaign In-House or Hire a Firm?

Whether you are working on a political or advocacy campaign, a digital campaign will likely be a major part of your communications budget. If executed well, digital—from organic social media posts to programmatic advertising—gives you the ability to communicate with voters that you never could otherwise reach, and to hyper-target ads to specific lists or segments of voters. That being said, running an effective digital campaign isn’t easy, and depending on the size and scope of your program, you may have to consider hiring an outside digital campaign firm. In this blog, we’ll break down a few types of digital campaigning, as well as when you should run programs in house versus outsource them to an outside firm. 

Organic social media: No matter what type of campaign you are running, organic digital efforts should be a part of your program. This is how you spread the word about your campaign and engage with voters or supporters without putting money behind ads. Most often, your organic content strategy will be executed on social media. Examples of organic social media include inviting people to like or follow your pages/accounts, posting regularly (with no paid promotion), recording and sharing videos, inviting people to events you create, soliciting volunteer sign-ups and donations, and everything in between. Now, don’t get us wrong, this isn’t easy work. However, organic social isn’t generally work that you have to outsource to an outside digital campaign consulting firm—instead, this can be something your communications director or even a competent and experienced intern can take the lead on. 

Paid digital advertising: If your campaign or organization wants to run a robust paid digital campaign, it is best practice to hire a firm to run the program for you. The world of paid digital advertising is not always intuitive and is constantly changing—running an effective paid digital campaign takes a certain level of knowledge and expertise. For example, who should you target, and how will you target them? Do you want to run your ads programmatically, or just on social media platforms? How will you track the campaign to make sure that it is running correctly and will spend in full? These are questions and problems that are best left to the experts. That being said, it’s good to have someone on your campaign or in your organization that has a baseline knowledge of digital advertising so they can communicate effectively with the vendor—especially if paid digital advertising is where a significant portion of your money will be spent. 

Digital fundraising: Though we don’t recommend paid digital fundraising for campaigns unless you are a well-known candidate running for federal office, this is a tactic that major advocacy organizations sometimes use. A well-oiled digital campaign aimed at soliciting donations is not something that can be executed in-house. Just as with any other type of paid advertising campaign, digital fundraising programs take a great deal of expertise to run well. Stakes can be even higher with digital fundraising because you want to make sure your program yields more money than you are spending to set up the campaign. Therefore, digital fundraising campaigns should ideally be handled by a digital campaign firm with experience in this arena. 

Email fundraising/marketing: When it comes to setting up email fundraising and marketing programs, the answer on who should take the lead isn’t so clear cut. If you are running a smaller campaign that doesn’t have a lot of money to spend, you probably don’t want to waste your dollars on hiring a firm to do your email fundraising or marketing for you. Instead, a member of your staff can be put in charge of sending out fundraising requests. However, if you are a larger organization or campaign that will need to send out a high volume of email communications/solicitations and collect a significant amount of money to become or remain viable, hiring an experienced email fundraising/marketing firm will likely be necessary to achieve your goals. That being said, if your campaign or organization is large enough to justify hiring an outside firm, just as with paid digital advertising, it’s important that you have someone in-house who has some experience in the field so they can communicate with the firm and hold them accountable.

There was a time when a digital team for many campaigns and organizations consisted of a few interns and maybe one staff person who was also in charge of offline work. Nowadays, digital campaigns are often a large part of helping a campaign or organization reach its goals, from raising money digitally to simply having a strong presence on social media. When your goals are large enough, it will often be best to hire an outside firm to bring in their expertise. However, no matter the size or scope of your campaign or organization, it’s important to build an internal team of smart and savvy staffers. Once you’ve done that, you can supplement their knowledge with the expertise of trusted vendors to help you achieve your goals.