We’re over year away from the Iowa caucuses, but the 2020 election already feels like it’s in full swing. But before we get too far down the primary rabbit hole, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on ACRONYM’s work and accomplishments during the 2018 cycle.  

As we look back over the past 20 months since incorporating ACRONYM, I could not be more proud and humbled at the ambitious programs we were able to build and execute during the midterm elections. Our team that grew to nearly 40 by the end of the 2018 delivered results beyond what we ever envisioned, and contributed to the success of dozens of progressive candidates, organizations and causes.

Some Highlights:

  • We broke records. In the 2018 midterm cycle, ACRONYM ran hundreds of programs that had never been done before, including our most ambitious project to date, LEDGE, a $10 million program that helped elect dozens of state legislative races across the country in places where outside investment is minimal at best. ACRONYM was the highest – if not the only – spender on digital platforms in dozens of races we ran the LEDGE program in, and helped 60% of the candidates we supported secure their victories. Throughout the program we also produced tens of thousands of unique ads, and built content, programs, and tools all in house – from end to end.
  • We expanded our team. During the 2018 calendar year, ACRONYM’s team grew from a team of 5 to approximately 35 full-time staff. Our most significant expansions were within our creative, paid media and technology teams, and we’ve been able to retain about 20 of these core staff members as we reshuffle teams in preparation for the 2020 cycle.
  • We raised and ran over $15 million worth of innovative, creative programs. We took on an ambitious slate of programs both within ACRONYM and through Lockwood partnerships. We ran some of the most innovative programs in politics, focused on building political power and digital infrastructure for the progressive movement. We begin 2019 with ample resources to support our staff and programs leading into next cycle.
  • We elevated the conversation. Through our innovative approach to creating and delivering modern communications and organizing programs, we were able to influence the conversation around how campaigns should be run today and how to effectively reach voters. Our work was featured in the Washington Post, CNN, NPR and HuffPost, and our FWIW newsletter drove media coverage and online conversations around digital ad spending and investment.
  • We built lasting infrastructure. Through our work outlined below, we filled critical gaps in the progressive political landscape, all geared toward leaving sustainable infrastructure behind that will not only help inform our programs to come, but will benefit the entire progressive community. From organizing capacity to creating new tools, resources and strategies, we’ve started to lay the groundwork that will advance understanding and investment in digital programs and campaigns that meet voters where they are – both online and offline.

Building Political Power at the State Level

Our most ambitious program this cycle, LEDGE, was a $10 million program focused on flipping dozens of state legislative seats across the country, all building toward our goal of influencing the redistricting process in 2021. We helped approximately 60% of the candidates we supported win in their races – and in many of the races we played in we were the only outside spenders, particularly on digital platforms. Our work contributed to flipping the Minnesota State House blue and breaking Republican supermajorities in Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina.

Our LEDGE program was a first-of-its-kind, scalable digital program that ran across 80 state legislative districts that built local infrastructure and capacity by working with partners and setting up digital teams within battleground states. These teams and partners enabled us to develop the most effective program and take advantage of local concerns, issues, and news stories that we may not have been aware of had we not been working with them. In addition to our 6 LEDGE states: North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida, Minnesota, Michigan, Pennsylvania, we ran similar programs focused on flipping state legislative chambers in Colorado and New York, totaling our wins in state legislative races to over 55. While we are still diving through our data and are awaiting voter file updates in the spring of this year for more definitive results, early data show that our work contributed to an increase in performance by Democratic candidates in the races we played, this is particularly important in smaller races that get less attention and lower turnout than statewide or federal elections

We embedded dozens of tests throughout the LEDGE program to help us identify the most effective strategies to impact state legislative races. We gained critical learnings – such as the value of boosted news content in reinforcing messages with audiences, the effects of including contrast messaging in addition to positive content within digital ad programs, and the impact of top-of-the-ticket races on downballot elections in battleground states. We also developed tools and technological infrastructure in partnership with platforms like Facebook and Pandora to enable us to more seamlessly run nimble, scalable programs across dozens of districts. All of this innovation and infrastructure will help us run even more effective programs in cycles to come – and power the work we started to break Republican majorities and build progressive power in the states that will play a critical role in 2021 redistricting.

Expanding the Voting Electorate

Our second-largest program focused on engaging, registering, and mobilizing voters to get to the polls on Election Day. Entering into 2018, we knew that ACRONYM could fill a critical gap in the progressive movement by leveraging digital paid media strategies to encourage unregistered voters to register to vote. We did this through a number of strategies, programs, and channels – and helped lay the groundwork for ACRONYM and other organizations to better understand how to reach voters through modern communications strategies. We also developed paid media tactics to ensure the correct audiences were being reached with the right messages to effectively expand the electorate.

The largest voter registration effort ACRONYM took on this cycle was through our partnership with Our Lives Our Vote, a coalition of progressive and anti-gun-violence groups focused on registering high school aged voters across 11 battleground states. ACRONYM ran the coalition’s digital outreach efforts and digital ad program to reach and register teenage voters through digital platforms. We successfully helped them register over 50,000 first-time voters and developed critical learnings around how to reach young voters on the platforms they’re spending their time on, but are often ignored by political campaigns, including Snapchat and Instagram.

ACRONYM also developed multiple platforms and channels to register and mobilize wider audiences of voters online and tested relational organizing strategies we know work offline. The most prominent platform we created was Knock the Vote, a program designed to engage hard-to-reach voters (particularly young voters and people of color) through nontraditional creative built specifically for the platforms the program ran on. In order to develop much of this content, ACRONYM partnered with external creative partners, media organizations, artists and production organizations to develop content that would break through with audiences that traditionally are more challenging to reach. Knock the Vote also included relational organizing components by allowing targets to galvanize friends and family through social pressure.

ACRONYM also layered in ad programs and targeting tactics that would reach progressive audiences who were already planning on voting – and asked them to communicate with their friends and networks. To make this effort work most effectively, ACRONYM developed a tool that would enable people to not only check their own voter registration status, but also check the registration statuses of their friends – and through the same tool, contact their friends to ask them to register or commit to vote if they hadn’t yet.

Overall, ACRONYM successfully helped register over 60,000 voters across critical battleground states that delivered victories for progressives across the country. And nearly as important, we identified the key trends across the country around the challenges with voter registration online, where along the process proved the hardest to get someone to complete a registration, and started to form a baseline around the return on investment on digital advertising strategies to reach and register voters.

As we moved past voter registration deadlines, we flipped our communications strategies and efforts to mobilization and GOTV. During the final month before the midterms, our programs led to tens of thousands of actions from voters in critical battleground states – from committing to vote to looking up their polling place. And 71% of the voters who interacted with our campaigns were from our target audience of voters under 35 year sold. We also continued to leverage partnerships with creative experts and media channels to create co-branded content to run through another ACRONYM-created channel, Show Up to Vote.

We also developed critical learnings around the most engaged audiences and most effective creative content, and identified future opportunities to activate hyper-engaged audiences such as progressive women to leverage relational organizing strategies we tested through our other programs.

Developing Tools, Infrastructure and Capacity

At the core of all of ACRONYM’s work this past cycle was the commitment to leaving critical infrastructure and learnings behind that would benefit the entire progressive movement. In addition to the previously-mentioned infrastructure we created through our LEDGE program and tools, ACRONYM was able to develop and deploy resources to advance understanding of effective digital media and organizing strategies.

Over the course of 2018, ACRONYM led digital organizing trainings across 14 states, where we equipped approximately 500 organizers, leaders and progressive strategists with better understanding of how to integrate digital tactics and tools into traditional organizing efforts. We also created resources and made them available online for progressives that provided unbiased analyses and rankings of the most effective digital tools in the political market.

Through our partnership with the DCCC earlier this year, we helped structure and staff the committee’s independent expenditure team, encouraged them to bring their media buying and creative teams in-house (similarly to how ACRONYM operates), and created tools that helped quickly onboard DCCC IE staff with training and paid media capacity.  

Advancing Thought Leadership

Throughout all of this work, ACRONYM also sought to elevate the conversation around what modern campaigns should look like, and effective communications strategies in an era where people live their lives both online and offline.

By deploying new models and taking fresh approaches to digital communications programs, ACRONYM’s innovative work was highlighted in major media outlets such as the Washington Post, CNN, and NPR. We also started a weekly newsletter, FWIW, focused on increasing transparency and understanding around digital advertising, where we highlight interesting trends in digital campaigns –  on both sides of the aisle. The newsletter has led to nearly a dozen press articles highlighting digital spending from major media outlets including Bloomberg News, HuffPost, the LA Times and POLITICO, and we’ve doubled our subscriber base solely through organic reach. 

We’ve also advocated our nontraditional approach to how campaigns should be structured and run through our self-published articles and helped to create a larger conversation in the progressive landscape around the intersection between paid media, communications, and organizing efforts within campaigns.

Where we go next

As we move further into 2019, we are excited about the opportunities this next cycle will bring. We plan to continue both our electoral work to build infrastructure and power from the ground up, with the advancement of our LEDGE program in Virginia in 2019, and more broadly in 2020. We also plan to build upon the insights and programs we ran this cycle to reach, engage, and mobilize more audiences online and offline – and create lasting infrastructure that will build progressive power cycle over cycle.

From the entire team at ACRONYM, we are incredibly thankful for your support in our vision, your guidance, and your investment in our programs.

Best,
Tara

2018 In Summary

  • Over $18 million raised
  • 63 progressive candidates elected
  • 61% of total races invested in won
  • 60,000 voters registered
  • 75% of new voters registered were under 35
  • 10,000+ ads produced on Facebook alone
  • 440,000 “Swipe ups” on Snapchat ads
  • 15 million organic video views on our most popular ad
  • 18,000 commitments to voting
  • 105 targeted digital media campaigns in the 2018 cycle
  • 500 organizers trained
  • 15 states ACRONYM ran programs in

Who we worked with:

  • DCCC
  • DLCC
  • NDRC
  • AFL-CIO
  • Center for American Progress
  • Color of Change
  • EMILY’s List
  • Everytown for Gun Safety
  • Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence
  • The HUB
  • Planned Parenthood
  • Nail Communications
  • Nextgen America
  • Our Lives Our Vote
  • Vision First
  • Voting Rights Lab
  • Win Justice Coalition
  • Women Online
  • Women’s Equality Center
  • And more…
Tara McGowan

Author Tara McGowan

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