They pop up like weeds every election season. Candidate signs, stuck in front yards and stapled to telephone poles. It is one of the oldest and most basic forms of political communication, usually consisting of nothing more than the candidate’s name and a short slogan.
But these signs are not made for our technological times. Like all of society, the political arena is moving rapidly into the computerized age. And a company in Montgomery called FIXR Digital is trying to help candidates effectively use this new form of campaign strategy.
Formed in 2015 by David Mowery and Brent Rosen, FIXR Digital operates basically like a traditional advertising agency, but with a heavy focus on social media marketing and data analytics. “So, while we can make a regular television ad for you and place it, we’d much rather discuss how we can use digital to push your campaign goals, ” Mowery says.
A self-described Army brat, Mowery graduated from the University of Georgia in 2000 with a degree in journalism before moving to Alabama, where he began working as a political consultant, primarily as financial director. In 2003, he helped raise almost $1 million in the successful effort to elect Sam Jones as the first African American mayor of Mobile.
Mowery shifted into the role of campaign manager for the election of Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright to the U.S. Congress in 2008. The following year, he managed Todd Strange’s election to replace Bright as mayor of Montgomery. Then in 2010, he helped guide the campaigns of six Alabama Senate/House members: Sen. Billy Beasley, Sen. Dick Brewbaker, Sen. Harri Anne Smith, Rep. Donnie Chesteen, Rep. Richard Lindsey and Rep. Lesley Vance.
Mowery used a more traditional communications approach in those campaigns. But in 2012, while working with Robert Vance on his unsuccessful bid for Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice, Mowery recognized the need for targeted marketing.
“We got into a box where if we communicated with everybody, some groups went for us but others went against us just as equally, ” Mowery says. “I came away feeling like if we could have diverted money from our budget away from TV and radio and into online, we could have targeted the specific groups we needed.
“After that election, I was at the American Association of Political Consultants conference, and all these people were talking about digital stuff and how they were able to communicate with specific voters about specific issues. I realized that not only were the tools that I needed available, but I was sort of falling behind the times by not knowing how to use them. So I decided that I was going to get a focus on digital.”
With an increased emphasis on the use of such social media platforms as Facebook and Twitter, Mowery helped elect four state senators and three state representatives in 2014. He intensified this approach during Strange’s mayoral re-election campaign with the help of Rosen — a Louisiana native and graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law — including placing a post on BuzzFeed entitled “23 reasons to Keep Montgomery Strange.”
“After that, we realized we were pretty good at this, and other people in Alabama weren’t jumping on the bandwagon, ” Mowery says. “There was a gap in the market we thought we could fill. So we joined forces and formed FIXR.”
Aside from the political jargon “fixer” for someone who ably arranges things that need arranging, Mowery says the company name comes from the ability to fix things. “Brett and I are pretty good at taking something that’s not working and making it work, ” he says. “A client tells us their problem and asks us how to solve it. They ask us how to put digital in the mix, because they don’t think they’re reaching the right people through the right channels with the right message.
“So we’re fixers. And then all these tech companies like to take a vowel out of their name somewhere. So we dropped the ‘e’ because we thought it looked cool.”
The company uses a combination of social media marketing and data mining to promote a candidate to specific groups of voters. In the Strange re-election campaign, for example, Mowery says they used analytics to target 3, 400 potential voters through their interaction with the campaign on Facebook, and another 1, 000 through email responses. That 4, 400 total represents 37 percent of Strange’s eventual victory margin of approximately 12, 000 votes.
“That’s the advantage this stuff gives you. It’s actionable, ” Mowery says. “You can get feedback and address gaps in your communication strategy or what’s in your demographics. We know that these certain people are more apt to vote for a candidate who agrees with them on a certain issue.”
In addition to campaign work, Mowery says FIXR also has business and charitable clients, including New Orleans chef John Besh. But Mowery says the best opportunities for growth are in politics, especially in Alabama.
“A lot of people in Alabama are two or three years behind the curve on this. Not in the ability, but in the want or focus to do it, ” Mowery says. “It’s very strange to me that it’s still easier to pitch direct mail than it is to pitch digital targeting. It’s not that they have a bias against it, but a lot of the people we deal with are a little older, and they think this stuff is for their kids. They don’t quite realize the potential that is there.
“The fact is, these days the digital people should be in the room from the beginning. They should be in on all the conversations. It shouldn’t be looked at as a tool where we have a little money left in the budget, so let’s run some online ads. It should be part of the larger communications strategy from the start. Because while there are some people who the best way to reach them isn’t through the computer or the phone, for a lot of people that’s the only way to reach them.”
Cary Estes and Julie Lowry are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Estes is based in Birmingham and Lowry in Montgomery.
Text By CARY ESTES // Photo by JULIE LOWRY