For anyone interested in starting a digital advertising agency, Megan Clasen has award-winning advice. With a digital advertising career spanning more than a decade, Clasen has been steadily carving out a precise roadmap for creating some of today’s most successful marketing campaigns. And as one of the few women in tech, and one of even fewer in political tech, Clasen is helping to shift the paradigm of what winning big actually looks like.
Most recently occupying the role of senior paid media advisor to Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, Clasen became an in-house “digital guru.” Leading their advertising work, Clasen’s team executed the largest digital ads program ever run by a Democratic campaign. Prior to that, she led JB Pritzker’s digital efforts in his successful run for governor in Illinois, which Politico called “The Best Campaign Money Can Buy” and was later recognized at the 2019 Reed Awards as the “Best Online Advertising Campaign.”
After the 2020 election, Clasen, and creative partner, Patrick McHugh, came together to found Gambit Strategies – a first of its kind digital advertising firm specializing in “persuasion, mobilization, & issue advocacy campaigns for candidates & causes,” as shared by McHugh via Twitter at launch. “What you’ve seen is a lot of TV firms saying ‘We can do digital as well’ or digital fundraising firms saying, ‘We can do digital persuasion and mobilization,’” said Clasen, quoted recently in The Hill. “There aren’t many firms saying we are digital mobilization, persuasion experts.”
Since launching Gambit, Clasen and McHugh have exponentially grown their reach and intrinsic value as a digital media and creative firm primarily focused on get-out-the-vote operations. In our recent interview, Clasen revealed that the company now has 14 employees not even a year into the business, with over 60 percent of their political candidate client pool campaigning in this cycle identifying as female.
Speaking of their firm’s success, Clasen shared her overwhelm of the amount of people who’ve put their trust in the team’s expertise. As the year unfolds, she expressed her excitement for continuing the push for heightened mobilization up and down the ballot. Outlining a few high-level strategies guaranteed to work across a spectrum of industries, Clasen brought to light some crucial points for those hoping to reach larger, more diverse audiences in the years to come.
What Kind Of Story Are You Trying To Tell?
When developing a marketing plan focused on digital mobilization, Clasen detailed the critical role storytelling plays in enabling audience buy-in. With the Biden campaign, Clasen believes that her team was able to work wonders by staying on message. Sparring in the middle of a pandemic with a commonly erratic opponent, she says that solely focusing on stories that spoke the most to President Biden and what his administration looked to provide – like “The Biden Standard” – was what helped secure the win.
Staying true to a concrete storyline was something Clasen learned along the way to becoming one of today’s top digital strategists. Starting her digital advertising career at agencies in New York City, she spent five years working with brands such as Samsung and AT&T, before taking a lead role on Hilary Clinton’s Hillary for America digital advertising team in 2015. Specifically looking for someone with an outside perspective and the potential to bring in fresh ideas to politics, Clasen was hired to oversee ad operations and media buying, but often found herself educating colleagues on why digital should be prioritized.
As she taught them to think of digital persuasion as a broadcast medium similar to television instead of the direct-mail programs they were used to, campaign heads and progressive brands alike quickly began subscribing to Clasen’s dogma. And as one of the first political campaigns to sign a partnership with a digital streaming platform – Hulu – Hilary Clinton’s race to the White House became Meghan Clasen’s trailblazing effort into digital political marketing.
Who Are You Trying To Sell?
Greater access to streaming services and inevitably shorter attention spans have transformed the lens of ad marketing in the digital and physical world. The key point that Clasen and McHugh are trying to make with the founding of Gambit Strategies is that without strategic digital advertising, persuading and mobilizing all voters simply cannot be done.
“I think [it] is emotional,” Clasen explained of the habitual nature of voting that often brings difficulties with voter turnout in non-presidential cycles. “People want to know that the person they’re voting for shares their values,” she said. “Being able to tell stories, I think, enables people to put their trust in a candidate.”
Spearheading the creative marketing strategies that helped earn President Joe Biden his seat in the White House in 2020, Clasen illustrated her experience of using real people to share their reasons for voting for a candidate – critical narratives meant to create the emotional ties necessary for gathering other voters. “If someone’s been a Republican their whole life and you’re trying to get them to go out and vote for a Democrat, you’re really going to need to build that trust and have them hear from people who are like them about why voting for this candidate is the right thing to do.”
The Biden campaign had a $250 million digital ad program budget and a full understanding of the individuals on the other side of the communication. Some voters felt disillusioned, others had little to no access to reliable resources. To help reach a more diverse audience, Clasen used platform-specific creative formatting, like culturally competent 15-second videos on Facebook instead of 30 second generic ones.
And to be sure voters sincerely felt like they were being heard and talked to, Clasen highlighted specific targeting tracks used, for veterans, rural citizens, and seniors in different battleground states, etc. “Being able to serve people messages about topics that they specifically care about can be really powerful,” she concluded.
Using What’s True To Create What’s New
Clasen agrees that having a mix of targeted ad placement and prioritizing the creative experience during data analysis are what sets her agency apart as the best in political tech. Throughout our conversation, she stressed the importance of data-driven decision making and how tapping into customer insights to inform brand and marketing plans should be the way to go for anyone hoping to digitally make waves.
“Data is driving our decisions about where we’re going to spend money online,” she began, referencing the invaluable information gleaned from what people are consuming most and where online they are doing it. “People spend more time on Facebook and Instagram than most any other platform, but [they] are going to be scrolling through on their mobile device, watching something for three to five seconds on average.”
According to Clasen, getting an emotional message across in the current climate really depends on the environment. But by targeting the most high quality persuasion impression based on consumer insights, it becomes easier to reach out, touch, and move viewers at all levels.
Keeping A Clear Strategy
“If you had told me 10 years ago, this is where I was going to land – that I was going to be a critical part of the campaign that took down Donald Trump, and then start my own ad agency – I honestly probably wouldn’t believe you,” Clasen said of her professional journey. However, she undeniably exemplifies the importance of holding a clear strategy when ascending in one’s career.
Named one of the “Top Women in Digital Marketing” at the 2019 Digital Megaphone Awards, the Cleveland, Ohio native spoke of following one’s instincts and working hard at every task presented to allow opportunities for figuring out your passions to open up. Clasen revealed that it was through her experience working with people-centric companies like Starcom and GMMB, her leap of faith on an entry-level position in her dream career after college, and countless days of “networking like crazy” to keep the lights on in her new NYC apartment – all before working in politics – that truly helped prepare her for the competitive sphere she’s now come to dominate.
“I think the important thing, especially for women to know, is that it’s okay to fail,” she said. “People are going to say no to you and you have to keep going. People are going to act like you’re not good enough because they’re intimidated by you. But it’s important to have confidence in yourself and keep working towards your goals to be able to achieve them.”