News & Insights
8 insights from Jen O’Malley Dillon, Campaign Manager of Biden for President
Jen O’Malley Dillon, Co-Founder of Precision and Campaign Manager of Biden for President, is one of the sharpest operatives in the business and the first woman to manage a successful Democratic presidential campaign.
On Thursday, our other co-founders, Stephanie Cutter and Teddy Goff, held a virtual conversation with Jen in one of her first public events since the election. Jen talked about the challenges of running a presidential campaign during a pandemic, ways the campaign broke new ground in data, digital, and organizing tactics, balancing work with motherhood, and the ways Precision prepared her for the toughest job of her career.
Here are some of the top insights from Jen’s conversation with Stephanie and Teddy:
- A winning strategy balances authenticity with flexibility.
“We really felt what we needed to do was stay true to who [the President-elect] was and his vision, and then have the flexibility to figure out different ways to reach people and not be afraid to try new things. Certainly not be afraid to do something solely because somebody says this is always the way it’s done. And that in some ways was kind of freeing for our strategy. I’m not going to tell you that it was easy. In the early days, when we were trying to figure everything out, as we had people speak out and say, you can’t win this way, he’s got to get out there, look at what Trump’s doing. But, we really believed that would backfire.”
- You don’t have to be a digital native or go negative to succeed online.
“I think we proved that you can be authentic, you can be positive, and you can find a way to engage people — it doesn’t have to just be negative content. But that content has to be built for the platforms that you’re communicating on. I think that was fundamental for us. I think the second thing that I am really proud of is how we worked hard to come up with platform partnerships to really think about who we are trying to reach that we cannot get to — we know that we’re only talking to our own folks on our own channels.”
- We don’t have all the tools to fully combat disinformation yet, but there are strategies to navigate it. It starts with understanding what’s out there and who it’s actually impacting.
“What we were trying to identify is two parts: What actually is the disinformation or misinformation out there? And then who is it going to and having an impact with?… We were able to identify cohorts of voters, you know, suburban women, as an example, that were getting more disinformation and were impacted by it or influenced by it. So we were both then trying to come in and respond to that to the folks that had already been hit with it, but then get in front of other look alike voters that we thought would be impacted… fundamentally, part of it is, you know, you can’t ignore it. And you got to find a way to communicate out there and to make your case proactively, and to do it across these channels that are moving a lot of information.”
- Public polling might have been off, at least in part, because of inaccurate self-reporting on education. Adjusting to look at census data gave the campaign a more accurate read.
“Pretty early on, [we] stopped weighting our modeling on self-identified education on the calls we were having. And instead, we went to the census tract, so that we were mapping our education to what the census was, and that actually pulled down our numbers… It allowed us to have a more accurate assessment of who we were talking to within these different areas, so that it matched to what the expectation is — based on census — in a way that I think gets skewed on a polling call… we felt like that could be where some of the disconnect came.”
- Virtual campaigns and conventions allow for inclusivity and innovation — fostering relationships with your audience and trust with your team.
“The [virtual] convention was great because it opened up to the American people. For our convention, no matter who you were, whether you were a Democrat or not, there was a home for you, there was someone that represented you, there was someone that spoke to you — and I thought that was so important… I think it’s the path forward for engaging people and just increases our reach, and our effectiveness and, and our ability to build a relationship with people.”
- The historic nature of Kamala Harris’s election as vice president hasn’t been fully appreciated. Yet…
“First of all, [Vice President-elect Harris] is amazing. And it’s almost hard to imagine her not being the Vice President-elect or have them together as the ticket… [President-elect Biden] had a clear vision for it. He was the one that said his goal and hope and intention to choose a woman… it is a big, amazing, wonderful deal. And I know we all know that. But I honestly think it might be a little bit of like the untold story compared to everything else. And I think it’s gonna just continue to dawn on the consciousness of this country, what a big deal it is time after time. And it’s going to be profound. It is profound.”
- It’s possible to be a mom in a powerful position.
“Some of the things that we state as incredibly important — like showing up at a certain time or being in-person for a meeting, or staying as late as the person that you report to because they’re there late — those things don’t matter. What matters is getting the work done… If you want to [be a mom and do this work], it’s possible. It is not easy, it is kind of ugly sometimes… but, you know, I think there’s a way to do it.”
- Last but not least: How her time at Precision helped prepare her for success on the campaign trail.
“I was ready for this job because of what I did at Precision and what I learned from being part of a firm and a team that brought together the best that there is, but also thought about not just what I did, but how all of our parts connected together — and how that integration allowed us to be more strategic and thoughtful and thinking about ways to reach different audiences.”