News & Insights
The stakes were high for the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in the 2020 election: Their mission was to mobilize a critical but often ignored voting bloc that had the power to determine the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. That’s when we began our work together.
The majority of SEIU’s members—workers in healthcare, the public sector, and property services—are people of color and were feeling the impact of the pandemic. SEIU believed a change in administration was critical to protect their communities, and recognized that engaging “infrequent” voters of color (those who did not vote in 2016 or 2018) was the way to achieve that goal.
Working closely with our clients at SEIU, Precision’s Krishana Davis (strategy lead) and Juan Antonio del Rosario (lead producer) developed one of the largest paid media programs in the 2020 election cycle to mobilize this key audience, encouraging Black, Latinx, and AAPI voters to turn out in record numbers and help provide the winning margin for President Joe Biden in states across the country.
We spoke with Krishana and Juan Antonio to hear about lessons learned from this campaign, which has recently been recognized by PRovoke Media, Cynopsis Media, and Campaigns & Elections as one of the top campaigns of the past year. Here are the highlights:
Tell us about the SEIU voter mobilization campaign and what was unique about it.
KRISHANA: Traditionally, campaigns geared toward engaging voters of color are focused on mobilizing a base—and that usually means that infrequent voters are left out. Instead, SEIU decided to shift the focus to these equally important voters. Based on polling and lived experiences, we knew that infrequent voters generally don’t engage either because of capacity (like not being able to take time off of work or limited transportation) or because they recognize that the system historically and presently has not worked for them and that voting won’t create meaningful change. Mobilizing this audience required a nuanced understanding of these issues.
At the same time, the audiences we were trying to reach were being directly and disproportionately affected by the pandemic, as well as police violence which amplified calls for racial justice and spurred nationwide protests. We couldn’t ignore that as we built our campaign.
Ultimately, the goal was to break through with culturally competent and relevant messaging that would convince this audience that their vote matters—recognizing it as one of the many tools for driving change—and encourage them to vote.
There were a few different audiences you were trying to reach within the “infrequent voters of color” category (Black, Latinx, and AAPI audiences). How did you ensure you were reaching each audience with the right message?
KRISHANA: We started with a lot of traditional tactics, including polling. That helped provide insight into what each of our audiences looked like and what they cared about. But we didn’t rely on that alone. Polling is a great place to start, but we also know that the polling process and system—such as who writes the questions and what response options are provided—can be limiting, particularly when building a picture of the historically racially marginalized communities we were trying to reach. We kept that at the forefront of our minds while interpreting the data. It was important for us to be data informed, but morals driven.
JUAN ANTONIO: We identified some ways to try and fill in those gaps. I and others on the team, for example, would check in with family members or friends (both directly or indirectly by looking at social media) to see what conversations were happening in real time within their communities. While this wasn’t a full representation of our audiences, that anecdotal knowledge allowed us to better evaluate the themes that showed up in the polling. You need to have an informed perspective while interpreting data and take a thoughtful approach to drawing out what you should apply to your campaign.
You reached out to these audiences over the course of several months, incorporating a wide variety of video styles across more than 80 ad campaigns. How did you keep your creative engaging and relevant throughout?
KRISHANA: To capture the attention of infrequent voters, we knew we’d need to create videos that looked nothing like traditional political ads—particularly in the battleground states where our audience was constantly being hit with political content. To do that, we committed to finding unique, culturally relevant, and timely sources of inspiration. One source of inspiration was TikTok, where we saw and then replicated trends in our ads. Another series of ads was entirely inspired by telenovelas. These ads looked different—and that’s what we wanted. We hoped it would make our audiences stop and take another look at the messages the videos relayed and be more likely to be motivated by or share them.
How did you overcome the challenges of creative video production during a pandemic?
JUAN ANTONIO: Early on, it seemed people had come to a very narrow conclusion of what videos produced during COVID could look like. We decided we weren’t going to build creative concepts around those “rules.” Instead, we made creative decisions first, and then figured out the method to bring our ideas to life.
One of our concepts, for example, was an animated series called “COVID Journey.” In designing the series, we wanted to show the country’s current reality as a dystopia—one where a virus floats in the air, cities are riddled with shuttered businesses, and everyone feels let down by leadership. The video suggests that the viewer can fix this reality by voting. We chose an animated style because it allowed us to create this vision of the country while intentionally showcasing a diverse representation of race and socio-economics. It was also very different in style from traditional political ads, which our audience would normally tune out from.
So, we didn’t create an animated video series because pandemic limitations said we had to—we created it because it was the best way to relay our message in a way we believed would actually break through and achieve our goal.
What lessons do you think marketers should take from this campaign experience when building campaigns focused on engaging people of color?
JUAN ANTONIO: When it comes to developing content, overproduce. It’s hard to overstate how fast the pace of a presidential election is, and how quickly the ground can shift beneath your feet. We were making content for very specific audiences going through a very transformative moment. We had to get the tone right while communicating the right sensibility, and the only way to do that in that environment was to overproduce. Concept more ideas than you will script, write more scripts than you will produce, and produce more than you will release. For us the process of putting out a piece of content into the world had to always be one of elimination, of letting go of everything except the best possible content for that audience in that moment. We did a lot of really cool work that never saw the light of day, and it stings, but you can’t be precious about creative content—you have to let the moment dictate.
KRISHANA: I would simply say: hire Black people—particularly Black women—and give them the resources and support they need to run a program, and get out of the way.