Rubio’s leadership PAC, Reclaim America PAC, paid Optimus $200,000 for consulting in 2013 and 2014. During that time, Rubio’s PAC made the uncommon decision not only to give money to candidates it supported but spend money directly on TV ads in some races. Long before Rubio announced his presidential campaign, his PAC was on the airwaves in Iowa backing now-Sen. Joni Ernst in her 2014 GOP primary.Besides being an opportunity to help elect a senator in the kickoff presidential caucus state, the TV ad buy was also an opportunity to test how to reach GOP primary voters in Iowa. TV is an important way to communicate with voters, but there are inefficiencies built in, especially in primaries. The most TV viewers might be in prime time, for example, but if few of them are your party’s voters, advertising during that time does you little good (and at high prices).Reclaim America’s spring 2014 TV buy backing Ernst covered 10 different cable channels in various Iowa markets, according to a source tracking ad data. It wasn’t particularly expensive, but the purchase—made by the GOP ad-buying firm Smart Media Group—had the hallmarks of a targeted attempt to talk to a particular segment of voters based on a statistical model.“A deep cable buy—not just a couple of different networks but 10 or more—is the mark of some serious analytics,” said Wilner. “It’s about reaching the particular voters watching these times and these shows.”
Optimus also spent part of last year quietly researching early-state voters for a nonprofit, Conservative Solutions Project, affiliated with the newly announced pro-Rubio super PAC. The report Optimus prepared highlights other work easily applicable to a presidential primary campaign. In the back of the book, there are results from a controlled experiment using Texas voters as political guinea pigs, testing how much an online ad campaign would boost turnout in the 2014 GOP primary. Optimus’s website claims it has conducted more than 500 “voter-contact tests.”
According to people familiar with Optimus’s work, in past campaigns the firm has also used online panels to test TV ads, mailers, and digital ads with a sample of people modeled to look like a primary or general electorate before deploying an ad—a kind of large-scale, Web-based focus group.
The services span different parts of a campaign, but they are all geared toward the same thing: efficacy and efficiency. And while the amount of money Republican presidential candidates raise will likely get the most attention, how they spend it in a heavily contested primary will be just as important.