Five Questions with Josh Ginsberg
You’ve had the opportunity to work on and around campaigns in a number of capacities – including in presidential and gubernatorial races. What is your favorite and least favorite part of the campaign lifestyle?
Hands down, the personal and professional relationships borne out of my campaign experiences are my favorites. When you are in the trenches with the same people day in and day out, the bonds you form through those shared experiences can and do last a lifetime.
The intellectual excitement of campaigns is a close second for me. There is always something happening - good or bad - and that intensity is thrilling. You have to be ready at every point for what might come next.
But with the good, there are the downsides. For example, it’s not always the healthiest lifestyle (the “Campaign 15”) and the lack of sleep, as any exhausted campaign staffer will tell you.
Today you’re the CEO and co-founder of Zignal Labs. How did your campaign and administration experience prepare you for this current role?
My time in politics was definitely the inspiration for Zignal Labs. Many people reading this remember the campaign war rooms, where young staffers read news articles with the wall of TVs in front of them while doing Google news searches and emailing out articles approximately every six minutes. What Zignal Labs does is automate and enrich that process (think Brent Greenfield on the 2000 campaign on steroids…), which is especially important now that there are so many sources for conversations and distribution channels that directly impact a campaign, a brand, or a public figure.
Zignal Labs ingests and analyzes every mention from social media, traditional media, and television. We then visualize them for users in real time so they can make quick decisions and take action. Seeing those conversations unfold in a split-second gives a campaign manager, a company’s chief communications officer, or a public figure’s PR team the ability to make smart, data-driven decisions about stories as they are unfolding. Our goal is to make sure that our users can identify and handle potential crises before they get out of control - as well as take advantage of great opportunities that are just starting to percolate. My Bush campaign and administration experience taught me that there is tremendous value in this.
I was also very fortunate to have had some incredible mentors in the campaigns and administration. Seeing their leadership firsthand in very high-stakes situations taught me so much that I use every day as CEO. I am so grateful for that.
What is your fondest memory from your time working with President Bush?
I had many extraordinary experiences working for President Bush but there are two that really stand out.
The first was in 2001. The President had just been elected and I was working in the Office of Political Affairs. I was part of a group of staffers whose job it was to escort a Make-A-Wish Foundation family to the South Lawn to see the President take off in Marine One.
I vividly remember the looks on their faces as they walked through the White House, but the most memorable part was when President Bush came over to talk to the family and their child. I couldn’t hear what was said, but watching the compassion that the President showed and seeing how much it meant to the family was truly uplifting. That moment taught me about the power of the presidency in a totally different light.
The second occurred in August of 1999. We were in Iowa for the straw poll – which, of course, he ended up winning – and I’d been up much of the night in an Ames hotel, listening to Lyle Lovett and getting the materials ready for the next day with a group of campaign staffers. I was just 17 years old and it was my first real political event. I remember watching the President speak and then work the crowd the next day. His ability to connect with voters and their palpable excitement was electrifying.
I look back on it to this day as the moment I got bit by the political bug. It kick-started my career in politics and led me to where I am now. On the personal front, I’m still in touch with those campaign friends and colleagues I was in that hotel room with nearly 18 years ago. I was lucky to have such a personal and professional formative experience so early.
As campaigns and businesses consider live video and emerging forms of social media, what should they keep in mind?
The distribution channels might change but one thing will always stay the same—the importance of being authentic. Voters and customers see right through it when you’re not. Whether you’re a candidate or a CEO, own who you are. If you embrace digital channels like Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter, then fully engage. You can’t do it halfway and be successful. When people talk to you through those forums, engage and have a real conversation.
It is important to not look at these channels as siloed mediums, but as distribution channels, and how they interact with one another is paramount to how you calibrate your strategy. A winning strategy means using all these different digital tools so they work together harmoniously in service of the larger strategy. What you do on Twitter or Snapchat should still support, align with, or complement what you’re doing on Facebook or Instagram (as well as traditional media and TV).
Over the past several campaigns, we’ve seen candidates increasingly use social media channels to connect directly with voters. How do you expect to see this use of the platform grow or evolve in the years to come?
It is now fairly common for a candidate (or a president) to engage directly with voters through social media channels. It enables them to manage the story they want to tell more directly as opposed to through a third party.
Previously, the only way for a voter to directly engage with a candidate was at events like a town hall, in a ropeline, or at a retail campaign stop like a diner. Today voters can tweet at candidates and they respond and engage. It’s more like digital retail politics and it’s only going to become more pervasive as these social channels evolve and grow. Candidates no longer need to hold a press conference, give an interview, or issue a statement through a spokesperson. We see this more and more each election cycle and this type of engagement is only going to increase.