How Campaigns Can Tap into the Creator Economy – Kurt Luidhardt (Prosper Group)

Eric Wilson
March 6, 2024
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How Campaigns Can Tap into the Creator Economy – Kurt Luidhardt (Prosper Group)
March 6, 2024

How Campaigns Can Tap into the Creator Economy – Kurt Luidhardt (Prosper Group)

"Somewhere between 2012 and 2024 data has eaten up creative."

Our guest today is Kurt Luidhardt, co-founder of the Prosper Group, one of the leading digital strategy firms for Republicans. Kurt and his team have worked for candidates across the country, including Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and many more.

In today's episode, we're talking about the future of digital strategy, online fundraising, and what recent shifts in tactics mean for a new path forward for creating content to engage supporters.


- The traditional tactics of online fundraising in politics are no longer as effective, and a new approach is needed.
- Adopting the creator economy playbook, which focuses on creating valuable content, can help engage supporters and drive online fundraising.
- Podcasting is a valuable content channel for political candidates, allowing for longer, more in-depth conversations and the ability to reach a targeted audience.
- Creating evergreen content is important in campaigns, as it allows for long-term engagement and reaches voters who may not be paying attention until later in the election cycle.

Episode Transcript

Eric Wilson (00:03.533)
I'm Eric Wilson, managing partner of Startup Caucus, the home of campaign tech innovation on the right. Welcome to the Business of Politics show. On this podcast, you're joining in on a conversation with entrepreneurs, operatives, and experts who make professional politics happen. Our guest today is Kurt Lutart, co-founder of the Prosper Group, one of the leading digital strategy firms for Republicans and their allies.

Kurt and his team have worked for candidates across the country, including Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Texas Senator Ted Cruz, and many more. In today's episode, we're talking about the future of digital strategy, online fundraising, and what recent shifts in tactics mean for a new path forward for creating content to engage supporters. So, Kurt, we've had...

conversations in the past on this show about the headwinds that are facing online Fundraising and we haven't really seen the sort of momentum that we had Maybe four or five years ago recover and you know There are a lot of different symptoms that your or diagnoses that you can offer whether that's People are burnt out of the tactics people are tuning out of politics inflation

Too many people are asking, you know, some combination of all of the above. What's the way forward if what we've been doing isn't working as effectively anymore?

Kurt Luidhardt (01:41.942)
You know, it's interesting in the sort of non-political world. We've had over the last few years, this growing word that there's a creator economy out there, that there are people who are making money on Instagram, TikTok developing, maybe silly, but arguably valuable or entertaining creative. And politics, particularly on the GOP side.

We're sort of the anti-creator economy. We are, yeah, in terms of our content strategies right now, driven by most of our campaigns and candidates, we are still lowest common denominator. The community, the outward bound communications we do, particularly for our supporters, tend to be no value.

Eric Wilson (02:17.037)
destructive economy.

Kurt Luidhardt (02:41.422)
only a solicitation, only an ask. And then we wonder why our open rates are bad, why people aren't clicking. Everyone on our email list knows what the content of today's email's gonna be, or the third email they got from today. Yeah, before they open it. So we're increasingly reliant on crazy subject lines, really wild.

Eric Wilson (02:57.809)
before they even open it.

Kurt Luidhardt (03:07.218)
and controversial fundraising tactics, arguably deceptive. And so the solution in my mind is to adopt what's working elsewhere. And that is to create value, something that our audiences want to read, want to listen to. And we know they're willing to pay for it because we see it on the center-right economy right now. We've got the daily signal with some success building out

arguably a growing media empire of paid digital content in a thriving conservative media world that does well too, but we just candidates are still acting like it's 1998 in the way we look at the value we're providing to our supporters and it's time for that to change.

Eric Wilson (03:59.885)
Yeah, it's really quite fascinating how we know that politics is a relationship driven endeavor, and yet we have not made that leap to building relationships online. You know, candidates are still going to the diners and the tomato festivals to meet with voters. So they know that that's important. But to your point, it is it's sort of a one way exchange.

when it comes to online, I think that probably stems from kind of our mindset of broadcast advertising, which really drove political campaigns in the latter half of the 20th century and still drives it today. We're just not used to that two-way conversation, which is at the core of social media influencers and digital creators. So what are the parts of the creator economy playbook?

that we can adapt for politics. I think a lot of people are familiar with kind of what that looks like of those influencers and the things that they sell. But talk about kind of the business model for us, because I think some people haven't really looked into that.

Kurt Luidhardt (05:17.366)
Yeah, if you're a typical content creator outside of politics, you do a lot of the same things we're somewhat familiar with and still do on the political side, on the GOP side. That is, they do audience building. They look to build an audience. But where we diverge from a content creator is they've provided enough value.

that they can start seeking subscription, revenue, micro payments, or collaborations with others. We stop at, well, let's see if we can build an audience, then let's start spamming them with emails and text messages. And that's where there's opportunity for us, but it all centers around, yeah, we absolutely have to create something they wanna listen to.

Eric Wilson (06:09.625)
Yeah, there's no conversion funnel, right? Which we, yeah.

Kurt Luidhardt (06:16.754)
something of value, something they can't see just by scrolling through Twitter. Perhaps an inside look at what's happening in Washington, D.C., something about how a bill is moving forward or not, something they're not seeing on Fox News and not a typical 30-second talking point kind of snippet, but something of substance, something of entertainment, which

I think may lead some people to conclude the only folks who can be successful are the provocative, wild entertaining politicians. And that's not necessarily true because part of the value is behind the scenes or maybe who you collaborate with or could work with. So I don't think you need to be incredibly articulate or a really one of our...

front and center type Republican politicians to make this work. You just need to think about what would I want to hear if I were a, a supporter? What, what do I want to hear?

Eric Wilson (07:18.638)
Yeah, I think there's...

Eric Wilson (07:25.745)
There's a fascinating dynamic here, and you and I confronted this kind of back in the early days of email fundraising where everyone said, oh, I'm not a red meat conservative, and so I can't raise money online. Well, it's certainly easier to get attention if you're willing to say stuff that's edgier, but that's not necessarily always sustainable, not going to work and doesn't necessarily build a career.

I think the insight that I've seen over the last several cycles is that, you know, we use this word authentic, authenticity all the time. But what does that really mean? And I think the best definition I can offer is you're willing to say what you actually believe what you think, and then stick with it. I think that sticking with it is the part that people admire about candidates like Donald Trump.

Ron DeSantis, others who are told, oh, well, you can't say that, that's out of the mainstream, but they kind of hold firm and don't try to navigate the sort of typical media backlash. They just kind of sit there and take it. That's really easy to do when you're saying things that you believe in.

Kurt Luidhardt (08:46.846)
Yeah, well, there's a great marketing principle to the price of clarity is to risk offense. In marketing as well as a candidate, if you want to have a clear brand in the market, you've got to risk offending some people, dividing some people. Perhaps we have some candidates who like that a little too much.

But that's the authenticity you're talking about. There's something you stand for and you're willing to stand for it in the face of opposition. And people are attracted to that. I also think there are a certain group of people who would be attracted to a personality brought to camera or to a podcast or something that might feel a little dry and boring, but in a way that's entertaining.

particularly if you can own it as a politician.

Eric Wilson (09:44.621)
Yeah. You mentioned podcasts and I think that we really haven't seen much in the way of podcasting in the political space, but I happen to think that it's a pretty effective medium for candidates. For example, I talk to people a lot about how we get to have long form conversations like this. We get to stretch our legs and it's not drilled down into, you know, sound bites for a three minute.

TV segment. I'm curious to hear what you see in podcasting as a good content channel for political candidates.

Kurt Luidhardt (10:24.674)
Well, first, it's important for us to go where the eyeballs are, or in this case, the ears are in some cases. The podcast space has been growing significantly. The number of people now listening and consuming podcasts rivals a lot of other media. If you sit down and compare, say, the viewership you get from fighting tooth and nail to get a 30-second...

hit on Neil Cavuto versus say a 45 minute appearance on Chuck Woolery's podcast. You can do the math and say that guy had 600,000 downloads last month and who saw my 30 second snippet on Cavuto, right? And by the way, it's very difficult to be notable in those 30 seconds, which is the second reason I'm a big fan.

a podcast for political candidates because you can have a 45 minute conversation, which means you get a chance to tell your story. You don't have to just resort to boring talking points or worse yet, highly controversial statements just to make people pay attention, but you can tell your full story. We know eyeballs are there. It generates as well, a lot of ancillary benefits that a typical cable news hit wouldn't.

You know, many podcasters would be enthusiastic about you using their content on your social channels or even in say a TV commercial under certain circumstances, but Fox news is going to hit you with a copyright hit if you, if you clip more than a few seconds of your Cavuto appearance we just discussed. Um, we have a couple of clients who have good podcasts. Um, Senator Cruz has a great podcast.

It's not run by his campaign, but it proves to be a host of content for his political operation. If for no other reason, then as Ted is out there sharing what he believes about issues, we don't have to worry about content for emails or text messages because it's all there. It's a very positive secondary benefit.

Eric Wilson (12:39.534)

Kurt Luidhardt (12:49.25)
You know, you could take a, you can develop a podcast for a candidate and use all those clips to, in your social media and other social channels. And then of course you can also view podcast appearances similarly as you would view, uh, any other earned media hit. And a lot of these Republican and right-wing podcasters are doing great and they have an excellent audience. And if you look at the types of people listening to podcasts, they also tend to be.

higher net worth, they can afford to give money. So you're also hitting a solid target audience with that.

Eric Wilson (13:26.265)
Yeah, we are seeing just cycle over cycle in our post-election surveys that we do with the Center for Campaign Innovation. We see podcasts continuing to grow as a medium, especially with donors. So donors actually over indexed towards getting their information from podcasts. So it is a valuable audience in that regard. I think another thing that is overlooked, podcasts, many people don't appreciate this,

RSS feed. It's kind of an old school technology. Those of us who still miss Google Reader will be familiar with the RSS feed. It's an open protocol like email where anyone can host a podcast. You're not subject to what does Facebook say? What does Apple say? What does Google say? They can make the decision not to list you in their directories, but it's an open protocol.

you know, everyone you can, you can really own your audience in that regard. So it's, it's hugely valuable.

Kurt Luidhardt (14:30.454)
Absolutely, there's so many platforms now so you can develop content posted on YouTube posted on Spotify Posted on Apple podcast so you have Lots of ways you could use that Content to your point keep yourself from being caught up in somebody else's You know special mousetrap

Eric Wilson (14:51.985)
So what needs to happen for more candidates and politicians to get into the podcasting game? I think we see how it can be popular. I think there's a, map out the steps from here to there for us.

Kurt Luidhardt (15:13.182)
Yeah, well, the first thing that needs to change is just a mentality, which is we need to be in the business of creating something of value, which is not better mentality, particularly as it comes to digital media for a long time, which is can we create something that people want to listen to? And that's a mentality change, not the lowest common denominator, not the quickest thing.

Not the email that's going to get 150 unsubscribes and spam complaints, but will raise $500, so we just do it. But willing to create some value. So I think the first step is a mentality change. And related to that is the understanding of what are mediums that feel new and unknown to us.

The reason we go to Fox News, we're trying desperately to get our candidates on there is because that makes sense to us. It's something we've been doing for 30 years. Podcasts don't quite make sense. Everybody's heard of Joe Rogan, but they don't really understand how that world works. And so in the apps, when confusion exists, nothing happens. And there's confusion and questions. So I think getting educated on that type of medium is essential. Otherwise.

Eric Wilson (16:29.06)

Kurt Luidhardt (16:39.042)
They're remarkably easy to do. It's remarkably easy to get on people's podcasts. It's remarkably easy to create one of your own. It's just a little time consuming, which again comes down to a mentality change for our candidates that there's some things worth spending time on, even in the face of a lot of pressure to raise money and go to every town hall meeting in your district.

Eric Wilson (17:05.689)
You're listening to the Business of Politics show. I'm speaking with Kurt Lutart about the potential for growing our online fundraising capacity through creator economy tactics and strategies like podcasting and creating videos. Kurt, something you just said really struck me, which is making the time. Because I have a podcast, which we're on, so we're getting very meta today.

It is time consuming, but it is really valuable in that we are having this conversation now. People might be listening to it the day we post. They might be listening to it three months after we post. And I think there's something in our campaign brains about immediacy. We don't have much of an appreciation for evergreen content.

And in many ways that does us a disservice because most voters, you know, we're creating good content right now in the first part of 2024 for campaigns. Most voters aren't gonna tune in until September or October. And if you don't have a mechanism for that content to be accessible, like a podcast feed, they're gonna miss out on that. And I think that that's a really important point you raised about

Yes, it is time consuming, but it is also an investment of saving your time long term.

Kurt Luidhardt (18:40.19)
Yeah. I mean, I, I remember post 2012, Republicans felt pretty defeated after Obama beat Romney and there was some real hope towards the end of that campaign that Romney was going to win. And then we did this, you know, overview of everything we had done. Everybody picked up the victory lab and read it. And somewhere between 2012 and 2024.

Eric Wilson (19:04.591)

Kurt Luidhardt (19:09.314)
Data has eaten up creative. The industry has adopted this attitude of, of polling and analytics and forgotten that it really doesn't matter how good you're polling and analytics are, if you're not saying anything interesting, if, if there was a, if there was a learning from the Ron DeSantis challenge to Donald Trump in 2023 and 24, it's exactly that.

Eric Wilson (19:27.087)

Kurt Luidhardt (19:38.726)
It doesn't matter how amazing your tactical choices are. If nobody gives a crap what you're saying, if you're not articulating a message, if you're not creating differentiation between you and your opponent, no amount of money makes a difference. And that's the way I look at this idea of content creation is additional.

It's been, since I've been talking a lot about mindset changes, it's, it's time for good creative to make a comeback in our business. It's, it's time for us to be thinking about how do we talk about what we believe in and what we're trying to accomplish in a way that people want to listen to it. How do we break free from all the stereotypes and all of the time tested, but

boring tropes that we've been saying for the last 20 years. And that just takes time. It takes a willingness to create, but ultimately it's what we're missing right now on the GOP side. I'm sure Democrats may feel the same. And so we, it's time to adapt again. Uh, I don't think we should abandon data, but we've gone a little too far on the pendulum where we're just boring.

And because we're, we're poll testing everything, or we're, we're over emphasis on analytics and not enough in creative. And so, cause on the other hand, it's more time consuming, but it's not costly. It's cheap to do a podcast. It's free to do a podcast, arguably. It just takes some time. Now I, I've been doing a lot of educating our clients. Some of them are familiar with some.

Eric Wilson (21:14.613)

Kurt Luidhardt (21:32.45)
the most popular podcast really out there, which is Joe Rogan. And they think every podcast has to be two and a half hours and it doesn't. A lot of them can be. The most popular podcast right now, one of the most common characteristics of them is they're shorter than 30 minutes. So they don't have to be long.

Eric Wilson (21:52.997)
Well, it is, the pendulum you mentioned, I think is important because I'm glad that we're running more data-driven campaigns, but to your point, you know, it's taken the soul out of campaigns in many ways. But also, we have to keep adapting to the conditions on the ground or the technologies that we have. And I think it's important for a lot of

operatives and consultants and campaign decision makers to update their mental models about what's going on with digital campaigning because post 2016 post 2020 we have seen some big changes from the platforms iOS 14 when Apple released that really rendered a lot of advertising less effective Facebook has restricted the options for political targeting

We're starting to see new waves of privacy. We've got the death of the cookie for advertising happening. They promise us it's really gonna happen this time. And so the playbook that we had back when we were having these conversations in 2012 doesn't work anymore. And so in some ways, digital is starting to look a little bit more like a really well-targeted

Kurt Luidhardt (23:02.974)
Ha ha ha.

Eric Wilson (23:20.613)
broadcast medium. So it's harder to tie that last click attribution, the ROI. And so I think it's really important for people to update that piece of information in their brains.

Kurt Luidhardt (23:34.366)
Yeah, we, things are changing faster than we can adapt to them. And I, as a party, we've not really had a convening entity to really push those changes like we'd had in previous RNC administrations where the RNC or some of the committees were really pushing the envelope. We really haven't seen that at least since 2016 and probably since earlier. And.

And it's time that we get back in that mentality of keeping up with changes in our industry and how we can be most effective.

Eric Wilson (24:14.853)
So Kurt, I get asked this question all the time, and I'm curious to hear your answer. Who is doing this well? And the people that I point out to are primarily on the left. So Jeff Jackson, congressman from North Carolina, now running for attorney general, has a really effective presence on TikTok and Substack, and he's always done that from day one, giving those behind the scenes looks. There's no reason that

that people should know who a freshman member of the house is from a state that they don't live in and yet he's followed by millions of people. What other examples would you point to of folks who are creating content that's valuable and interesting?

Kurt Luidhardt (25:01.454)
So the most interesting one, because I thought as you were saying this, coming up with an example to your point of somebody that folks don't think of is most helpful. Because I could say Ted Cruz, he's got a really powerful podcast, The Verdict. It was the most downloaded podcast of the month with the day he launched it.

But everybody would simply say to me, well, of course, that's Ted Cruz. He's got a national profile. Of course, he's going to be successful. But one of the most interesting groups out there doing really well in this is the Texas Public Policy Foundation in Ted's home state. They do a lot on social, but they have a in-house production studio and do a whole series of podcasts.

One of them is, which is one of their most successful, it's a show that is required to be seven minutes or less, and they will invite a legislator of either party, and they're allowed to come on the show, and in seven minutes, they can pitch whatever bill or idea they're pushing in session down there in seven minutes. And they've had episodes there with combined viewership on all their platforms up over 200,000 views.

Eric Wilson (26:20.878)

Kurt Luidhardt (26:21.442)
for a seven minute clip of a state legislator talking about a bill, you know, which you would, I wouldn't bet on that kind of viewership, but it's the format's interesting. And it brings in all sorts of issues that are interesting to various types of people, maybe not the whole state of Texas, but maybe to a small group who are really passionate about it.

Eric Wilson (26:30.994)
Usually the most boring thing. Yeah.

Kurt Luidhardt (26:50.178)
So I really think they're an interesting group that's doing something innovative on this front and you wouldn't normally go to.

Eric Wilson (27:00.781)
Well, I'll have to check them out. That sounds like a really, I like that format where you add some constraints around the topic almost like a haiku where you unleash creativity by putting restraints. Well, my thanks to Kurt Luddart for a great conversation. You can learn more about him in our show notes. There's a link to the Prosper Group's website where you can learn more about their work and get in touch with Kurt and his team.

Kurt Luidhardt (27:12.993)

Eric Wilson (27:29.717)
If this episode made you a little bit smarter or more likely gave you something to think about, all we ask is that you share it with a friend or a colleague. You look smart in that process. More people find out about our show. It's a win-win all around. So remember to subscribe to the Business of Politics show wherever you listen to podcasts so you never miss an episode. You can also sign up for email updates on our website at busi

Eric Wilson (28:00.143)
Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.

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