success story: Rob Quist for U.S. Congress

Montana special election - may 2017 - Paid social advertising + SMS GOTV


Eight Tech for Campaigns volunteers deliver strategy and assets for paid social advertising and SMS GOTV push; democratic candidate Rob Quist comes within 6 points of flipping Montana's single at-large congressional seat, just 7 months after Trump won the sate by 20+ points. 


When Montana Representative Ryan Zinke accepted an appointment as U.S. Secretary of the Interior in March 2017, the state's single congressional seat was suddenly up for grabs. A special election was scheduled for just two months later, on May 25th, and musician and small business owner Rob Quist was selected as the Democratic candidate.

Quist had an uphill battle to fight, and most observers were quick to write his campaign off entirely. After all, Montana's congressional seat has been held by a Republican for 20 years, and the state went for Trump by more than 20 points in November 2016. But Montana has also had a Democratic governor since 2005, and Quist knew his positions on issues like public lands, health care, and student debt would resonate with many voters -- if he could find the resources to reach them. 

The Team

Tech for Campaigns deployed two teams to help the Quist campaign get their message out to persuadable voters: 


Group 2.png

Left to right:

  • Team Lead: Aurelie Viriot, Director, Marketing Strategy & Analysis, Netflix
  • Team Lead: Renee Diresta, Founder / Head of Marketing, Haven
  • Growth Marketing: Bistra Anguelova, Acquisition Marketing Manager, Thumbtack
  • Growth Marketing: Kyle Sherin, Programmatic Channel Development, Netflix
  • Graphic Design: Justin Chuan, Visual Design, Team Lead at Sharethrough

SMS GOTV team:


Left to right:

The Project

The paid social advertising team initially focused on amplifying the reach of public figures and other social influencers who had come out in support of Quist. The team built audience groups on Facebook and Twitter, tested messaging with each group, optimized their targeting, and shared insights to help the campaign tailor future outreach. As the project progressed, the team's scope expanded to include assisting the campaign with all of their paid social advertising, with the goal of driving fundraising, awareness, and voter turnout. 

Meanwhile, the SMS team concentrated on getting students and younger Montanans out to vote, using the same type of text messaging software that the Bernie Sanders campaign leveraged so successfully during the 2016 primary season.  The team wrote a variety of text message variations targeting different issues and voter segments, and analyzed the impact of initial sends to help the Quist campaign hone in on the most effective approach. 

The Results

When the campaign embraced text messaging as a tool I felt like we made a REAL & MEANINGFUL CONTRIBUTION - and text as a tool can extend beyond just this one race (1).png

TFC provided the Quist team not only with the support they needed to boost awareness, but also with powerful tools that they could scale for even greater impact. The designs developed and optimized by the paid advertising team proved so effective that the campaign adopted some of the creative across all channels; similarly, the outcomes achieved by the SMS team inspired the campaign to bring on a full-time staffer to run an SMS program in the final week leading up to election day.  

The race was much closer than anticipated, and ultimately received significant attention both in the media and from the national Democratic party. Quist lost by just 6 points in a state that had voted for Trump by a 20 percent margin just a few months prior -- demonstrating that even districts once thought to be "safe" for Republicans could be in play with the right resources.  

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