Did the VP-via-Text Give Obama “Joementum”?

Barack Obama hijacked my week which just ended.

For the last several days, whenever my cell phone vibrated with a text message I was just sure it was THE text message. It was as if I had a five-day case of OCD until CNN reported early on Saturday morning, east coast time that Obama was going to name Sen. Joe Biden as his running mate.

Thank you, John King.

While the rest of the world had the option of going to bed on Friday night, I stayed up that night because at Sprint, we had decided to issue a news release announcing the level of activity on the Obama short code on our network following the VP announcement. We thought it would be a good way to alert the public to the possibilities that text messaging offers marketers, whether for a political campaign or a business.

(For the uninitiated, a short code is the five or six digit number that a business uses to send a large number of text messages at the same time. The Obama code is 62262, which spells out OBAMA on the telephone keypad.)

THE text message. (Photo credit, Huffingtonpost.com)

THE text message. (Photo credit, Huffingtonpost.com)

With a 6:00 a.m. call to my co-worker Joyce our number cruncher and a 7:00 a.m. call to Tony our designer, our media relations team was able to get some nifty data into the hands of reporters who were writing stories about the choice of Sen. Biden to be Obama’s running mate.

(A special hat tip to Joyce, Tony, Ashley, Stephanie and our field PR team for pulling this off. And a big thank you to my brother Reade who gave me a crash course in Excel so I could format the data for Tony to use when he created the graphic above.)

The conversations I had with reporters were very interesting. Many assumed that Obama’s support was so huge that it would crash the country’s wireless networks.

Um, nope, each month the wireless industry handles 48 billion text messages a month.

Others assumed that once Obama pressed the send button, all supporters across the country would get the SMS simultaneously.

Um, again nope, the messages are delivered in a staggered fashion. Despite the claims of the company with the most reliable network and the company with more bars in more places, every wireless carrier handles SMS traffic the same way.

Mostly we spoke with political reporters who were glad to have a tidbit about the technological angle to the otherwise routine story. But others were feature writers who specialize in taking the ordinary and turning into an interesting read. Still others were tech writers interested in the political application of a routine wireless technology.

I mean at the end of the day, it was just a text message.

But these writers understood that it was more than a means of communicating with the campaign’s supporters. This was a way to establish two-way communications between the campaign and supporters in an era when 15% of American households are wireless-only households. Imagine how this will change the “get out the vote” effort in November. One report I read estimated the Obama campaign harvested over 3 million cell phone numbers from the effort.

At the end of the day, the hand-wringing from the traditional media and the unrealistic expectations of SMS from the Silicon Valley crowd really miss the point.

Along with the millions of cell phone numbers the Obama campaign collected, the free media about his innovative tactic ensured that Obama dominated the week of campaign coverage, even as the Olympics were still going on.

I can’t recall a more anticipated announcement of a vice presidential running mate.

But while the Obama-VP-via-text gimmick generated a lot of free media this week, I fully expect the avalanche of coverage to increase at this week’s Democratic National Convention in Denver.

And once things wrap up in Denver, McCain will get the lion’s share of coverage with his VP pick and the GOP Convention in St. Paul.

All this for the 15 percent of us who are undecided.





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