Students in Steve Malter’s Business of Presidential Elections course were given an exciting window into the real-life application of class material on November 16. They took part in a discussion with Olin alum Jordan Finkelstein, part of the team for one of the most-watched political campaigns of the century.
Students heard Finkelstein, BSBA ’16, discuss his time as the chief of staff on the paid media team on Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential campaign, and were able to ask him questions about subjects ranging from the logic behind the advertising team’s creative decisions, to how Finkelstein’s time at Olin prepared him to work in a creative business environment.
After a brief introduction and recap of his experiences following election night, Finkelstein kicked off his presentation with a bit of encouragement for business students interested in politics. Political campaigns, Finkelstein says, aren’t just interesting to political science majors; they can also be described as “the fastest growing startups in America.”
He compared the fundraising speed of the Biden campaign to various popular startups, such as Squarespace and Twitter. Finkelstein explained how the campaign raised and spent a billion dollars in seven months, whereas conventional startups take at least a year just to raise the money.
Biden’s digital strategy team definitely wasn’t driven by political knowledge alone, says Finkelstein; in fact, it required a business mindset to create and run an $875 million TV, digital, and radio program, a feat accomplished mostly in-house and largely without the help of an advertising agency.
Raising and spending money—fast
The speed with which political campaigns must raise money, create useable concepts, and spend money is shocking, and lead Finkelstein’s team to produce over 800 advertisements for TV alone over the course of the campaign, just 300 of which were actually aired.
A sizeable portion of these advertising programs, Finkelstein explained, were directed toward voter mobilization and education, including an entire ad campaign centered on teaching voters how to return mail-in ballots in their respective states. These efforts contributed to a voter turnout that is higher than the country has seen in over a century.
After describing how the Biden campaign’s digital strategy team worked, as well as their general advertising strategy, Finkelstein opened the floor to questions from students.
Valuing Olin’s marketing preparation
Students grilled Finkelstein about subjects from the genesis of the campaign’s flyswatter merch following the infamous vice presidential debate to his opinions on the Trump campaign’s marketing strategy, but toward the end of the discussion, the class asked how Finkelstein’s time with Olin prepared him to work in a creative business environment.
He mostly credited his practical education to learning he pursued outside the classroom. Dedicating yourself to working with peers in on-campus programs, Finkelstein says, prepares you for working with other young people on a campaign.
Finkelstein swears by his notes from a market research class he took while at Olin, saying he still looks back at them to this day.
Finkelstein’s experience can be used as a model for any Olin student interested in politics, and is an exciting example of how an Olin education can be leveraged in any field.
Pictured at top: Jordan Finkelstein, BSBA ’16, speaking to students in Steve Malter’s Business of Presidential Elections course in November 2020.