- The Washington Times - Friday, August 25, 2000

Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush latched onto a new high-tech trend in politics when he handed out CD-ROM business cards at the GOP's convention.

Like the Internet, which helped transform politics by convincing candidates to put Web addresses on everything from billboards to bumper stickers, the new high-tech business cards promise to drag candidates and campaigning deeper into the digital age.

The Texas governor was among the first candidates to place his message on CD-ROM disks. His campaign staff passed out 5,000 of them to delegates and alternates at the Philadelphia convention.

The Bush campaign passed out another 2,000 mini CD-ROM business cards, which can be produced inexpensively and loaded with information.

"We haven't heard anything but good reports about them," Bush campaign spokesman Tucker Eskew said.

But candidates still are figuring out just how to use the new business card of the digital age, and the Bush campaign has no immediate plans to have more made.

Companies have used the high-tech business cards for nearly two years for business-to-business marketing.

Now candidates are following suit.

"Politics is about marketing, and this gets a candidate anywhere there's a computer," said Tim Storer, president and founder of New Media Gateway, the Dallas-based company that produced the CD-ROM business cards for the Bush campaign.

Sen. Spencer Abraham, Michigan Republican, used the mini CD-ROM disks at the Republican state convention in May. His staff handed CDs with audio versions of a speech he had just delivered and all the content from his campaign Web site to reporters.

Mr. Abraham's staff expects the mini CD-ROM disks to go over well with young, tech-equipped voters.

"There's a futuristic appeal. The medium is very good with those members of the electorate who have computers, especially the college crowd," said Jack Koller, director of new media for Mr. Abraham's re-election campaign.

GOPAC, the political action committee and candidate education center made famous by former Rep. Newt Gingrich, Georgia Republican, will begin distributing 1,500 CD-ROM business cards by the end of the month. The disks will include a 51-minute audio message from Rep. David Dreier, California Republican, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.

It will also have a link to GOPAC's Web site.

"We're moving into the digital age, and this is a great way to get the word out. We could send out an audio cassette, but it wouldn't have any other information on it. It wouldn't have text or the Internet link," GOPAC spokesman Dallas Lawrence said.

The high-tech business cards hold up to 60 megabytes of information digitized versions of text, sound and video. Personal computers need to be equipped with disk drives to read information on the CD-ROM cards. They don't work in CD players.

People using the disks praise their economy. They cost from 60 cents to $2 each to make, depending on the amount of content stored on them and the number of disks made at one time.

They fit in a pocket, just like the business cards they resemble. They are light enough to fit in a standard envelope and cost just 33 cents to mail. The same amount of information in paper, video cassettes and audio cassettes would cost considerably more to mail, Mr. Lawrence said.

A 60-megabyte CD-ROM can store six minutes of video, 100 minutes of audio and more than 10,000 pages of text.

People are also more likely to pop a CD-ROM in a computer if they have a PC at home than they are to read direct mail from candidates, Mr. Lawrence said.

That's because the high-tech business cards are still a novelty.

They worked for Old Dominion University.

Old Dominion, in Norfolk, spent about $52,000 in October to have 26,000 disks made. The university's admissions office mailed the disks to prospective students looking for a school to enroll in this fall.

Applications for the upcoming fall semester are up 13.2 percent, school officials said.

"Right now, this is the cutting-edge way to recruit students," said John Broderick, Old Dominion's vice president of admissions and institutional advancement.

The cards have another less tangible, but equally important, benefit. They make the people handing them out look tech-savvy.

"No one wants to look low-tech," said Tim Vickey, strategic Internet specialist and head of the D.C. office of New Media Communications, an Ohio-based Internet consultant to political candidates.

As important as the video clips and audio messages that candidates can have digitized and loaded onto the disks, placing a direct link to a candidate's Web site is useful because it could help raise money, said Max Fose, a partner at D.C.-based Integrated Web Strategy and Internet manager of Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain's aborted presidential campaign.

"If you've got the link to the Web site, you're one step from getting someone to make a contribution," Mr. Fose said.

You may also be one step from getting someone to volunteer for the campaign, he said.

But candidates have been slow to adopt the CD-ROM business cards, just as they were slow to use the Internet.

"The Internet is the stepchild when it comes to campaign dollars, so it's not surprising few people are using CD-ROM cards," Mr. Fose said.

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