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Local Digital Marketer and Political Operative "Finds his Superpower" in Influencing Voters

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MANATEE— Local voters are probably very familiar with political advertising, whether unsolicited text messages, oversized postcards, television ads, or ads that reach them through social media or other internet platforms. What voters may not know, however, is how those who send these advertisements seem to know their first names, home addresses, cell phone numbers, and even their emotional triggers. 

Now voters have the opportunity to hear directly from someone who works in the advertising and marketing industry, as the local business owner of Top Lobster shares how it’s done.

Manatee County resident, former lobbyist, and self-described “Professional Propagandist,” Jennings Lawton DePriest joined real estate entrepreneur and podcast host Travis Farris on his Coffee for Closers podcast to share insights on the digital marketing industry and how voter data is utilized to identify target audiences and hone the message to achieve the desired result.

The October 3, 2023, episode of Coffee for Closers—aptly titled, “Everyone’s Trying to Be the Top Lobster” with Jennings Lawton DePriest—isn’t the first time DePriest has offered consumers a rare look behind the curtain to better understand how their public data is used by marketing experts to influence their opinions.

During the same week that DePriest appeared on the Coffee for Closers Podcast in Oct. 2023, TBT published a story revealing that DePriest’s firm, Top Lobster LLC—which bills itself as “an elite team of digital assassins who do what it takes to win”—was discovered to be behind communications sent to Manatee County residents and voters concerning a controversial BOCC policy decision regarding the rollback of local wetland regulations.

In a follow-up story, TBT uncovered a previous podcast interview with DePriest. Information shared by DePriest during that interview raised questions about his possible involvement in handwritten letters and mass texts sent to residents regarding a proposed Veteran housing project. 

In Nov. 2022, DePriest joined the Stick Talk podcast and spoke directly about how the same tools used to sell a consumer on hiring a specific pool cleaning company (for example) could also be used to influence their opinions and their votes at the ballot box.

While describing his business on the Stick Talk Podcast in 2022, DePriest said, “Unlike normal marketing, on the political side, I don't just get to sell my product. I don't just get to sell my candidate or my issue, I get to trash (his emphasis) the other candidate or issue too, which is like probably my favorite part.”

In his more recent appearance on the Coffee for Closers podcast, the conversation leans slightly more toward how the services of his business—Top Lobster—are effective tools in consumer marketing and the real estate industry.

Though the overall podcast discussion is geared toward realtors, DePriest touches on the crossover of marketing for political purposes and how successful his business model has been.

"It’s all influence. It's all a matter of coming in, understanding human psychology, understanding the ways to put pressure on the mind to influence and shape people's opinions towards the desired outcome,” DePriest shared on Coffee for Closers.

"I'm working from a scary massive database, which is cool cause we are able to bring in voter data to our marketing in most states. There are some states that don't allow it,” he added.

Speaking directly about the services offered by his business, Top Lobster, DePriest described his marketing strategy, which uses hand-written direct mail to reach consumers and voters in their homes.

"Top Lobster has been simplified recently, so we're just doing fractional CMO, handwritten direct mail, and we do peer-to-peer SMS (mass text messaging) only for political campaignsjust because of FCC rules changing.

"...Handwritten direct mail is probably my favorite offer right now, just cause it crushes and we're able to serve way more people... for handwritten direct mail you could call me today and we could have handwritten direct mail out the door for you on Thursday.

"We have a partner who has ten handwriting robots. They hold pens, just like G2-pilot. We use blue ink... the cool thing is, it comes in a standard envelope. Normal stamp. Handwritten. We use blue ink to make it more clear that it's not inkjet-printed. It has indentations on it, you can clearly tell that this is something that looks and feels handwritten. The robots are super advanced to the point where it's not like printing the font, it actually has and will use like three different ‘O's and five different ‘T's and it's almost impossible to tell that it's not somebody's true handwriting.

"The reason we started doing that (using robots for handwritten mail pieces) was because on the political mail side, I saw my neighbor throw away a mail piece that I had designed. We were both getting our mail at the same time. He checked the mail and then immediately threw the mail piece in the trash can.... the reason is people don't want to be sold and they don't want to be influenced politically, so when they see something that looks political, they see something that looks sales-y, it just goes in the trash before it makes it into the house.

"The handwritten direct mail makes it in the house because people think, like 'Oh, maybe this is something from a family member, or my grandma'... Here’s one of my favorite examples: my wife knows what I do for a living, she understands direct mail, and she still opens up a handwritten direct mail piece... because you don't know, you don't know what you're gonna get and getting people to open the envelope and read the message is half the battle," DePriest explained.

The marketing operative went on to share some insights into how “targets” are identified and how publicly available information about individuals is a proverbial goldmine when it comes to having an effective message to the identified target for the desired result. He also explains some of the existing regulations that restrict how mass-messaging campaigns can be used—and for what.

"We do this in a super targeted way. My background prior to getting into business was military intelligence. I was a specialist with targeting packets. We're really good at targeting, we can target (example) 'Hey, I just polled people in Hillsborough County who have houses that are over a million dollars, that have swimming pools, who have birthdates in October.' Like, we can get really granular on thisby the way their houses are owner-occupied, these aren't AirBnbs.

"And we can do the opposite and say, ‘Hey, this house has a pool, and it's an out-of-town owner, so we want to target them for—my wife has a pool cleaning company—so for like pool cleaning services or whatever. I strongly believe that short of someone being very, very protected in terms of like, I obviously am not going to be able to target CIA agents, like cops and detectives are hard to target because they have a lot of public record exemptions around them,” DePriest described. 

"Most people are a targeted audience in some way, shape, or form, and you can reach them with direct mail in a way you legally cannot with other platforms. Right, so you can't mass-email people who have not opted into your list. If you're not a political campaign, you can't legally text a whole bunch of people to come out to your real estate event if they haven't opted into your campaign.

"If you're targeting people and they aren't on Facebook, you're gonna have a hard time, but the beauty of mail is everybody has a mailbox, except for vagrants, and vagrants aren't your target audience anyways..."

During his appearance on the 2022 episode of the Stick Talk Podcast, DePriest dove a little deeper into how this same voter data mining is used to target voters for political advertising. Multiple clips from that interview can be viewed in our previous reporting.

During his interview on Coffee for Closers, DePriest briefly highlighted another service offered by his company, but only for clients who are running for office.

"Then the peer-to-peer SMS (text messaging) piece doesn't probably apply to anyone in your audience (referring to the podcast’s listeners) unless they're running for political office. If you need to send mass political text messages, I'm your guy. You legally have to have someone click 'send' on every message, and we have a team that does that.

"We're able to send video (text) messages, normal text messages with pictures, again, very cool but only available to the political audience,” he said.

DePriest described to the host how successful his business has been with its marketing strategies. When asked what the future holds for Top Lobster, DePriest shared that he expects to have a long and successful career in digital marketing.

"In terms of me, personally, I don't see myself leaving the marketing space... I've found my superpower, which is influencing people to do stuff. And it's way more fun to do on a mass scale than to do on that individual scale of like lobbying.”

To listen to the full interview with DePriest on the Coffee for Closers Podcast, including the context of his comments on digital marketing in the political arena, click the embedded player below or click here.

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  • lib224

    So he's pretty much a professional liar. Too bad so many fall for it.

    Wednesday, July 10 Report this

  • kmskepton

    His love for "trashing the other candidate" .... Ewwwwwwwwww.

    Wednesday, July 10 Report this

  • Cat L

    Politics massively effects peoples lives, and it's just a fun game for him. Wouldn't surprise me to learn he has a sociopathic brain type.....

    Wednesday, July 10 Report this

  • Dianna

    Top Lobster’s DePriest is no better than our developer funded commissioners except that he used his talents to target friends and residents in his own community and bombarded them with lies and fabrications of his own creation. You should be equally ashamed of yourself because you are also helping them destroy Manatee County.

    Monday, July 15 Report this