The Democratic National Convention Committee's Tuesday deal to use locally-based Curalate to weed through social-media images and videos posted from the party's pending convention in Philadelphia is the latest step in the party's bid to push its way into voters' smartphones.

It's one of a string of deals the Democrats have announced or quietly struck with tech companies including AT&T, Comcast, Google and Microsoft, data analysts told me. "The (Democrats) have had a tech advantage for eight years. They understand community organization," said Vince Schiavone, chief executive at big-data processors UDA LLC, Philadelphia, and AKUDA Labs, San Jose.

"Most of it comes from very talented Silicon Valley Social media companies," Schiavone added. "The Republicans are just crawling out of the Dark Ages." Fast-growing firms like Curalate often donate services "or even pay to test them," he said. It's easy to tell what works, tracking digital response.

The Curalate deal, putting a small and fast-growing firm near the center of a high-profile mass-market event, "is a major coup for Curalate," Steve Andriole, an Internet pioneer who is now an IT prof at Villanova University, told me.

"It will provide a national, if not global, showcase for their capabilities.  Startups are always looking for ways to enhance their footprints and their brands.  They also need to make themselves visible.  This deal does it all," Andriole added.

"It's cutting-edge  video marketing, and pretty impressive technology," Jordan Lieberman, president for politics and public affairs at Fort Washington-based Audience Partners, told me. Audience is a Republican-founded, venture capital-backed firm whose software platform targets voters for digital advertising on behalf of candidates for both parties.

"I think they'll be rallying the true believers," Lieberman added. "Not a lot of undecided voters will be watching the DNC. But there  are a lot of soft Democrats who need convincing," including embittered Bernie Sanders supporters, and Clinton skeptics tempted to back Libertarian Gary Johnson or insurgent Republican Donald Trump.

"With this move, (DNC) is saying, 'We know what we are doing. This is exciting, this is new.'"  

The Republicans in Cleveland, like the Democrats in Philadelphia, will enjoy vastly upgraded wireless service to handle media and social-media demands, according to the folks at SOLiD, the Sunnyvale, Calif. company that built distributed antenna systems (DAS) in both cities.

MONDAY: Apu Gupta, CEO of Curalate, which employs 65 at its Walnut Street headquarters and another 85 in New York and Seattle, declined to say whether Curalate is getting paid for its services or is donating them as an "in-kind contribution" to the convention.

To pay for the show, which is expected to nominate Hillary Clinton for President, convention backers have been begging for donations from corporations, labor unions and law firms. Companies like Vanguard Group, which paid Hillary's husband ex-president Bill Clinton $400,000 to appear at two client meetings in 2012, have not been willing to give the conventions cash. But tech companies have agreed to help in different ways.

Comcast, another Philadelphia-based company, plans to announce its own tech contribution to the DNC tomorrow, according to DNCC staff. Microsoft, Google and AT&T are also "official" technology providers to the Democratic show. AT&T promised upgrades to its Philadelphia-area wireless network in advance of the convention.

Curalate connects smartphone-accessible brand images and videos to product and purchase information for consumers. Gupta told Mayor Kenney his firm's client list numbers  850 retailers, including "every store you see on Walnut Street" and national chains such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom's, Crate & Barrel, and locally-based QVC and Urban Outfitters.

With images replacing text in advertising and popular media, "what applies to products will begin to apply to politics," Gupta said.

He promised Curalate will help the Democrats "capture (social media) content and use it to connect people to information about the Democratic Party in ways you've never seen before" so they can "tell stories to millions of people."
"Our goal is to make this the most interactive and innovative convention ever," and to "expand engagement" with voters outside the convention, Andrew Binns, the Democratic National Convention's chief innovation officer, told Philadelphia Mayor James Kenney and others gathered at Curalate headquarters to announce the deal. 

"There has been a huge shift toward imagery" in communicating to voters, Binns said. Curalate will link and reemploy images and videos posted on Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and other social media to allow "influencers" to reach potential voters "in real time," using "technology traditionally used for major brands."

For example, Curalate tech could allow Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood, to reach potential voters and urge them "to stand up for reproductive rights," linking them to Planned Parenthood websites, Binns said.

While the Democrats have cut other deals with big tech companies, Curalate is "the first time a local company was named an official tech provider" for the convention, said Kelli Klein, digital director for the Democratic National Convention Committee. "Big things are coming out of Philadelphia" and its IT community, Klein said. 

Mayor Kenney, wearing sunglasses to protect a right eye he said was blooded in a Saturday procedure at Wills Eye Hospital, cracked that he was "overdressed," as nearly the only guy in a tie (striped in the city's colors, blue and gold), in a roomful of techies. The mayor called the Curalate deal a win for "the burgeoning tech community in Philadelphia."

Does this mean Curalate supports Democrats? Luke Butler, the former city economic-development official who now heads the Strategy & Operations office for Curalate, echoed Gupta's claim "this is more about tech (and) innovation than politics."

So, will Curalate offer the same when Donald Trump reaches out to get the GOP nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland next month?

"We reached out to the Republican convention with a similar idea, but never heard back," Curalate's Butler told me.