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Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns

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Jason Bullock
Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 17, 2012 at 12:32:43 pm

Where I'm located there are a lot of candidates running for all levels of political office. I wonder what would be the best way to approach their campaigns for me to do video. Should I just call or go visit or just write a letter? Any advice would be appreciated.


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Mark Suszko
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 17, 2012 at 3:31:06 pm

This is a hard gig to break into because once a campaign manager finds a production company they like and trust, I think they tend to stick with them. A number of them work out of the D.C. area, even for local and statewide races. The technical skills they need are primarily editors who are super-fast generalists with all-around skill who are good at compositing, because often spots have to be done on a no-shoot basis, using only graphics, and turned around overnight under high pressuer in drama-heavy sessions with a room full of people all with conflicting ideas. It helps to know election regulations about font sizes for disclaimers and etc. and sometimes you have to be able to swallow what you personally think, and work for campaigns you don't agree with.

The last election cycle, what I noticed was a boom in hiring kids for slave wages to follow the opposition candidate around with camcorders and document their every public move, hoping to catch them saying or doing something hypocritical or criminal or just embarassing, which they would then release to the media and onto the web. I guess those jobs are easier to get, but they don't pay well and they come with karmic baggage. Still, it's a way to break in.


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Todd Terry
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 17, 2012 at 5:06:16 pm

We do tons of political work.

Yes, Mark is right, it can be hard to break into because there is definitely a "Good ol' boys" network at play, and people tend to hire the same people over and over again.

It's ALL about who you know... so if you don't know the right people, then find them and get to know them.

The people to hook up with are the "political strategists"... they are basically advertising agencies who handle nothing but political clients. They usually have names like "XYZ Consulting" or "Widget Communications" or "Bank Street Strategies" or something stuffy like that. More mainstream advertising agencies also handle political candidates, to a smaller degree. All THESE are the people you need to hit up.

Rarely if ever does it make any sense to approach a candidate directly. Any candidate worth dealing with (i.e., ones that have money to spend) will already have the political handlers in place.

We actually DID break that rule recently though... twice. There is one candidate running for mayor of a neighboring city, and another running for chairman of the county commission here. Although these are local, they are big money races. In each of these cases the political handlers for these guys usually use other production companies. But we happen to personally know both of these guys running (one of them is a good friend of our general manager), and they dictated that our handlers use our company. That's unusual though.

You will also find politicos to be somewhat fickle... especially the higher up you go. We've done national congressional races where we've handled everything for the candidate until they win their primary... and then suddenly the national party honcos swoop in and take over everything and the business goes elsewhere... usually to some hack in D.C. they know who does poorer work at five times the price. Just comes with the territory.

We LOVE political work. The artistic side of me used to hate it... because some of it is not very good (although we try to make our stuff good), and late in the election cycle is when the mud starts slinging, and I don't really care for that. But the business side of me loves the politicos... because they don't care one whit what anything costs ("Just get it done! Now!"), and they pay really fast (they have to, per federal election rules). You're never waiting to get your money, they often arrive with check in hand.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Steve Martin
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 17, 2012 at 9:17:24 pm

This is an interesting thread as I've been poking around this market as well. The problem is that I don't have anything for a political reel. I do have a friend that is running for a local county commission race and have offered to do some nice looking spots for him - just so that I can create a reel (and help my friend of course).

We're going to shoot him direct to camera with prime lenses and nice lighting. It's unlikely to air since this is a small local race that generally relies on yard signs and direct mail, but we're hoping to make it look like the production values of a US Congressional or Senate race spot.

Any advise or pitfalls to avoid along the road I'm on are welcomed!

thanks,
Steve

Production is fun - but lets not forget: Nobody ever died on the video table!


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Mark Suszko
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 17, 2012 at 9:45:46 pm

Even if you do it for free out of friendship, the candidate generally has to report the value of your time and materials on the job to his Board fo Elections as an "in-kind contribution".

Also, a lot of times spots are made specificaly for YouTube these days, not broadcast. The youtube campaign is run as a completely separate "layer" from the broadcast campaign.


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Todd Terry
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 17, 2012 at 10:03:56 pm

A pro bono for a friend is a good way to start, Steve.

Pitfalls? There are many. Seriously, the thing I've seen wreck MORE campaigns... the candidate's spouse. Seriously. I'm DEAD serious. We've had numerous candidates that were good guys, strong candidates, money behind them, a strategic team in place, professional handlers that are used to running winning campaigns and do that for a living.... and then the candidate not listen to a word they say because "Mary doesn't like that, she thinks we should do such and such..." And they lose. Big.

Political campaigns are just advertising. And it never ceases to amaze me that a client who would never tell his doctor what kind of surgery he should have, or his plumber what kind of wrenches to buy, or his electrician how to wire his house... well, they still feel free to tell you exactly what kind of advertising they need.... even if they know bupkus about it. Which they usually don't.

The biggest problem political clients often have in their TV commercials is trying to be ALL things to ALL people at the SAME TIME. Well, you can't be for property cutting taxes AND building more roads AND building schools AND lowering sales taxes AND bringing in jobs...... I've had political clients want to shove a laundry list of things into a :30 spot... and it all gets watered down and means nothing. But it has to mean SOMETHING...

Take this political spot we did...

http://www.fantasticplastic.com/portfolio/politicalhd.html

This was a nice guy, and a good candidate, but he said NOTHING. None of his TV spots ever had one bit of substance in them. "I'm for jobs." Well, duh. Who is FOR unemployment? "We need solutions." Wow what I was really looking for was more problems but now you've set me straight. And it seems everyone has a "plan for the future"... but no one seems to say what that is.

Make your guy look good, like one of the people, and have him say something. Take a stand.

Oh... and if you want to do a lot of politicals, often you have to throw your own political opinions out the door. Often you have to work against whatever personal political leanings you have. If you can't do that (and I completely respect it if you can't), then political advertising is probably not your best avenue. I've worked hard for many candidates that I wouldn't dare vote for. On "Mad Men" someone asked Don Draper "Good God, how do you sleep at night?" His answer, "On a bed made of money." Well, I don't have a money bed yet, but I've also learned that even if we don't completely agree with a candidate, if we don't do their TV production someone else will... so if there's a chance I have to deal with them in office, I might as well have their money, too. As long as they don't have some kind of political leanings that make my skin crawl. Yes, there are some I would refuse to work for, just on principal.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Todd Terry
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 18, 2012 at 5:50:21 am

Jason and Steve...

I meant to mention this earlier, but I neglected to (it fell out of my head by the time I finished writing)...

If you do delve into political commercials, keep mindful that you must keep them "legal"... and unfortunately that can get a little complex (especially if you haven't done them before), and even more unfortunately there is no universal "political advertising bible" that tells you how to do that. The election laws vary wildly depending on a lot of different factors.

Mark briefly touched on this, but at minimum all political spots for broadcast or cable must have a disclaimer. You know, "Paid political advertising by committee to elect....." Most disclaimers must be a minimum of 20 pixels tall for standard definition and 46 pixels tall for HD, and must be clearly visible for at least four seconds. They usually appear at the end of a spot, but sometimes are allowed at the beginning. They are usually not allowed to be buried or hidden in the middle.

TV stations DO measure the size of a disclaimer, and the will throw out a spot that doesn't meet specs. when I worked in broadcast television there were many political spots that came in that were kicked back for non-compliance. Strangely enough, although there are strict requirements for the height of a disclaimer, there are no restrictions on the width. That's why you see a lot of political disclaimers with really skinny type kearned together as tight as possible.

Sadly, it gets even more complicated than that... and the rules vary by race, by state, even by whether it is for broadcast or cable. For example, a commercial for a US House candidate must contain, in the candidate's voice, an audio disclaimer saying "I'm John Doe, and I approved this message." Now, a candidate for US Senate must also have that, but only in a primary, it is not required in a general election. Furthermore, if the candidate is not on screen at the moment that audio disclaimer is read, you must put him or here there, usually in a small postage-stamp sized portrait adjacent to the disclaimer. That little portrait (without the audio disclaimer) also applies to some other races, but not all. Even more complex, it can be dictated by the media buy. With some cable systems if you buy their cheapest rate they require the portrait next to a disclaimer, whereas other higher cable rates or broadcast television do not. And again, it varies by race. And again, there is no "master list" telling you what to do. It usually just takes a bit of research or a few phone calls each time a new spot comes up to find out what is necessary to make it compliant. It's not too complicated, but it can be a pain in the neck.

Just be vigilant, and make sure your spot is legal. If not, it will be coming back to you for you to make it so.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Steve Martin
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 18, 2012 at 4:38:06 pm

Thanks for all insight Todd and Mark.

And this, ladies & gentlemen, is why I love the COW! Terrific advice, information and insight into something that I knew nothing (or little of) beforehand.

Now I at least "have a clue" and know what questions I need to be asking.

Cheers,
Steve

Production is fun - but lets not forget: Nobody ever died on the video table!


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Craig Seeman
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 19, 2012 at 7:02:55 pm

As others have pointed out, who you know is critical. How one gets there can be down some unusual roads. One of my favorite political media books is Bill Hillsman's (Northwoods Advertising) "Run The Other Way" he talks about how he knew Paul Wellstone, a teacher, at a small college that Hillsman attended.

Years later Wellstone walked into his office. Although Hillsman hadn't done political advertising at his agency, Wellstone said he was the only one he knew in advertising. So this was Hillsman's big break . . . because Wellstone knew him as a student where he had been teaching years back.

In general, if you travel in political circles, depending on your experience, you can get your foot in somewhere even though it may be on a very local level.

Also it depends on where you want to go with it. If you're going to be the production and/or post production team then you'd certainly want to consider putting your politics aside. Yet, at one post house, they had the courtesy if I wanted to take on certain jobs given my personal politics.

If you're going to be part of the creative team though, you may be best guided by working with politics that's within your personal boundaries. Roger Ailes obviously takes on certain types of clients as does Joe Slade White as does Bill Hillsman/Northwoods.



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Ty Ford
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 29, 2012 at 5:42:01 am

Get the money up front.

Regards,

Ty Ford


Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford's Blog


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Todd Terry
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 29, 2012 at 6:36:54 pm

[Ty Ford] "Get the money up front."

Actually, you don't have to do that, at least not with legitimate candidates.

Federal election laws are so stringent that the media bills have to be paid right away... long before any other of a candidate's bills. At this point we've probably handled close to a hundred political campaigns, and have never required upfront money... nor ever had a problem getting paid.

In fact, even though for most of our usual clients we bill net/15 or net/30, more often than not a political campaign will arrive with a check already in hand. That's just the way they are used to doing things.

Of course now that I've mentioned it, we'll probably get stuck... ha.

T2

__________________________________
Todd Terry
Creative Director
Fantastic Plastic Entertainment, Inc.
fantasticplastic.com



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Ty Ford
Re: Best way to approach political candidates/campaigns
on Feb 29, 2012 at 8:32:37 pm

[Todd Terry] " more often than not a political campaign will arrive with a check already in hand. That's just the way they are used to doing things.
"


Todd, et al,

Mine is not the voice of speculation. It's the voice of experience. And the reason this is so is because of the many times that political clients have not paid their bills. I live and work in the Baltimore/DC area and have for many years. Even legitimate politicians will behave illegitimately.

Glad it's been OK for you.

Regards,

Ty Ford


Want better production audio?: Ty Ford's Audio Bootcamp Field Guide
Ty Ford Blog: Ty Ford's Blog


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