Growing up in southern Indiana, Nick Everhart didn’t follow politics or have any idea that people were actually making their living working on and running campaigns.
After getting waitlisted for his top college choice, Everhart got accepted to Ohio State and later got a job as a page in the Ohio Statehouse. That opened the door to a gig at a public affairs shop in Columbus where he was subsequently introduced to Rex Elsass, a GOP media consultant, and became just the fifth employee hired at the Strategy Group for Media.
Forced to learn on the fly, Everhart did everything from producing shoots to putting together media plans and doing the actual buying. Those foundational skills led him, eventually, to launch his own media firm, Content Creative Media, as well as buying shop Medium Buying.
C&E: You’ve been in this business a long time. What’s changed?
Everhart: Twenty years is a long time. This used to be about four broadcast affiliates, radio — and you were really tip of the spear in the early 2000s if you were starting to buy cable. Fifteens, thirties and sixties were all you had. And now not only are there more mediums and places to spend and run ads, but you’ve got longer formats so you’re not constricted.
That has radically impacted the length and the amount of content and creative that you have to produce to be able to meet all the needs for clients at almost every level — from state, legislative, local, up to presidential. There’s just such a mammoth amount of television and digital and OTT and radio creative that’s got to be produced. The scope of the job and the work is just nothing like it was the first day I started doing this in the early 2000s.
C&E: You do media buying as well. In this environment, is the placement of an ad more important than the message?
Everhart: I still think the message comes first and foremost. Whether you have all the money in the world or just enough to get done what you need, that message piece is probably still the most important piece of the puzzle and what comes first because you can have a perfect buy, but if you’re completely off track and off message, it’s not gonna move the dial. In fact, it could still do harm.
C&E: GOP candidates this cycle will have a competitive presidential primary to contend with. How should they navigate that creatively?
Everhart: If we’re being honest about the presidential primary, it’s a lot of people competing to be a viable VP choice, and DeSantis versus Trump for the crown. The electorate is still a very populist, MAGA-leaning electorate. So if you’re running for Senate or Congress in Ohio, for example, it’s a March primary. There’s not really a question of whether you’re pro- or anti-Trump when you’re talking to that primary electorate because it’s not as if DeSantis himself is trying to delineate or convince those people to necessarily be anti-Trump.
I don’t think you’re going to see most of these races devolve into, ‘I’m with Trump, I’m with DeSantis.’ I could be wrong, but I don’t think that’s how [down-ballot] races are going to deal with that top line dynamic.
The bigger question is the amount of spending going on. The cost to deliver messages in those places is going to go up because you’re just going to have a lot more spending going on versus what you would’ve had if you’d just had the state-based races.
And then from a creative standpoint you have to contemplate kind of breaking through and connecting, getting people’s attention when you’ve got this macro-level race that’s owning and driving, controlling turnout, and you’re really then just focused on an introduction, a persuasion messaging campaign that deals with the people the presidential race drives out. That’s what the environment provides and you have to deal with it.
C&E: In that kind of environment are bio ads the best bang for a candidate’s buck?
Everhart: All things considered, you always want to tell your story or figure out a way to maybe have some sort of life differentiator or bio differentiator. If you’ve got it, invest in it. And if you’ve got the resources to do that, do it well, and do it right on the front end. But that being said, sometimes your bio ad becomes a little bit more of an issue-litmus-test, check-the-box ad, right?
I don’t know that there’s a scenario where in a competitive general election, particularly if you’re a challenger or in an open seat, where you could forego that bio stage. Now, your bio may not be as interesting or you may not be as compelling, but then [it’s up to the media consultant] to figure out a way to do that in a compelling, interesting, unique enough way that it carves out and creates a profile that you can foundationally build off. I think there’s something to be said for being a somebody before you try to ask for people to come to your side or start taking swipes at somebody.
C&E: Are Republican ad makers doing enough creative testing?
Everhart: The tools are available on both sides. You can do online panel testing of messages. There are a couple pollsters and companies that offer products. But it comes down to cost. It’s not as if everybody’s flying blind because they’re not testing every ad they create. There’s still dial test, focus grouping that goes on, too, as well.
You take a baseline survey and you kind of have the bio of a candidate and you kind of run with it and you execute. It’s not always going to be a position where you’ve got the resources or the time to test a message ahead of time. If you can, that’s great. There’s only a finite amount of resources. Is it more important to test four versions of the same attack or do you want to go get another 1200, 1300 points and buy more [live] sports?
C&E: What’s the biggest challenge facing media consultants right now?
Everhart: The proliferation and need for content is always a challenge. If you’re a creative shop that’s doing a lot of races in a lot of places and having to produce a lot of content and maintaining sort of integrity across mediums, that’s a challenge. There’s just more that has to get done and there’s no more time to do it. Unfortunately, sometimes the client doesn’t want to pay more to do it either. So that, I think, is the ongoing struggle that everybody deals with.
C&E: What’s your thought on Democrats outspending Republicans on digital in 2022?
Everhart: Well, I think I saw the final tally stat was the largest spender on broadcast television won 19 of the 20 major competitive U.S. Senate and governor’s races.
I still think the waterfall starts with the bazooka, which is broadcast, which is still the best linear tool to get reach and frequency and hit broad-based audiences and have certainty and confidence that everything you’re buying is running because it’s all sort of in the open and it can be assessed and you can clip and show somebody when something runs. Reach and frequency are still what it’s all about, right?
But I think we’re beyond that point a decade ago where you had digital consultants complaining they weren’t in the room and didn’t have a voice. I think we’re beyond that. I think they’re certainly heard and seen and part of teams.