Alex Tornero grew up drawing cartoons, writing stories and playing with cameras that his dad, a videographer and editor, used at work. Later, he developed a love for campaigns, working first as an intern on Bush-Cheney ’04 in Ohio and then in 2006 on Ken Blackwell’s gubernatorial run.
Tornero first joined The Strategy Group Co. as founder Rex Elsass’ assistant, but that role grew along with the company. Today, Tornero is the Republican media shop’s chief creative officer.
C&E spoke with him about what creative lessons are coming out of the midterm cycle and how design and production is shifting on the right.
C&E: What will the messaging or creative lessons be from 2022?
Tornero: Depending on how the wins shake out, it’ll really determine what some of that creative aesthetic is going to be [going forward] because we’ll identify what we feel worked and what didn’t. I don’t think we make big swings when it comes to what resonates with voters. I think it moves a little more slowly.
In general, the need for authenticity, for candidates that people feel trust in, who they genuinely like, the need to communicate emotively to them, all of those things have remained consistent throughout my time in political communication and I don’t see that changing much. I don’t foresee Republicans’ bolder, tougher messaging changing much in the next few years.
C&E: Has there been a unifying style or aesthetic on the right, when it comes to design and video production, this cycle?
Tornero: I think there’s a little more boldness in the way candidates are approaching ads. I think Trump encouraged that kind of candor [as does] social media. I’m seeing a lot more candidates dropping swear words and trying to capture people’s attention more. The decorum is gone in a lot of ways. The way that we approach ads, it’s just a little more rough in the rhetoric, a little more bombastic, a little less polished — particularly in primaries. A lot more candidate-to-camera. Voters are craving a little bit more of a personal connection and that gets accomplished when you have a candidate addressing them directly.
C&E: Other than language, has anything else about the content of ads changed?
Tornero: Voters are inundated with information more than ever before. There are more things vying for our attention. Our attention is a huge commodity. Capturing someone’s attention and giving them information that matters to them is more important now than ever. The issues matter, but they don’t matter nearly as much as people [think].
What matters most, particularly in these bigger races, is that you’re resonating with somebody — that they believe you to be honest, and credible and a decent human being. If they believe you care about the same things they care about and that they can trust you, you’ve probably already won their vote. Because they’re probably not going to have the time, especially now more than, to really get into the nitty gritty of your views when it comes to these middle of the road voters. So making that personal connection as a candidate is even more important today because of where we are with our technology and the amount of messages that are coming at people at any given time.
C&E: What about when it comes to things like fonts, have you noticed a trend?
Tornero: There’s a certain boldness and loudness to the typeface, to the fonts — there’s a lot more text on the screen, and that’s a little bit more a social media thing as well. It helps in social media where people are watching with the sound off.
C&E: As a creative director, describe your workflow at the firm.
Tornero: We have account executives who are the front-facing part of the business. They work directly with the candidates, campaigns and organizations. I look at them as the hub and we’re one of the spokes. I interface with the campaign as needed, but not on a daily basis. [The account executives] are the ones who are working out broad-level strategy for the campaign and they come to us to help develop the message strategy. I will either do it myself, or work with others who do the same thing when it comes to planning out how we’re going to use our budget to get the right message out there.
Once the buyers have figured out the budget and we understand how we’re going to allocate those dollars, whether it will be on television, web or radio, and then we figure out how we’re going to parcel our message out into each one of those bullets. We figure out our broad, Election Day-backwards plan, and then put pen to paper and start writing it. An ad could go from an idea to edited within a day or it could be weeks, it just depends on the needs of the client. I always prefer to have more time. I think the more time we have, usually, the more creative and the better product we can provide. But in the political world, time is one of the things we have to manage as carefully as possible.
C&E: Tell us about the impact of technology on political creative this cycle.
Tornero: For me, the biggest change that’s going to continue to happen is using video more powerfully to speak to smaller groups of people than we have in the past — whereas before we were sculpting our message purely for the broadcast platform, which was to reach the biggest bunch of voters. The technology from, a shooting standpoint, has also improved a lot in terms of the tools and gadgets that we can use.