I started my political media firm three decades ago last month. It’s been the greatest, most exciting job in the world, and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. But I have learned a few hard lessons along the way that I want to share with my fellow practitioners and those just starting out.
Manage your (other) candidate.
The most important person in the room is your candidate’s spouse. From the very first ad, make sure the spouse likes the shirt you’ve chosen for your candidate. And find a way to get the kids in the ad. From there it’s downhill.
Gently explain to your candidate that most folks don’t really care where you went to school, or how great your family is. Voters want to know who you are, and how who you are and what you think can make their lives better. For sure, never say, “you had a great job but left it to run,” “you’re sacrificing to do this job” or “you’re doing this for your own kid’s future.”
Seriously, say these things to the guy who fixes your Mercedes and see how he responds to that. Never ever, ever, ever, film your client with their shirt off or in a bathing suit. No further explanation needed.
Live your values.
When crafting the narrative for your candidate be sure to say that your candidate has his/her state/or district’s values: Oklahoma Values, Hoosier Values. This is important, and it’s a good way to remember where you are when you’re in the field shooting the commercials.
When you’re attacked, you reply: “It's sad, (opponent’s name) is desperate and losing so he/she is lying about (insert your candidate’s name here).” It works every time. Every single time.
Keep the crew happy.
As a rule, you’ll stay in dozens of towns no one has ever visited. You’ll film countless heartfelt testimonials and bucolic scenics. Sometimes with animals. To that end, it’s a herd of cattle not “cows.” The cows are just the girls. If you want a bunch in the background of your shot, ask for “cattle.”
And when you hire a “union pig” (an actual potbelly pig), he will not travel and work on the same day. You’ll need to get him a hotel room that costs more than $49 a night. On set, he needs corn chips.
Follow The “Duck” Rule.
I can’t claim to have originated this. Credit goes to Chris Chrysler, an editor I have long worked with. The rule is the following: leave a little, tiny, easily fixable mistake, like a flash frame of a duck, in every edit. This way everyone gets to have very important “input” and can claim to have heroically caught said mistake singlehandedly averting disaster. Then fix it and be done.
Don’t watch focus groups discuss your ads.
Don’t do it under any circumstances — and by no means follow the loudmouth who hated your spots into the parking lot afterward. You already know in your heart you’re right and they’re wrong – why torture yourself?
Kim Alfano is the founder of Alfano Communications.