E-mail Interview with Joe Slade White
May 2004

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: What, in your words, were the major strategic objectives for the Clark advertising campaign?

JSW: The strategic objective to the Clark campaign as to any campaign is to make an emotional connection to the voters – the connection runs both ways – which is a key component to the Responsive Chord theory that I learned from my mentor Tony Schwartz.  Most campaigns think of their communications as soley one way.  They think, “I have this strategy and this information and I must get it into the voters.  And if I meet resistance, I turn up the volume.”

With Clark we had a phenomenon candidate who had come out of no where and first I knew we needed to tell his story to connect voters to him.  Then the strategy was to connect to voters directly with the General.  And that was followed by ads to generate and fuel emotional momentum.  Then Iowa happened and we were swamped by the big wave of the Perfect Storm.  Only a few days before Iowa, General Clark was only four points behind Dean in NH and ten points ahead of Kerry and in first place or tied for first in every other state we were advertising in.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: How did you seek to address those objectives in designing the ads, i.e. in the use of B&W stills or Clark speaking against a plain backdrop?

JSW: With a phenomenal candidate, one wants to deepen the connection that is initially only on the surface and we’ve used black and white photoanimation with music effectively to do this, as happened with this campaign as well.  The plain backdrop that had worked with other campaigns was not as effective with General Clark.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Was there another approach that you seriously considered (possibly even producing some ads) but discarded?  (For example more NHcentric ads or...?)

JSW: There were very few ads that were produced but not aired.  Far fewer than in most campaigns which I believe was due to the remarkably good working relationship among the group of decision makers on the phone calls inside the Clark campaign.  I’ve had Congressional campaigns that were more difficult in terms of the teamwork internally.  And no, we didn’t think that NHcentric ads were necessary or particularly effective – though all of the film footage and most of the still shots we took were in NH.  We did do a music only ad that never quite made it on to the air – it was an interesting ad, but I don’t think it would’ve changed the outcome.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: I noticed you re-ran "What If" toward the close of the NH primary campaign.  That was the only instance I saw of an ad being re-run.  Was that just because it was particularly effective?

JSW: “What If” was one of the most effective ads of the campaign and when we were faced with the massive momentum of Kerry coming out of Iowa, it was a natural ad to throw back on to the air.  But at that point, nothing was going to change the trend.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Do you have a bottom line figure of how much the campaign spent on paid media (TV/radio/?print) in the NH primary campaign?

JSW: No.  We weren’t doing the buys.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: What percent of that would you say went to WMUR?  How do you view the other options--Boston stations, WNDS, White River Junction, radio, the Union Leader, other newspapers?

JSW: We utilized cable TV more effectively than any other candidate, and I’ve never found that newspapers are very effective with voters, and despite the fact that I like radio, it is more effective as a tactical tool, and not as a strategic one and we never got into tactical warfare in the campaign.  (Answering negative or launching it.)

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Based on the sample (4 WMUR newscasts, 12/5-1/26) it appeared that you kept
ads up at a modest, fairly constant level, while Kerry and Lieberman were advertising more intensively.  I would have thought you would have done bigger buys given the importance of NH.  Did you perhaps run more ads in other day parts or on Boston stations or...?

JSW: The sample time you chose was a time when we were in a low part of our buy – we bought plenty of news spots, but we also targeted spots in other day parts.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: What can you tell me about the uplifting music you used?

JSW: The music beneath the sixty-second spot and several others was a piece of stock music that we searched for and found.  For the last few weeks of the campaign we used a piece of music that we commissioned, that was faster paced.  In our music, we try to steer clear of the usual stock music political sound, to find music that is more “movie” like in its drama and emotional connection.  Music in spots is one of the most powerful elements.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Any major lessons you learned from working on the Clark advertising campaign?

JSW: Oh, I’ve never done a campaign at any level that hasn’t taught me something.  We never were quite able to capture on film, the emotional intensity that occurred when General Clark spoke to town meetings in NH.  We tried plenty of ways that have worked before, but it never quite clicked.  One is always experimenting with each candidate to find a comfort zone and a setting that works.  I was never satisfied that we found it with this campaign.  Kerry didn’t either until the Vietnam spot, and again, hasn’t much since.

I loved working on the bio spot – I really enjoyed getting to know Clark and the many amazing people connected in the campaign.  I don’t regret a thing.

DEMOCRACY IN ACTION: Any other questions I should have asked?

JSW: No...  It’s a complicated thing – much of it going on on a subliminal level in terms of the decisions we make and the way I write or edit a spot – lots of hard factual work from polls, and focus groups, and discussions with the team – but in the end, a lot of it is like an experienced person in any field – it is based NOT on thinking but on doing.  And I think too much sometimes about why and what we’re doing – but the best spots happen when it all is easy and not forced.

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