Interview with Jim Margolis, GMMB
May 21, 2004

Democracy in Action: You're in September 2003 and you've got a bunch of candidates and you're starting to make your ads...what are your major objectives and challenges at that point?

Jim Margolis: Well the first ads actually that we did were sort of different than what most people normally do.  We did launch ads--[these] were actually the first ones that went up--that were real time.  We went out on the announcement tour and shot both in South Carolina, Iowa and actually Boston, a little bit in New Hampshire as well, as he came down those first day and a half, and we shot all day, edited all night, got back on the plane, flew to New Hampshire, you know went from South Carolina, then to Iowa, did the same thing the next day, shot all day, edited all night and then each day the next day the ad went up that reflected what people had just seen on that morning's news.  Here they were seeing it and here comes the ad right after it.  [1, 2, 3]

Democracy in Action: Were you inspired by the Bush instant ads?

Jim Margolis: Well, from 2000?  Well I had seen it.  I didn't think that that one was really to be honest with you a very good one.  But we thought that trying to sort of inject some energy and sense of kind of immediacy would we kind of interesting and a little bit different than what people might see in their first ads.  We didn't...expect that it was going to have huge impact, although interestingly enough some of the footage that we shot, particularly in Iowa, well both really, we ended up using throughout the campaign.  Some of his best stuff on jobs and some of the other stuff really was shot at that first Iowa event.  The aircraft carrier footage was good when we went back subsequently and did some of the contrast advertising with Bush like on Mission Accomplished if you go to Kerry sort of with that nice military kind of background in back of him.

So I think it was a good call and it just was a little bit different.  My problem with the Bush [ad] was it was so badly produced.  I mean obviously you're willing to give something up to almost have it look like news footage.  You know we aren't looking for the same kind of production values that you would if you're really setting something up, but it kind of lost something to me in how far away you were from the guy and kind of hard to--

Democracy in Action: Did you produce those here?

Jim Margolis: No literally on the road.  We flew in equipment, actually some editing equipment to Des Moines and we worked in a good studio there, but they needed a few things for our digital cameras that we use, the HD cameras, so we flew that in and then we did second night in Boston, as soon as we finished--actually as he was winding up his speech we were already using some of the first stuff from New Hampshire.

Democracy in Action: So those are a bit atypical.  Let's move on to --

Jim Margolis: The first spots were biographical.  We always believed that his biography was an important part of the story that gave meaning to why he has fought for the things that he's fought and that it was important sort of as the motivator for what caused him to want to get into politics and be president of the United States, and that he had a unique background.

Clearly the Vietnam experience made him a different kind of Democrat at some level and that that was going to be important long term, but not just now, today as they're running biographical spots, but also then in terms of the Democratic audience, demonstrating a dimension that we though was going to be important in a post-9/11 world, particularly for activists that see those as important credentials for taking on Bush.  So those elements, again we thought were very important.  It was a combination of the historic sort of here's where h's been but a good 15, 10 seconds of the 60 or more maybe 20 seconds that was Kerry speaking, and he does very well speaking off camera to camera. [4]

Democracy in Action: ...The familiar images of him with all the light in the background?

Jim Margolis: There were a couple.  There's one that dominates some of those spots but not exclusively.  There was another shoot from probably 2002 that was in his house--it has a lot of the same look, french-windowish kind of thing in the background, a lot of light coming through, that we've used in a few different elements, certainly in some of the cover shots, but most of it was from the New Hampshire shoot that we did in October--no it was hot, it might have been August.   I'm trying to remember whether we had the footage before we did those first ads, and it was somewhere in late August/beginning of September I guess.  ...My guess is it was August that we shot some of that.

Democracy in Action: So that's where the bulk of those--

Jim Margolis: A lot of that, that included the cancer spot, that included, I don't know, we really ripped in a couple of hours through a bunch of material. [5]

Democracy in Action: And was that just in a Manchester hotel?

Jim Margolis: Not Manchester, no, it was someone's house; someone loaned us their house...  We had a long throw so that we could get that nice soft diffuse look in the back and room to kind of light it right.  It was good, it was quiet, it wasn't sitting next to an airport.

Democracy in Action: Any other observations you would make about your major challenges in putting together the spots?

Jim Margolis: I don't know about challenges.  We wanted to do a couple of different things.  We certainly wanted to--we felt that one of our competitive advantages was Kerry speaking, that relative to the other candidates he was someone [who] when you looked at him you saw someone that was presidential, "presidentialness," that he communicated...  I mean you could imagine him being president of the United States; you could imagine him going toe to toe with George Bush in a debate--that those elements relative to some of the other candidates really were a distinct advantage and we always believed using him in a way that I think was different than Dean or some of the other folks who clearly did a lot of work to camera or speaking but I don't think had that same level of gravitas that Kerry communicated, so that was an important element of it.

We definitely wanted to include some elements that had the more personal side of Kerry, so connecting health care issues and health care problems to his own experience: somebody who got the best health care in the world and I got it because I'm a United States Senator and 'cause I can afford it and everybody should have the same chance I had to get health care in this country; and didn't shiy away fro the fact that he had health care or the fact that he has the money to have good health care or the fact that as a Senator he has it, but it's something that shouldn't be a function of wealth or your job, it ought to be a right.  So that kind of combination; we want to look for opportunities like that.

Clearly we recognized the importance of setting up a contrast, primarily with Bush, and to be willing to take Bush on very directly in a number of different instances and to look for opportunities...  The aircraft carrier spot is an example that wasn't intended to do a lot of work over a long period of time in the individual target states, but help propel you into the national dialogue in an interesting sort of way, a surprising sort of way, and we looked for those kind of opportunities.

Democracy in Action: Your spots used a lot more testimonials from people like Mary Anne Knowles and Gov. Shaheen.  What's the thinking behind that?  I just didn't see any of that in Dean for example.

Jim Margolis: Well we thought it was important at a couple of different levels.  One, it's about connectedness.  I mean to the extent that they feel real.  I mean if it looks like fakey man-on-the-street [it's] not really, probably not as impactful, as a general principle, but if you'[ve got a real story and letting John for example narrate it, which is another level of "I get it; I understand."  I mean if he's telling you the story he obviously gets the story.

Athough that was a pretty big decision because they were great; they were really articulate and initially we had a hard time deciding should we tell the story through their voice or through his voice?  And I think you could make the argument either way; I mean we ultimately used a few bites for example of Mary Anne or some of the other people in other spots so they ultimately got used, but we could have done it either way...  Ultimately the idea of letting him narrate was more important because it communicated at a whole different level his understanding of the problem, rather than him just sort of kicking in at the end.  So we thought that was important.  [6]

I think that in Iowa the Hendrix spot was very very important.  Elizabeth Hendrix, who--"he understands what's going on in my life," in a way that you really believe, that she believed, that he really understood what was going on in her life, was very important. [7]

Democracy in Action: Shaheen and Vilsack...? [8, 9]

Jim Margolis: I think Vilsack was more important than Shaheen at some level because it was at the end, it was unexpected, it was a woman [which] was important at that moment.  We were catching on fire and to have sort of this sense of momentum.  Shaheen had been clearly with the campaign for some time.  It  wasn't a big surprise to people that she--  [Vilsack] She I think did it in a way that you felt was real, and so we looked for those opportunities...

Probably the most important ones from my perspective were Sandusky, Del, and Alston, which ran in South Carolina and some other states, Missouri and others, that really from my perspective, if you were going to pick one ad that's the most important ad, it's got to be done in combination with everything else that was happening and what led up to it and what happened after it.  [10, 11]

But when you're electing a president of the United States to have somebody say, "The decisions which he made saved our lives.  He had unfailing instinct, unchallengable leadership."  I mean how would you define president any better than someone who's got life or death decisions and unfailing instinct and unchallengable leadership?

And then his [Kerry's] explanation for why he does the things that he does.  "After Vietnam, every day is extra.  And you fight for the things that are right."  His longer explanation of that is you let the chips fall where they may and you do it because its the right thing to do.  I mean you realize every day is extra and that's why these things are important.

So that was sort of the culmination of everything that had preceded it and put into context in 30 seconds or 27 seconds of character, biography, sort of motivation--why; plus the issues said through his's right that every American has health care, it is right that--these are the things you want to be talking about.

Democracy in Action: Was the Sandusky ad the one that you ran most?

Jim Margolis: Well in New Hampshire and in Iowa it probably wasn't run most; it was probably run about as much as everything else, but  if you look at subsequently where we went into states and we only had two ads to run or three ads to run in those subsequent states Del was always in the mix or Alston or some variation on that theme.

We had the benefit of a treasure trove of people.  Now Rassmann, I shot that Rasmann stuff the day after New Hampshire that you see in the current ad.  [12, 13]

Democracy in Action: How about the "100 Days" ad?  ...That was very well produced.  Was that noteworthy at all?  That was basically when you were at rock bottom, if I recall correctly, and I was wondering if that had anything to do with...?  [14]

Jim Margolis: I honestly think that that would be putting too much emphasis on any one spot.  I think it was sort of the combination of things.  I think it fills in the dimentsion that goes to that presidentialness that I'm talking about.  Again, you saw it; you can imagine him being in the White House.  Here's some priorities.  Here's where I'm going.  And that continued to fill in that part of the equation.  The other part of the equation was the I get it, in touch, understand the problems that you face.  I get what's going on in your life and that's the Knowles and Hendrix and Del and Alston untimately and some of the other people...   So we were working on sort of two parts of it.

I think it was a strong ad in both content and it was edited pretty well, but I think that it was...still early.  We were at rock bottom there and it was a full month later before we really started to get serious traction coming back...

Democracy in Action: Are there differences in your approach to Iowa and New Hampshire other than the fact that you've got five media markets or something in Iowa and--?

Jim Margolis: Well yes and no.  You're very focused on the advertising.  The belief was, as you know, that the path to New Hampshire and the path to the nomination went through Iowa and so the good news was, unlike Howard Dean, that even when we were at 11 percent in New Hampshire, when we had been beaten down between Dean and Clark, people still liked him.  Our favorables were always good.  They never went on--I hate that guy; he's unacceptable.  They went, gee, there's something happening out there and this Dean thing is very exciting; there's something happening out there and Wes Clark really is somebody who represents a different kind of this or that, but as they said those things, they didn't go John Kerry's a sonofabitch.  They went that other way.  When Dean screamed and when the scrutiny started to take place on Howard, they turned away from him.  Negatives went up, all those things happened, and as a result you can't get that back very easily.  That's not something you can get back in a week from Iowa to New Hampshire.  We were in a position where assuming for a moment--the theory, it turned out to be true in this case; a lot of times it's wrong--that if we did well in Iowa people were going to be open to him because they like him.

Democracy in Action: To get to this difference between Iowa and New of the things I noticed is you ran a half hour program in Iowa--and the timing I guess wasn't as good as it could have been given what happend on that day--but I didn't see that in New Hampshire. [15]

Jim Margolis: Actually it may have been okay because they put us on all those stations in Iowa right after they broke in with the news and so we had probably a bump in audience size.  Instead of coming off some like real estate show in some markets we were coming off of hard news on the capture.  So for what it's worth, I went from going, oh my God, to like this might be okay.

Democracy in Action: Why not in New Hampshire?

Jim Margolis: Because WMUR are pirates.

Democracy in Action: That was my next question.  I'm wondering if you can talk briefly about the New Hampshire market.  You've got WMUR; what other options--

Jim Margolis: They're ridiculous.   These guys make a boatload of money and are extortionists basically in the sense of hom much they hold you up on prices and everything else.  They wanted so much money for a town meeting and to produce it.  It was, I think, four times what it cost us to run statewide in Iowa on all the markets and so it just wasn't possible.  Not only that, they would not run it live, and they required, even though it's a political show, they required, I think, a full 24 hours or more of approval time between when you taped it and when they aired it.

Democracy in Action: Do they give a reason for this?

Jim Margolis: So the idea that we wanted something that was spontaneous, that was live, that we would take responsibility for--you know it's our campaign--and to have it go. Maybe if they had been willing to be flexible on that we might have worked out something on the money, but we certainly weren't going to put our selves in paying four times as much as it cost to run statewide in Iowa and have to wiat 24 hours going live to tape and then waiting for somebody ad MUR to sign off on our show, that is a political show where we can say what we want if they'll sell us some time.  I mean that's our right.

Democracy in Action: How do you see the resto f the alternatives there: New England Cable, WNDS, White River Junction--any of those enter to your mix; the Boston--

Jim Margolis: We bought cable and there are good reasons to do it.  We looked at some of the other cable operations to supplelment what we were doing on broadcast and even looked at them in terms of the possibility of a town meeting.  They've made some changes too.  They did things like for example in the past you could by the interconnect that just focused on New Hampshire.  So they decided to get greedy too and they wouldn't sell you just New Hampshire; you had to buy the whole Boston regoin that included it.  So we used to on cable be able to go in and just buy on cable New Hampshire--

Democracy in Action: When did that change?

Jim Margolis: This year.  --and they saw an opportunity to jack the prices up I assume, and so they now wouldn't sell you just New Hampshire; you had to buy the whole system.  And as it turns out, I was less concerned about that frankly than if I had been in one of the other campaigns because I wanted to communicate to Boston anyway from a fundraising perspective and a momentum perspective and all of this home state stuff.  So they gave a reduction in what it used to cost to buy the whole area, but it's more than what it used to cost to just buy New Hampshire and so from my perspective it probably was a net benefit even though if I had been John Edwards and didn't have a reason to really want to be talking to Boston I would have been more upset, if he understood that it even happened...

Democracy in Action: Do you have a sense of how much you spent on media in New Hampshire and how much in Iowa that you can relate?

Jim Margolis asked his assistant Rachel to find "our expenditures in Iowa and our expenditures in New Hampshire."  She provided a Post-It note with two numbers on it:

IA      $3,471,741.42
NH    $2,798,807.46

Democracy in Action: Were there any lessons you learned from this whole cycle?

Jim Margolis: Go a little bit further, in terms of TV advertising or?

Democracy in Action: Right, or something you saw that you maybe had to adjust your way of doing things.  Or another way to put it would be something that you may consider in retrospect to be a mistake or that you could have done better?

Jim Margolis: The big lesson, of which advertising was just one element, is something that we were saying before that we were not sure we were right on.  We were certainly articulating it through the whole fall and in December when we really were in the basement, whcih was we believed that most people were going to decide later.  That 80 percent, if you look at historical trends of when voters make up their decision in New Hampshire and in Iowa after January 1 and fully 50 percent in the last two weeks or even less, the last week.

And making decisions about putting huge amounts of money on TV early, while it was hard to sit there and watch Howard Dean up in all those states in the summer, in the fall, there were a lot within our campaign who wanted to get up, get up, get up, and we were very concerned, I certainly was very concerned, some of us very concerned, about being up at a time when activists were active but voters were not ready to really tune in and they weren't making their decisions then.  And if we had unlimited resources of course I'd like to be up and begin to set the stage and to fill in the picture and do it our way and be in the dialogue, but that if we don't have unlimited resources it was very important to be on the air when people were maing up their mind.

And I think Howard Dean was not a very comfortable guy the week before New Hampshire without very much money on the air.  I think that our decision to be really in the mix through January, and it required a lot of things to happen--we needed the questions about Dean, we needed Gephardt to not be getting momentum but rather to be slipping a littel bit, we needed John to be as good as he was, we needed press attention to [?feel] that there was some stuff going on--and all that had to kind of come together in a perfect storm, for us instead of for Dean and his perfect storm, then we wanted the TV to be there.  And the TV was there, and I think it was good, I think it was solid, and there's luck.  The fact that John was out there from 6 in the morning until 2 in the morning, that Rassmann shows up out of thin air at the moment that Del was going on TV essentially in Iowa, so you're getting this whole thing about his career and his background and the Navy and Vietnam and saving a guy's life and the same time somebody in free press, while Del is talking about "the decisions that he made saved our lives."  Completely fortuitous.  I could tell you we planned it, but--these things it's a good dose of luck, but we made the right strategic decision in terms of when the firepower was going to be on.  And that was a very hard call.

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