Sunday, July 09, 2017

How Does A Candidate Break Through All The Noise And Clutter-- And Why Can't The DCCC Help Their Sad-Sack Candidates Win?


Yesterday Mark Pocan (D-WI), arguably the most progressive member of Congress, introduced iron worker and union activist Randy Bryce at his "Where's Paul Ryan" town hall in Racine, one of the cities in Ryan's district. As you know, Bryce is the former Bernie surrogate who's running for the swing district House seat held by Ryan since 1999, uncontested by the DCCC. This year the DCCC won't have the luxury of following Pelosi's diktat about not targeting Ryan (and other GOP leaders). The American people want Ryan's head and wouldn't mind seeing Pelosi's chopped off in the process if she stands in the way. When Pocan introduced Randy it was the highlight of the event; people went wild-- the biggest standing ovation of the day.

What most rankles the DCCC right now is that they've recruited several dozen candidates, trained them, staffed them and sent them back to their districts like little robots from the DCCC factory Inside the Beltway to wait for the anti-Trump tsunami to form. Not one-- NOT ONE-- has created a brand, despite millions and millions of dollars the DCCC wastes and despite a massive-- albeit largely incompetent and self-defeating-- DCCC p.r. machine. Can you even name one? Here's one for you-- this is the DCCC 2017... their model recruit, lottery winner Gil Cisneros in Orange County, who sent out an invitation to rich donors this week inviting them to his $10 million mansion in tony Newport Coast, nowhere near CA-39 and in the reddest and richest part of Dana Rohrabacher's district.

Goal Thermometer Meanwhile, this authentic voice from southeast Wisconsin pops up on the screen a couple of weeks ago and BOOM! he immediately creates a platinum brand, goes from 7,000 to 113,000 twitter followers in two weeks, raises $500,000 from small donors in the same time period, puts out an online video that has over half a million views, and has endorsements pouring in from brand name political leaders like Ro Khanna, Alan Grayson and Kirsten Gillibrand. Friday I did an "Ask Me Anything" at the Sanders For President reddit page. Look what happened when Bryce popped up to say hello. It's like I wasn't even there any longer and the Beatles had just landed on the page. I've had almost a dozen calls from candidates asking me if I could help them get Bryce to come to their districts for a joint appearance. You think anyone is asking the lottery winner for a joint appearance in their districts? You think any candidates want a joint public appearance with Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the DCCC, or Denny Heck, head of the DCCC recruitment committee, or Steny Hoyer or Nancy Pelosi. "Hey, we'll throw in Debbie Wasserman Schultz for free." Yeah, Debbie Wasserman Schultz has a brand alright! It's a real DCCC brand and it's guaranteed to keep millions of people away from the polls.

DCCC operatives are calling everyone they know asking them how Randy has done it. Can it be bottled? Packaged? Sold? Sure, authenticity is on sale this week at Walmart. Hillary's tight with them, isn't she? Maybe she can get you a deal. I stopped giving the DCCC advise while Rahm Emanuel was still DCCC chairman but if they want to understand what happened they could do worse than reading the Longreads piece by Danielle Tcholakian posted Saturday. This is something I'm including though, not for the DCCC, but for struggling candidates from around the country who don't understand why they're lucky to not be embraced by the DCCC.
When a political ad for Randy Bryce, the Wisconsin ironworker challenging Paul Ryan’s congressional seat, hit the internet last month, it quickly went viral. Esquire called it “one hell of a political ad.” A Twitter user suggested that Bryce was “genetically engineered from Bruce Springsteen songs.” Bryce himself was elated when GQ wrote it up, tweeting from his own account-- @IronStache, naturally-- that his mother told him he’d never reach such heights.

The ad is a compelling mix of verité documentary filmmaking and political savvy. It was produced by Acres New York, which last year made a four-minute ad for Bernie Sanders featuring a testimonial from the daughter of Eric Garner. (In 2015, Acres also produced an ad for the Senate run of John Fetterman, the mayor of Braddock, PA, who had pulled his town away from the brink of disaster and into the world of Levi’s ads).

Longreads reached out to Acres founder Matt McLaughlin and director Paul Hairston to learn more about their approach to storytelling. McLaughlin is business partners with Bill Hyers, a political strategist who ran Bill de Blasio’s 2013 campaign. The pair recently launched WIN, which develops political strategy around video campaigns, and whose list of clients includes Bryce, Fetterman, Sanders, Bill De Blasio, and Martin O’Malley. The Bryce ad is WIN’s inaugural work.

A lot of people who watched the Randy Bryce spot said it felt like they weren’t watching a political ad. Some were even surprised by the announcement of his candidacy at the end.

Matt McLaughlin: Traditionally, political ads in my opinion are terrible. They don’t resonate or connect with anyone. Give people a real story, something that is interesting and valuable, especially to people in Wisconsin. Allow them to fall in and connect with the story.  Our goal was to grab the attention of the country-- reporters, celebrities, everyone-- and also to get a message out there. The tie-in for us is healthcare, to connect Trump, Paul Ryan, Randy’s mother and her struggles to something much bigger.

Paul Hairston: From a filmmaking standpoint, I have to agree with Matt. Watching the last two presidential campaigns, even local and municipal campaigns, the ads are creatively not ideal. A lot of them are devoid of any emotionality.

Music plays an important part in all of your ads, including Randy’s.

PH: I think music is paramount. I don’t think it’s meant to manipulate, or to guide your eyes or ears in the wrong direction. It’s supposed to open and engage your attention. It helps the viewer receive Randy’s mother for who she is: A sick woman who will be in danger under the proposed healthcare plan. I actually spent quite a few days scouting music before we even shot it. If you use some horrid drumbeat or a campy song, you’re going to lose any seriousness of your intention. The music is a way of letting viewers know our message is sincere, our candidate is sincere, and the story is real.

MM: The decision Paul made to use the music he chose, and also the intimacy that he was able to capture between Randy and the audience, was what made that structure work. The music is really helpful. It helps people fall into the ad.

How difficult was it to capture that intimacy? Was the video scripted?

MM: This spot is not scripted whatsoever. Paul is an amazing interviewer. We had certain ideas that we went into it with, but those are all Randy’s words.

PH: Coming from a background of documentary filmmaking, I’m used to the the process of becoming familiar with people. Randy is a conversational person. I’ve done documentaries with real people before, and I really try to get to someone’s core. With Randy, he’s delighted to express what he feels. He definitely made it incredibly easy for us.

MM: Another thing that we, and I know a lot of people, are tired of seeing in political spots is a scripted way of communicating with people. We have a really strong belief in letting people say what comes naturally, what they truly believe in. This is what people attach themselves to when they like a candidate.

Maybe that’s what makes your approach stick out so much. Political ads aren’t typically vehicles for storytelling.

PH: What we did, and what I give Matt a lot of credit for, is to bring the earnestness of genuine modern doc-making into the political world.

MM: There’s this movement in filmmaking, advertising, and hopefully now political advertising of using film techniques that convey more genuine, honest feelings. If you watch a film like Moonlight, it has a feeling that’s unique to the story that’s being told. We’re sensitive to the people that we’re crafting our ads for-- communicating with them as opposed to at them.

One of the most exciting things about this ad blowing up the way it did is that I’ve always wanted to change the way that people think about political advertising. Hopefully we can  give other folks validation that the honest approach works.

What kind of planning went into making the ad?

MM: Making a political ad is usually super fast-paced. One of the reasons this type of filmmaking hasn’t really used for political ads is because the stakes are are higher, the timelines are shorter, and the budget is much smaller.

You have to work really fast to condense the type of filmmaking Paul does with limited time and resources. Our process is much different than you would see in traditional advertising. It’s not like I’m sitting over his shoulder and micromanaging the shots, which is the case in most situations. We came up with a structure and a storyline, a basic shared vision, but a lot of things are up in the air because it’s all up to circumstance. Maybe Randy’s mom isn’t feeling well that day and we’re shit out of luck and just have to roll with it.

Paul and I talk a lot about where the story arc is and what the progression of story should be. There’s a reason story arcs exist and why archetypes exist. Randy is an archetype and so is Paul Ryan. We wanted to end up with a place of hope and excitement that centers around Randy. I could see other ads ending with, “this is why Paul Ryan is bad,” but we’ve always been advocates of positivity. Although this isn’t the average political spot, it’s not an indie film. People want a happy ending.

The Randy Bryce ad and the Erica Garner ad for Bernie Sanders are both over two minutes long: Erica Garner doesn’t even mention her father until a full minute into the video, and Bernie doesn’t appear until a minute and a half after that. How do you make this storytelling style work for the length of a traditional media ad buy?

MM: There’s this idea that 30-second or 60-second ads have higher value. The advertising community holds up these standards, and these kinds of ads are the easiest things to do. What’s hard to do is hold people’s attention when you have no guaranteed ad buy. Neither of these spots had ad buys behind them. They’re crafted to give people value.

The media-buying industry has a massive grip on advertising infrastructure. When we started WIN, I saw traditional advertising as a top down approach and I wanted to do something from the bottom up. We wanted to craft real stories, put them out in an honest way, and listen to what people have to say about them. On TV, I’m not going to get feedback. The internet allows us to weave communication into the process; it allows me to change the structure, change the creative, and really listen to folks. Then when we make more strategic buys we have better insight about how to craft that message and how we’re pushing that stuff out there. People don’t react well to shitty ads, or even ads in general.

PH: I think audiences are becoming smarter. It’s a testament to where we are right now in the political world that people are willing to watch a four-minute spot, engage with it, and, spread it around. When it comes to politics right now, people are incredibly hopeful and aspirational.

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At 8:58 AM, Blogger Garry Gentry said...

You posted a list of the Dem leadership with the affiliation in a previous post which I could not find when I looked back. I would like to use that list in a FB group I am in with Progressives. I'd appreciate it being reposted or email it to me.

Best regards,

At 5:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The DCCC candidates all have one impedence in common: They're all DCCC candidates.

In most districts, the DCCC is synonymous with corruption, cronyism, lies, betrayals and ineptitude. That is their brand. And that brand being burned into your ass is not something voters want to see.

"DCCC operatives are calling everyone they know asking them how Randy has done it."

He did it by being **NOT** a DCCC candidate. Though the general stench of the party is still there... but at least not the brand.


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