Instead of simply creating ads for former Vermont governor Howard Dean, the Alexandria, Va., shop also provides political strategy, Web resource guidance and the campaign manager.
Principal Joe Trippi, 47, manages Dr. Dean's run for the presidency, making political and organizational decisions. But he also directly oversaw creation of the campaign's Web site and is doing the campaign ads, with partners Steve McMahon and Mark Squier.
"We try to catch him between midnight and 2 a.m. generally," joked Mr. McMahon, a former aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass and who, at 43, is a veteran of numerous campaigns for the firm including the past gubernatorial efforts of Dr. Dean.
For Mr. Trippi, the management role is familiar. He ran Vice President Walter Mondale's Iowa campaign in 1984 and was deputy campaign manager in the 1988 presidential bid by U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt, D-Mo., before switching to advertising and media consulting.
Still, handling the current campaign was a pretty dramatic step to take considering Dr. Dean's underdog status early this year. At the time, the campaign had seven staffers, $157,000 in funding and 432 known supporters nationally.
"He got me to do this the same way he got the 510,000 [supporters] out there," said Mr. Trippi. "He talks about the American community and the way we have to pull together as Americans and people have not heard that message in a long, long time. Everybody spouts it but he goes out and says it in the raw and with an authentic voice that makes people hear the call. He recruited them the same way he recruited me."
Mr. Squier, 43, the award winning American Film Institute graduate who followed his late father Bob Squier into political advertising (the elder Mr. Squier was President Clinton's adman) said that despite the rigors of Mr. Trippi's day-to-day campaign decisions, the three still get together to create all the Dean ads. The ad agency has forgone all other clients for the Dean campaign.
All three said the real trick is to capture in ads the candidate's personal force. "Our thing is ... to let Howard be Howard," said Mr. Trippi. "Because what they see in 30 minutes in a room in Iowa is a hard thing to catch in 30 seconds."
Mr. Trippi said the long working relationship of the three partners-the agency was started in 1991-helped it avoid issues that have troubled other campaigns. He compared the stability of the Dean campaign to others in an obvious reference to that of Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry, which has two media advisers and has replaced its campaign manager.
"You don't have some of the stuff going on where media consultants don't trust the manager," he said. "We are part of a family and part of Howard Dean's family. We are not going to let that stuff get in the way."
But while obviously pleased at the campaign's success so far, it's also made them wary. The other candidates "made the mistake of underestimating us-all of them. And that is not the mistake we are going to make today," said Mr. Trippi. "We are not going to underestimate a single one of them."
He added, "If seven people with $157,000 can run circles around these guys in the last 10 months and end up with more money, more supporters and ahead in all the polls, what do they think [Bush strategist] Karl Rove, with the full resources of the American government and $100 million of Bush/Cheney money, can do?"
Yet the team maintains the Republicans are vulnerable. "They own it. They broke it," he said. The Democrats, as "change agent for the American people," he said, can take "more than the White House. We can take the whole thing." The key however, is "to get over the Democrats' disbelief that they can win."
Mr. Trippi said the campaign is stepping up efforts in additional states. Ads will start in South Carolina, New Mexico, Arizona and Oklahoma this week, with Arizona and Oklahoma to follow next week, and added that anti-Dean ads launched last week by rival Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and by two Republican groups is a "pretty clear" indication "that they want to stop us and stop us right now."
If Dr. Dean does win the nomination, all three said they fully expect a long and bitter battle. "The Republicans are going to drop a piano a day on our heads," said Mr. McMahon.