KC Strategies is a full-service political consulting firm that
has produced more than 250 campaigns in 154 different Texas
counties, spanning work for judicial, state legislative, county,
non-partisan, ballot initiatives, private sector and activist
organizations. It's known for turning out effective work even with
limited budgets. In the recent 2016 primary and runoff elections,
the agency saw 27 wins and 4 losses for its clients -- many who
were outspent by their opponents.
Ad Age got in touch with co-founder Mr. Crow on how the
Daugherty ad came about, and, given its success, what words of
advice he'd offer for other political advertisers, including Donald
Ad Age: What inspired the ad? How did you land
on the idea to portray Gerald Daugherty through the lens of his
family and his wife?
Chad Crow: This was actually a bit of a Plan B
concept. Our original idea was to show Gerald engaging in a
traditional hobby or weekend activity like fishing or working on a
car or something that he enjoys doing, all the while the voice
inside his head would be methodically working through various
mundane county issues that needed fixing, such as jail
overcrowding, traffic problems, and so forth. We ran into a
roadblock, however, when we discovered that he doesn't fish, he
doesn't work on cars, and as his wife, Charlyn, so aptly said in
the ad, "Gerald really doesn't have any hobbies." And so, Plan B
Regardless of how we presented it, the goal of the ad was to
pull back the curtain and give voters a glimpse of the real Gerald.
Of course, it's a bit more theatrical than a real day-in-the-life,
but not by much. This is a guy who is "on" 24/7, so we didn't have
to do a whole lot other than focus his thoughts on the day of the
shoot on the two or three keys issues in this campaign, rather than
the dozens of issues that are normally rattling around in his head.
Needless to say, Charlyn didn't have to rehearse rolling her eyes
very much before we got started.
Ad Age: Was everyone in the ad non-actors?
CC: That is correct. Gerald and Charlyn
Daugherty, and their friends Becky Bray and Ken Blaker. I don't
believe Becky and Ken realized what they were getting into until
they arrived. All they were told is that they were going to be
extras in Gerald's TV spot. And actually the hardest part of the
shoot was getting them to look as though they were bored to tears.
It's not often that you ask people to turn up to a friend's house
to help with a project, and then as soon as the camera starts
rolling, tell them to pretend that they are dying inside and would
do just about anything to get out of the conversation.
Ad Age: Who directed the ad? How did you get
such great performances from each person?
Chad Crow: The director of the spot is named
Steve Mims and he's fantastic. He's been a part of our team since
2012. He's a great talent.
We believe the key to getting great performances out of
candidates, spouses and others for any political ad is to avoid
being too scripted. Of course that means a lot of additional work
in post-production [in terms of editing], but you have to keep in
mind that these are not actors.
A lot of political consultants forget that fact, or they
willfully ignore it because they want their clients to deliver some
poll-tested line verbatim. But that sort of approach always comes
off like a lead balloon, lacking any real authenticity.
That's not to say that we don't poll-test issues as much as
anyone, but what we're trying to achieve with our political
advertising is an honest, genuine discussion about those issues,
rather than a recitation of pre-scripted lines. We're less
concerned with the exact words our clients use on camera as we are
with their sincerity about a given issue. That allows the
candidate's personality to really come through, and we believe that
is the thing that really resonates with voters -- a sense that they
are looking at the actual candidate, not a prototype created by
people like us.
Ad Age: This doesn't feel like a political ad.
It feels like a really excellent product commercial or a piece of
good comedy content. What went into achieving this?
Chad Crow: Thank you. That's nice of you to
say. At the risk of sounding like a pompous ass, that's what we set
out to do with every ad for every client. If we finish a spot and
it feels like a political ad, we generally scrap it and start over.
We believe that it's a necessity to view political ads that way in
2016, particularly for a firm like ours that primarily works with
down-ballot candidates. You really can't afford to produce a
formulaic, run-of-the-mill ad if you expect it to move the needle
for your client.
Regrettably, most political work today falls into that formulaic
category, and that's not any one person's fault. It's mostly
attributable to the fact that we operate in such a small world.
This is a niche market. There are only a handful of people across
the country who run campaigns and produce campaign ads for a
living, from President all the way down to dog catcher, so that
invariably leads to a situation where you unintentionally begin
copying components of each other's work over time.
No one is immune from the tendency to mimic what others around
them are doing, so we try to insulate ourselves from it as best we
can by building a creative team that has no connection to the
political world outside of the work we do together. Thus far,
that's proved to be a pretty good formula for us.
Ad Age: What do you think of the value of
bringing comedy to political advertising?
Chad Crow: This year, the value of comedy is
that people are desperate for a change of tone. Even when the
Presidential candidates try to offer a positive vision for the
future, it only lasts a split second before they default back to
attacking each other. It's a sad state of affairs, so maybe our
little ad came around at just the right time to offer a reprieve,
even if it's only for 60 seconds.
In general though, comedy in political advertising has a variety
of uses, particularly for down-ballot candidates. Oftentimes, as a
candidate for county commissioner or city council, your opponent is
not the other person on the ballot in your race, but rather the sea
of messaging out there from candidates above you on the ballot, as
well as Coke, Pepsi, Chevy, Budweiser, etc.
With all of the competing messages, you have to give people a
compelling reason to engage for a few seconds, and the best way to
do that is with fear, anger or laughter.
We prefer laughter as the first option, but that doesn't have to
mean the ad lacks substance. In this ad, for example, non-Austin
viewers may not pick up on it, but the things Gerald is rambling on
and on about are the most important issues for area voters --
traffic congestion and cost of living. We also have a 30-second ad airing in rotation locally with this
60-second spot that addresses the same issues in a more direct way,
so the two ads pair together nicely.
Here's another comedic ad the company recently produced:
Ad Age: Your site says you work on Republican
campaigns -- do you have any words of advice for the Republican
presidential candidate in terms of getting his message out there?
What do you think is working for him, what isn't -- when it comes
Chad Crow: Given the media's proclivity to
cover every one of his campaign rallies as though it's actual news,
I don't think Donald Trump is having any problems getting his
message out and being heard. The question is whether or not it's a
coherent message that speaks to anyone beyond his existing base. I
would argue that it is not.
My wife and business partner, Kori, likens him a lot to some of
our newbie clients running for a state or local office for the
first time. Otherwise smart, capable and successful people can turn
into train wrecks if they aren't willing to let go of some of their
preconceived notions about what it means to be a candidate,
understand up front that a campaign for public office is like
nothing they've ever experienced in their careers, hire people they
trust with experience navigating the waters, and then actually let
them do their jobs.
For any campaign, large or small, to be successful, everyone
involved must play their part and stay out of the way of others who
are trying to do the same. Donald Trump doesn't seem to be doing