Midnight Ride Media, a new Virginia-based television and radio advertising firm, owes its existence to a single client with a zest for internal competition: the presidential campaign of ex-MA Gov. Mitt Romney.
That’s because Romney borrowed a page from Republicans campaigns past and has integrated his advertising, production and media buying teams into a single new entity overseen by a single campaign strategist.
The Midnight Ride team includes Alex Castellanos, a veteran of 5 presidential campaigns, Larry McCarthy, the admaker who created Progress for America’s “Ashley Ad,” Brad Todd, a partner with OnMessage, Inc. (and the man behind that Michael Steele ad featuring the cute dogs.), and Curt Anderson, a former RNC political director.
“It goes to the theory that you get the best product with a competitive model,” said Beth Myers, Romney’s campaign manager. “We wanted to come up with a way to have competition flow naturally in a non-combative sense.”
Myers appointed Alex Gage, Romney’s head of strategy, to manage the company within a campaign.
When the five creative whizzes settle on an ad, the raw footage, scripts and storyboards are sent to Jillayne Smith’s team at National Media and Cold Harbor films for stitching together.
Planning and placement is the next step – and Robin Roberts, a co-founder of Maverick Media, consults with Feltus to determine when and where to place the ads. Because different people watch television and listen to the radio at different times, media buying is as much an art as it is a craft, and thousands of dollars are spent to segment and target the television audience.
"We take our data and look at the inventory out there and try to compare the alternatives based on how much they cost and ... come up with a plan," said Feltus, who performed the same function for the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign. "It's two thirds numbers and one third judgment."
The entire process from idea to execution is horizontally integrated.
"This makes it easier for the campaign, instead of having to deal with six or eight different vendors or consultants, to deal with one entity," said Feltus.
The name itself is a clue to the goal of the undertaking. Todd came up with the name of “Midnight Ride” to evoke an obscure farmer’s quest to warn compatriots at the British were on his way – a “campaign” that was full of risk and ended in the start of the American Revolution. Paul Revere stopped at Boston’s Old North Church along the way; the top of the church is visible from Romney’s campaign headquarters. Revere did not become a folk hero until Henry Wadsworth Longfellow published a poem in the 1861 Atlantic Monthly commemorating his trans-Boston run.
(Gage said he wanted to call the group the "Charles River Project" -- the campaign's headquarters abuts that body of water. Gage was overruled.)
So why is Gage -- "a non-advertising guy" by his own admission managing the project? "There's a lot of intellectual firepower there and a lot of creative passions," he said.
His role is to foster debate -- and because he is not invested in any particular concept – to bring the best ideas to the campaign’s regular Tuesday strategy meeting.
“One of the lessons that I took was talking to people both from the Bush and the Reagan campaigns is that you really wanted a neutral party managing it,” Myers said. Gage is “a very fair guy who won’t side up with one person.”
In designing the structure of the Romney campaign, Myers consulted widely, talking to former Republican campaign managers like Ken Mehlman and members of Ronald Reagan’s 1980 and 1984 campaign staffs.
Myers bought into the consolidation idea in part because “there are some great efficiencies that we can realize from doing it this way. The production costs, [for example]. Every bit of footage belongs to the group – if one guy’s camera gets some great footage, we can [use it later.] – It’s not proprietary.”
To Myers, Midnight Ride Media is also a reflection of Mitt Romney’s management priorities. “In every other venture, he’s always wanted their to be competition involved.”
In 2000, the Bush-Cheney campaign set up a similar concern – Maverick Media – and set member creative whizzes to compete against each other. Mark McKinnon, the chief media strategist, superintended the team and was bring the ads to the strategists who ran the campaign.
The concept isn’t new – Ronald Reagan set up what he called the “Tuesday Team” and George H. W. Bush put together his “November Group.” Hillary Clinton’s chief media strategist, Mandy Grunwald, oversees four ad teams. John McCain’s campaign attempted to put together a similar group under the aegis of admaker Russ Schriefer.
According to the schedule of Romney’s campaign expenditures, Midnight Ride Media billed the campaign $1.2M large this quarter, which included compensation and production costs, and some ad expenditures as well. From now on, the millions the campaign plans to spend on television and radio will all be channeled through Midnight Ride.