Partners in New D.C. Firm Cut Teeth on GOP Controversy

ClickZ News - Politics & AdvocacyThe man behind a controversial video portraying Barack Obama as the messiah, and a recent video attacking the U.S. Attorney General, is just one of several partners of a just-launched Washington, D.C. political consultancy. Another partner was hired in ’06 to help buffer Senator George Allen’s image among bloggers following his infamous “macaca moment.”

The group of right-leaning heavy-hitters from the online and offline campaign worlds has come together to form Craft, a consultancy aiming to remove barriers between digital campaign efforts and traditional disciplines such as direct mail and television.

“What we’re able to do is blend all these disciplines together…to create a more harmonious and stronger message,” said Web video producer Justin Germany, co-founder and partner of Craft.

Advertising agencies serving commercial clients have long sought to remove so-called silos from their internal structures which often separate digital teams from those handling television or other traditional media. What Craft may have going for it is the fact that it has originated with this goal in mind, rather than attempting to change a structure staffers have grown accustomed to.

When it comes to Germany’s medium of choice – Web video – that means shooting for Web and television simultaneously. “When we shoot something for a client it’s all multipurpose,” he said. The lines between the two “start blurring, start disappearing.” Germany has served as the McCain ’08 campaign’s director of online media and Bush-Cheney ’04’s online campaign videographer and editor. He’ll be working closely with co-founder and managing partner Brian Donahue, the firm’s resident TV expert. Donahue also worked on Bush-Cheney ’04, and has done work with the Republican National Committee.

Partner Jon Henke gained notoriety in part through his outreach to bloggers on behalf of George Allen following his infamous “macaca” comment, which contributed to the Virginia Senator’s 2006 re-election campaign loss. Henke later worked as new media advisor to the Senate Republicans, and consulted for Fred Thompson’s ’08 presidential campaign.

Another partner and co-founder is Matthew Dybwad, whose work as director of Internet strategy for political direct marketing company Emotive focused on data consulting and segmentation, online outreach, and fundraising.

Bush ’04 campaign alumnus Michael Turk is the firm’s fifth co-founder and partner. Turk’s pedigree is primarily digital, having managed Internet campaigns for Fred Thompson 2008, Bush-Cheney 04, and Quayle 2000. He was also the RNC’s first online campaign director. For Turk, the new agency’s approach will curb the tendency to push for one medium over another.

“All of them are trying to get the biggest slice of the consulting pie, and as a result you end up with people advocating for things that might not be the best for the client,” he said.

It helps to have partners who recognize the impact one medium can have on others. Germany, for example, stresses the value of earned television coverage garnered through Web video. The recent video aimed at U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is a prime example. According to Germany, his video – made for what he described as a “national security issues group” rather than confirming the group’s name – was broadcast on Fox News multiple times earlier this week.

Germany was almost surely referring to a recent video from Keep America Safe, a group whose board members include Dick Cheney’s daughter Elizabeth Cheney. The video asks Holder to reveal the names of what it calls “The Al Qaeda 7,” Department of Justice lawyers who have represented suspected terrorist detainees. The video prompted people to flood the DOJ with phone calls asking about the attorneys; then a report naming them was confirmed by the DOJ.

Germany believes the video was successful in part because online, there are no time constraints, meaning messages don’t need to be as simplified as in television ads. “It was one of those issues where it was pretty in the weeds and pretty nuanced.”

“A lot of what you do with Web video is attempt to get earned media,” said Germany, adding that campaigns should prepare for an influx of interest spurred by media coverage with site features, search marketing efforts, and social media. “What you want to be able to do is have all guns blazing at once.”

Follow Kate Kaye on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.

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