Hillsman: Lack of Ads Led Calif. Pol to Quit

LOS ANGELES The political consultant partially responsible for the advertising campaign that helped elect Jesse Ventura in Minnesota said a lack of advertising was a factor in forcing his candidate, columnist Arianna Huffington, out of California’s gubernatorial race.

“Her TV [ad] worked well, but she didn’t have enough money,” said Bill Hillsman, president and chief creative officer of Minneapolis agency North Woods Advertising. “Earned media and reliance upon the Internet didn’t get her what she needed to get, which is a critical mass of mass media.”

Hillsman’s agency, which also orchestrated the winning campaigns for the late Senator Paul Wellstone, said Huffington only raised funds from small donations, and never had big-money supporters. “You don’t have to spend $37 million, but you do have to spend $5 million,” Hillsman said.

Hillsman said that former client Ralph Nader also spent less that $5 million on his 2000 presidential run. Nader resisted buying ads, Hillsman said, preferring to hold “super rallies” that would get one 24-hour cycle of news coverage. “I can take one ad and get exponentially more people,” Hillsman said. “That’s the reality of mass media.”

Hillsman’s ad for Huffington, with its “Think outside the box” tagline, was hardly seen on the air after the news media gave it free play when it broke Aug. 27. Huffington then enjoyed another round of free media for an Internet cartoon by Free Range Graphics, Washington, D.C., on Sept. 3. And despite the fact that Huffington’s poll numbers should have barred her, Hillsman successfully persuaded the sponsoring Los Angeles Times to allow Huffington to appear on the televised debate.

“I reminded the Times that Huffington herself has been telling people not to respond to polls for years,” said Hillsman. “I think she was really polling 7 or 8 percent.”

Hillsman was highly critical of the recall election polling. “Pollsters are making stuff up, basically,” he said. “If I went into General Mills and used the same methodology they used for politics, I’d be thrown out the third-story window.”