How Jamestown Associates Helped Elect Donald Trump

By Erik Oster 

We devoted a fair amount of attention to the advertising supporting Hillary Clinton‘s presidential bid. Initially handled primarily by Droga5, her campaign later reached out to other agencies, including VB&P. At the beginning of the month we learned from VB&P founder Paul Venables that the Clinton campaign asked the agency to avoid featuring her in later ads, preferring a direct attack on her GOP opponent, Donald Trump.

With all this attention payed to Clinton’s advertising efforts, you may have been left wondering who was responsible for her opponent’s ads. While Trump initially avoided such paid media for the most part, notably hiring a mysterious agency named Sterling Draper for web advertising, both candidates ramped up ad spending in the weeks before election day, sticking largely to ads attacking the opposing candidate.

The Washington Post shed some light on the subject of Trump’s advertising when it recently discussed Trump’s ad campaign at length with Larry Weitzner, CEO of Jamestown Associates, the Republican political consulting firm primarily responsible for his advertising efforts. A visit to the firm’s website, results in the message, “We are proud to have helped our nation’s 45th President-elect win a historic election.”


Weitzner told the publication that Trump was “not a typical political candidate and he did not want typical political ads.”


What Trump did want was ads that were “high energy” and “high impact.” Weitzner told The Washington Post that Trump would “instantly reject” any ads that he deemed “boring.” Trump was also very particular about lighting and production. Jamestown Associates hired a crew that previously lit Trump on The Apprentice to work with on its ads for the candidate.

“Submitting spots for review was another unorthodox aspect of the campaign,” Weitzner explained. “[Campaign chairman Steve Bannon], Jared Kushner and [Trump digital director] Brad Parscale directed me to produce spots for review without approving scripts—they wanted to see our vision. I loved that. It gave us a chance to do some interesting ads without idly waiting around for script approval.”

Weitzner told The Washington Post his team had to “grin and bear it” as they were outspent throughout most of the campaign, adding, “We tried to produce impactful spots with a little bit of edge to cut through the political noise,” pointing to an ad released after Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment as an example. Weitzner spoke to campaign head of communications Jason Miller about the potential for an attack ad addressing the comments, produced a spot over the weekend and showed it to Trump, who suggested they focus more on Clinton speaking and sharpen the closing  — which Weitzner claims “turned a good ad into a great ad.”

Weitzner is quick to credit the opposition for making “uniformly excellent negative ads.”

“What was missing was a message that gave swing voters something to vote for, rather than against,” he added. “They tried, but could never really connect because their messenger was not believable or relatable.”