By Sarah Paulus
Feb 8, 2021
The “positive” of a negative political ad
I don’t love politics.
That might be ironic as I manage an advertising and public relation firm specializing in political communications, but it is true. I do love communication and free speech.
Recently cancel culture and vitriol are becoming incessant. Diatribes are abounding on TV, online, print, and radio. You cannot get away from it. And as an outdoor enthusiast, nature photographer, and artist, I prefer calm and beauty over fights.
Nevertheless, there’s a reality, too. Words matter, and opinions, and when you’re running for public office or serving in such an elected capacity, you’re justifiably scrutinized by all of us who vote and are engaged in our community.
Our firm was contracted by Mike Robbins for Mayor of Anchorage campaign last year. After a few months of working with the Robbins campaign, we opted to disengage services. The Robbins’ team had momentum, and Mike has owned an ad agency for many years with seasoned experience in politics so he didn’t necessarily require our services beyond launch.
We ultimately departed at the end of last year because we were also looking into launching an independent expenditure (IE) group to support like-minded candidates, including Mike Robbins, Anchorage School Board candidates, and other candidates across our Alaskan communities. Think a pro-business, pro-faith, pro-construction, pro-America IE that wants better healthcare and education, and elected officials that feel the same way.
Enter serendipity. We didn’t have to engage in starting an independent expenditure group after all.
A businessman and some of his colleagues contacted our firm and asked for help launching an IE called “Building Alaska.” Services like logo, website, and the basics of branding were performed. However, in addition to the rudiments of public policy communication, we were also advised there could be some “negative” campaign messaging requests during the mayor’s race in Anchorage.
Our firm just won the 2020 Anchorage Daily News Best Marketing Agency recognition for a reason. We are ethical, engaged, and very thoughtful in our services so that recognition for our team is inspiring and meaningful. Typically, likely 90% or more of the time, our 45+ political candidate or group clients have asked for positive messaging, and we happily obliged. Rare has been a negative campaign, and such always comes with a team meeting of concurrence, often steering clients away from “going negative.”
Another reason we’re careful is for genuine perception. The managing partner of Optima Public Relations is Tom Anderson. Tom’s partner is his father Tom Sr., who is a retired Alaska State Trooper colonel/director. The younger Tom is in charge of our firm and also has a past. He’s my friend, and I respect him. Tom has earned every success and accolade received in 10 years with Optima, but he also lost a federal trial for Hobbs Act violations 14 years ago. To that end, whether someone thinks it was fair or not what happened to Tom, his ethics and dedication to his clients are two of many reasons I proudly work with him and why all of us at the firm are extra cautious on professionalism and responsible content.
So back to the pesky negative ad challenge.
Low and behold, one of our former clients, Anchorage Assemblymember Jamie Allard, abruptly made Anchorage, Alaskan, and sadly international headlines regarding a response to Nazi-themed license plates being used and seen in the city on registered vehicles.
On a personal note, I was saddened by the occurrence and questioned how the Division of Motor Vehicles could let that slide and glad they are taking steps to prevent this in the future, as quoted in The Times of Israel. I was disheartened at Jamie’s weak response and attempt to justify that the license plates may have purely been a family-name reference.
Jamie apologized at the Assembly, but one connection she has, which made her contrition particularly important, is that she is likely the biggest cheerleader and supporter of Anchorage mayoral candidate Dave Bronson. Bronson, a military veteran like myself and my husband who served on the Iraq / Kuwait border after the 9/11 terrorist attack.
But what about Dave Bronson?
Jamie Allard made her comments and then was pressed to apologize, but there was no message from Bronson to disconnect from Allard’s initial message. There was no statement by Dave Bronson condemning anti-semantic license plates nor Jamie Allard’s initial flawed public explanation of the plates.
Here lies another rub. Several of Building Alaska’s core founders are devout Jewish Alaskans who, like me, believe words matter – particularly from public officials and candidates pursuing higher office (like the mayor of Anchorage).
Our firm had several discussions and team meetings on what Building Alaska’s leadership wanted to convey. We actually helped calm the tone of the message and soften the blow. The YouTube message highlights what Jamie said, and what Dave Bronson didn’t say, and how words and division matter.
I do know this for certain: Tom Anderson and I think Jamie Allard should NOT be sanctioned. We do not think she should resign. This should be a moment for growth and better communication. We believe voters can decide if they want Dave Bronson now and Jamie Allard in two more years. People have the power of the vote regarding all public office candidates, and this should be respected.
Dave Bronson’s silence on the Nazi-themed license plate issue justified helping produce the video for Building Alaska. I hope he sees it as a call for better speech in the face of hate speech.
As a Congregation Beth Sholom member, I’m personally disappointed at Jamie’s lack of public response to our Rabbi’s letter to her on why hateful speech matters. My family and I are constituents of Jamie Allard.
Like I began my editorial, I’d rather take photos of sunsets and birds, not publicly opine on complicated/difficult matters, but it’s definitely a lesson for sitting policymakers and candidates who want to serve the citizenry.
Your words, your actions, and how you respond to offensive issues really matter. Alaskans are watching, and we’re in a time of heightened sensitivity, like it or not. People who feel aggrieved will vote, too. Count on it.
Municipal, state and federal leaders must be vigilant and determined to govern with respect. It’s the right thing to do.
Americans deserve nothing less.
Sarah Paulus is the operations and web development manager for Optima Public Relations. She is also the website editor for Alaska Politics & Elections and a lifelong Alaskan who’s a member of Congregation Beth Sholom in East Anchorage.