Media Strategist Margolis Muses On Obama Campaign

Jim Margolis finds himself fielding calls these days from international candidates looking to project an image of hope, unity and ready to fix the economy. He's not quite James Carville circa 1992 -- he is a quasi-celebrity in the political consulting arena after serving as the chief media strategist for the Barack Obama campaign.

"I get foreign candidates who say: 'We want to do that Obama thing,'" says Margolis, a senior partner at GMMB, the media buying and planning firm that handled the presidential campaign. But Margolis is quick to tell them that even an ideal strategy isn't likely to help them replicate Obama's success.

"He is truly a remarkable, transformative figure," he says.

The 53-year-old Margolis says he hopes to be a part of Obama's re-election effort in 2012. But he isn't sure that another presidential campaign is in his future, given all of its sacrifices.

He says working a White House run at such a high level is reaching the mountaintop in political consulting: "One of those experiences you want if you're in this business." But after 2012, the 53-year-old said he isn't sure he's ready for endless 18-hour days and being away from his family so much.



Is he also wary about tainting his Obama-fueled record? Carville seemed leery to jinx his Oval Office success, joining the lecture circuit and refusing to return to a White House campaign (at least full-time) since he led Bill Clinton's 1992 effort. (GMMB, though not Margolis, also worked on that Clinton campaign.)

"That's not it," Margolis said in an interview after a Wednesday presentation at the Promax/BDA conference in New York. "It matters who is President of the United States; and being involved in a small way in determining who that person is is really, really important."

Still, Margolis is hardly slowing down before gearing up for Obama 2012. He is busy working on 2010 Senate re-election campaigns for Nevada's Harry Reid and Oregon's Ron Wyden, among others. And he's working for clients such as the Gates Foundation and on behalf of a city being built in the United Arab Emirates that will be powered fully by renewable energy.

At the Promax event, Margolis provided a packed ballroom with an inside look at aspects of the Obama campaign. "This campaign could not have been waged even 10 years ago," he said early on, referring to its use of new media.

For instance, Obama's campaign amassed a 15 million-person email list -- now being used by the White House to build support for its health-care reform proposals -- while garnering 3 million online donors.

On the more traditional media front, the campaign received headlines for running national spots during the Olympics and World Series. It also went with a 30-minute prime-time infomercial days before the election -- with a live cut-in to Obama speaking at a rally.

It also offered up a 30-minute program on VOD. Margolis was skeptical, but there were 35 million streams.

Asked whether the "Obama Girl" viral videos caused any consternation inside the campaign -- which had no control over them -- he admitted to some "butterflies." In part, they played into John McCain's argument that Obama was little more than a celebrity, Margolis said.

More "butterflies" emerged during the initial frisson about Sarah Palin's selection as McCain's running mate, he said. But her star power eventually cooled, partly due to skewering on "Saturday Night Live" by Tina Fey's on-target jibes.

Margolis also said both Hillary and Bill Clinton could not have been more helpful after Obama secured the nomination. And he repeated what some Obama team members have said: During the primaries, the campaign lost some focus and deviated from its message during the Texas-Ohio-Pennsylvania stretch -- where it lost all three states and a chance to knock out Hillary Clinton.

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