PORTLAND, Maine — It’s not only the recently elected politicians and successful advocacy groups who are celebrating big wins in the wake of election season.
A small political consulting firm in Portland has emerged with a winning record and a national reputation for producing compelling, authentic political advertisements for television and Web.
The company, CD2 Consulting, produced some of the most memorable ads from Maine’s recent election cycle. Remember Harlan Gardner, the 90-year-old WWII veteran and Machias resident who, while sitting at the dinner table with four generations of his family, including his gay granddaughter, said “marriage is too precious not to share”? That ad was one of CD2’s creations. Remember the York firefighters who appeared in an ad with their gay colleague? That was a CD2 ad. There were several others produced throughout the campaign, which was successful and made Maine the first state to legalize same sex marriage by popular vote.
David Farmer, communications director for Mainers United for Marriage, gives CD2 a big share of the credit for the power and recognition their ads brought to the campaign.
“They were able to turn real Maine people into household names,” said Farmer, who also served as deputy chief of staff and communications director for former Gov. John Baldacci, and writes a political blog and a weekly column for the Bangor Daily News. “They are storytellers and were able to tell stories in 30 seconds in a way that made a real difference.”
The ads CD2 produced for Mainers United for Marriage were so effective, in fact, they were picked up around the country and used as templates for ads in other states such as Minnesota and Washington state, according to Farmer.
“They (CD2 owners) are on the verge of big, big things,” he said.
Maine’s Yes on 1 campaign had a high profile, and several “top-notch” political consulting firms wanted to produce those television ads, Farmer said. Yet CD2 got the job. “They won on the merits of their work, and they delivered,” he said.
Besides the Yes on 1 campaign, CD2 also produced web advertisements for Elizabeth Warren’s successful Senate campaign in Massachusetts, unseating incumbent Scott Brown; online content for Maggie Hassan’s successful gubernatorial campaign in New Hampshire; and a TV ad in support of Rep. Carol Shea-Porter’s successful Congressional race in New Hampshire.
“That’s a winning record right there,” Farmer said. “The results speak for themselves.”
There was a time when all the big political consulting firms were in Washington, D.C., and New York City, but technology has made that model obsolete, and today consultants can work anywhere. CD2 owners Jim Cole, Aaron Duffey and David Loughran choose to work in Maine, where the three grew up in the Greater Portland area.
“It’s great to be doing what I want to be doing in the place where I want to live,” Duffey said on a recent morning in CD2’s office in Portland’s Old Port.
The company doesn’t have to be in D.C., Loughran said. “There are probably opportunities we miss by not being there,” he said, “but there are other opportunities we’ll gain from being here.”
CD2 is actually a conglomeration of smaller, specialty operations that each of the men ran before joining forces to offer a wider range of political consulting services.
Cole and Duffey formed Gum Spirits Productions, a film production company, in Portland in 2008. They produced independent films (Sundowning and Three Priests are two of the more well-known flicks) and TV advertisements for political campaigns, including for VoteVets.org. In 2009, they joined forces with a pair of Bowdoin College alums, Frank Chi and William Donahoe, who live in Washington, D.C., and produce websites for political campaigns. Cole and Duffey joined Chi and Donahoe — notice the initials? — to form CD2 in 2009.
Loughran had worked on political campaigns all over the country before returning to Maine in 2008 to form his own political communications consultancy called Mach3Media. Loughran reconnected with Duffey, who he grew up with in Gorham, upon his return to the Portland area. In 2010, he officially joined CD2.
The crew first gained national attention in February 2011 for an ad it produced about the battle in Wisconsin over Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on the collective bargaining rights of unions.
Instead of writing a 30-second script, the CD2 crew spent the entire day in snowy, 16-degree weather interviewing protesters in Madison, Wisc., as snow piled on their shoulders. “That’s why we’re able to capture authentic moments and are able to turn what would be a good ad into a great ad,” Loughran said.
Cole, who Duffey called the “creative genius” behind CD2, then spent the evening cutting more than three hours of raw interview footage into a 30-second ad spot, which was extremely successful and helped raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in small donations in the following weeks.
The ad, which was produced for the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, got national attention. Rachel Maddow called it “the most pointed, stand-with-the-people-who-work-for-a-living ad that we have seen for a very long time.” Lawrence O’Donnell called the ad “beautiful film making,” and said “I’m really quite struck by it.”
“You don’t usually get people on D.C. television talking in such effusive ways about a TV ad, but that speaks to the power of this particular one,” said Adam Green, the D.C.-based co-founder of Progressive Change Campaign Committee.
Duffey said the ad opened doors. Loughran and Duffey expect they’ll be able to leverage the success of its ads during the recent election season to grab more work on other high-profile campaigns.
Judging by the ads it’s produced, CD2’s future looks bright, Green said.
Progressive Change worked with 40 campaigns this past election season, and Green said he’d be looking for CD2 to contribute to more campaigns in the future. “We definitely hold [CD2] out as a model for the future of ad making as we try to wean candidates off the past — overly priced D.C. consultants doing lesser quality work,” he said.
Green said the fact CD2 is based outside D.C. is a benefit as they’re not captive to the standard talking points. “Instead, they’re thinking outside the box,” Green said. “They’re thinking about persuading the people on Main Street back home.”
Loughran declined to discuss CD2’s revenue except to say it has grown “tenfold” since 2010. But Loughran and Duffey (Cole was out of the state on a shoot) don’t want CD2 to grow too big too fast.
“We don’t want to take every possible project that comes through the door,” Duffey said, because doing so would force them to not be so hands-on with the various campaigns.
“Our business will grow, and Jim, Aaron and I will continue to be principals in every campaign,” Loughran said. “That’s how we want it to be.”