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Making a Critical Commercial with Two Former Presidents in 28 Hours
By Nina DiSesa

Creative people always complain that we don't get enough time for ideas, for executions and certainly for production. In this case we had minutes and hours to do what normally takes weeks and months, from assignment to wrap to on air. It would take a disaster the size of the tsunami of December 26, 2004 to make that happen.

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2005, 8:00 am:
I am in the bathroom getting ready for work when I get an e-mail on my Blackberry from John Dooner, the CEO of McCann Erickson World Group. It says the Ad Council is getting pressure to deliver "inventory" (TV, radio and print ads) to the media over the tsunami tragedy. Would I call Peggy Conlon? Peggy says there is no time to waste. Former Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton want to make a commercial. ASAIP. (As soon as inhumanely possible.) The Ad Council needs a partner. Were we interested?

Noon, that same day:
I have to pick a small team quickly. People who I trust, who can hit the ground running, who can write quickly and execute without decision-anxiety. I pick Keith Evans and Jeff Taylor in creative, Nat Puccio, Director of Strategic Planning, Kathy Love, Executive Producer and Sallie Mars, our Director of Creative Services. We meet on the phone with the Chief of Staff of former President Bush (referred to at the White House as "41") and an aide for Clinton ("42"). It's decided that we would fly to the White House on Friday and film (we don't use our usual terminology of "shoot") the two former presidents asking Americans to contribute to the relief of the tsunami-ravaged countries.

4:30 pm, that same day:
Peggy Conlon asks if we can move the shoot from Friday to Wednesday at 4:00 (24 hours away) when Clinton is already scheduled to be at the White House. He doesn't want to make a second trip on Friday. We say the only thing we can possibly say under the circumstances: "Sure." The director, Hank Perlman with Hungry Man (who has agreed to do the job for out-of-pocket costs only) says the same thing.

Midnight, that same day:
Working closely with Nat Puccio, Keith Evans and Jeff Taylor have a script for a :60, a :30, a :15 and a :10 commercial. I approve it by 1:00 am. We e-mail them to Peggy Conlon. She approves and will get them approved by the staff of 41 and 42.

7:30 am the next morning:
We meet to discuss logistics. The team leaves for the airport. At noon Clinton's plane has still not left the Westchester Airport due to weather conditions. It finally takes off at 2:00. The filming is scheduled for 4:00 in the library of the East Wing, the residential side of the White House. We have one hour with the two men.

5:30 pm, Wednesday, January 5th:
It's a wrap. Bush and Clinton are pros in front of the camera. Their easy camaraderie with each other is evidence of a long-standing friendship between the two men and they are breezy with each other and very charming, gracious and professional with the crew. They personally shake everyone's hand before and after the filming, thanking everyone for our quick action.

Thursday, January 6th:
We edit 5 commercials. In the meantime, I have brought in Casanova Pendrill our Hispanic agency affiliate to do TV, radio and print and MRM, a McCann World Group company to prepare banner ads. Keith and Jeff supervise print and radio from McCann…while they are editing. Since Hispanic stations will not accept spots in English, dubbed spots or spots with subtitles, Casanova has to create new spots from scratch without using the two presidents on camera.

View commercial
Click image to view commercial

Friday, January 7th:
Rough cuts go to the Ad Council and the White House. We revise, conform, mix, and finish by midnight.

Saturday, January 8th:
The spots go to the Ad Council for indexing, etc.

Sunday morning, January 9th:
The commercials are on the air. The web banners, print, Hispanic versions are released the following days. This whole process has taken 6 days. Under normal conditions it would take two to three months.

Everyone who has worked on this has gotten little or no sleep for four consecutive days and one of the more awesome experiences of their careers.

"An amazingly exhausting, exhilarating experience. I would do it again in a heart beat."
- Keith Evans


Nina DiSesa

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