Now-known Sophocleus Can Cable Thanks To Pivec

February 15, 2005|By Elise Armacost | Elise Armacost,Staff writer

If Ted Sophocleus becomes Anne Arundel's next county executive Tuesday, the first thing he ought to do is send a "Thank you" card to Robert J. Pivec.

Pivec helped transform Sophocleus from an obscure North County councilman to the candidate of the people. He capitalized on Sophocleus' affable nature, turning it into a weapon against the hard-edged professionalism of Republican Robert R. Neall. He took a candidate whose name people didn't recognize and couldn't pronounce and made him a household name.

Pivec, the owner of a Towson advertising agency specializing in ads for car dealerships, produced the 30-second cable television spots that have been the backbone of Sophocleus' campaign. Since April, Sophocleus has run about 1,000 spots a week on the county's three cable networks at a cost of $65,000 to $70,000.

"This has never been done before in the history of the world," Pivec said. "If it works, I'm going to be a hero."

The ads have been worth every penny, said George Mills, Sophocleus' campaign manager and a former television technician. Before the spots started running, a poll showed 25 percent of county residents knew Sophocleus' name. By late September, that figure had jumped to 79 percent.

"We would directly have to attribute most of the name recognition to television," Mills said.

Until now, cable advertising has not been popular among politicians, who traditionally have favored broadcast TV advertising, which reaches more people. But Sophocleus' experience demonstrates that that is changing, Pivec said.

"This is going to revolutionize political advertising," he said.

Indeed, other local politicians, seeing how cable advertising helped make Sophocleus a contender, already are turning to the cable market. In the heated District 31 senate race, Sen. Philip C. Jimeno, D-Brooklyn Park, and Delegate John R. Leopold, R-Pasadena, both used cable.

"What opened my eyes to it was the use of it by other candidates in the primary," Leopold said. "(Cable) is a very cost-effective way of reaching a targeted audience in a district.

"It's using a rifle rather than a shotgun."

Consider this, Pivec said: A 30-second broadcast ad aired once during a Baltimore evening newscast costs about $1,900 and reaches viewers in areas far outside of a local politician's jurisdiction. For the same $1,900, a candidate can buy 720 half-minute cable spots aimed specifically at his constituency.

In Anne Arundel, advertising on all three cable networks means reaching more than 90,000 households.

If of high quality, cable spots may do more than increase name recognition; they may actually set the whole tone of a campaign by defining the candidate's image.

Sophocleus by nature is a congenial man whose background on the County Council revolved around constituent service. But Pivec takes credit for recognizing these traits and marketing him as a man of the people.

"I had to pitch him just like you pitch a car," Pivec said. "And let's face it, he isn't John F. Kennedy. He doesn't have charisma, with all the women loving him. He's a balding, 300-pound man with sagging wrinkles. I had to glorify him as the nice man he is."

Pivec said he knew the first time he put Sophocleus in front of a camera that letting the candidate speak for himself wasn't the answer. "It was nothing. He was so conservative. I wanted him to shout, 'Rah! Rah! Vote for Sophocleus!' He can't do that."

So Pivec let other people do it for him.

He went with Sophocleus to a couple of bull roasts -- including the one that spawned the infamous "cakegate" affair -- and asked for volunteers to say what they liked about Ted. What a half-dozen older people had to say about Sophocleus helping them with their problems was more effective than if Sophocleus had talked about himself, Pivec said.

In fact, Pivec never let Sophocleus talk about himself, even in his few studio sessions. "You and I did it' is one thing. 'I did it' is another," Pivec said.

So, Sophocleus' ad spots are full of "we-isms": "We have worked together." "This is a team effort here." "I am an extension of the people."

Pivec, who boasts of having a knack for recognizing catchy phrases and "sound bites," said he's made 25 different spots from Sophocleus' half-dozen studio sessions.

"If we go into a studio for 1 hours, I might only use five seconds of that tape," Pivec said. "But if I can just get one word or phrase -- it's going to turn somebody on."

Pivec, 56, a big, colorful man with a penchant for huge diamond rings and gold bracelets, used to be a character actor in Baltimore area theaters. He says he wanted to be a salesman from the time he was a kid, but turned to acting first in an effort to battle a severe speech handicap.

He worked as an advertising salesman for the Baltimore Sun and as a broadcaster for WFBR Radio before starting his own business, Pivec Associates Inc. He established a second company, Television & Radio Productions etc., about five years ago.

Now an unabashed Sophocleus supporter, Pivec predicts the Democrat will win by 12,000 votes.

David Almy, Neall's campaign manager, believes Pivec is way off, that Sophocleus' camp has grossly overstated the value of the cable spots. "He's aired over 10,000 commercials, and according to the latest poll he's still behind. Either his message is flawed or the vehicle is flawed," Almy said.

But other politicians disagree.

"When (Sophocleus) talked about cable a year ago, I thought he was wasting his money," said Jimeno, the District 31 senator. "But it's turned out to be his biggest asset."

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