Friday, January 11, 2008

Lanny Wiles, Legendary Advance Man, Does 10 & 1/2 Questions

There is advance. And then there is Lanny Wiles.

Just ask any political operative or Gang of 500 member worth his or her salt.

Mr. Wiles was gracious enough to sit down with us earlier in the week in New Hampshire to answer our questions. He currently works as a "volunteer" for the McCain campaign.

As always, our interview is run in its entirety and without any extra commentary.


Q: You assist the McCain campaign with advance, what does that mean and what are your day-to-day responsibilities for the campaign?

A: Well, I’m a volunteer for the campaign. You could say that I’m a volunteer with institutional memory. I like to think of myself as a Mr. Fix It. I look at events, read between the lines of the events and then go out and help with the event.

Q: What makes a good advance man (or woman)?

A: There are different segments of doing advance. There are some people who are fantastic crowd raisers, which has always been a responsibility of advance, especially as you get closer to the general election. And there are those who are just really super at logistics.

I like to think that I am really good at logistics and that I also understand the photo, the shot of the day, which supports the campaign’s message. If people can’t see it then people don’t know that it has happened.

The news cycles have changed, but I used to judge my work by the network’s three nightly newscasts. If you got ABC, CBS and NBC to run your event at the top of the newscast and if you got the front page, above-the-fold photo in the newspaper the next day, those can’t be bought. You’re probably making the campaign one to two million dollars a day in earned media. And that’s the job.

When you’re trying to get a photo that supports your day you pick out your best event of the day and you help orchestrate that photo.

I used to take the producers of the networks out, this is when I worked at the White House, and I would say to them, “Ok guys, what works best for you all?” If you know the shot that they want then it’s easy logistically to give them that shot. Which almost guarantees that you will get the coverage that you want.

Q: How did you get into the campaign business?

A: I was a volunteer motorcade driver for Ed Meese. They liked me and we just moved on from there.

Q: How has technology (Blackberries, cell-phones, email etc.) changed the business?

A: I think the best example I could give you is that back in 1970s we would write schedules out long hand, then type the schedule up and then I would go down to the Secret Service office and I would qwip the schedule back to Washington. The old machines took 3 to 4 minutes a page, and when you had a 20-page schedule you spent a hell of a lot of time with schedules.

There was no Fed-Ex back then. Or cell phones. Or email.

Q: What’s a funny campaign story that you can share?

A: During the Reagan transition in California President-elect Reagan wanted to buy some exercise equipment. So he disappeared with a few Secret Service without telling anyone. Meanwhile, I’m sitting at this stoplight by the house when all of a sudden a blue LTD pulls up next to me, the window comes down and Reagan is sitting there waving and smiling at me (noted: Lanny’s impersonation of the President-elect waving is what makes the story).

Q: What is the most nerve-wracking work moment you have ever had?

A: I was in Austin Texas the day Reagan was shot. I was down there with Vice-President Bush who was addressing the Texas Legislature. After Reagan was shot my instructions came from the White House - take everyone off the plane, put the Vice President on and you can leave everyone else on the ground. That was nerve wracking. You’re looking at the worst. We flew back to Washington, taxied into a hanger at Andrews and I went straight to the hospital.

Q: We hear you are a BBQ connoisseur, is that true and where is the best BBQ you have ever tasted?

A: I like to think that I am a BBQ connoisseur. And I would have to say that Ralph’s BBQ at mile marker 173 in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina probably has the best BBQ. I get their pulled pork sandwiches and put coleslaw on top.

Q: What do you do when you are not on the campaign trail?

A: I’m a lobbyist and I represent really tough clients like the PGA Tour.

Q: If you could have dinner with three people (dead or alive) who would they be?

A: I’d like to have dinner with Ronald Reagan again. I think it would be nice to have dinner with Gandhi. And Dwight Eisenhower.

Q: What’s the best bar in the world to get a drink in?

A: It all depends on your wallet. Harry’s Bar at The Waldorf Astoria in New York City is world famous. Of course, there is nothing better than a cold Bud from the B&D Quick Stop in North Carolina

Q: In the spirit of bi-partisanship, say something nice about another staffer.

A: Ron Walker, who was with Nixon, is a terrific guy. His great story was when President Nixon was coming back from China and Ron looked through the camera at the airport and saw this bulldozer in the shot so he sent someone racing across the airport, cranked up the bulldozer and the last time anyone saw that bulldozer it was going into the Pacific Ocean.