It's very cold. As temperatures hit -20c I land in Boston and drive to New Hampshire to work for senator John Kerry's presidential campaign.
First stop is election HQ in Manchester. It's 7.30pm when I walk through the door and I'm wondering how different this campaign is going to be compared to vice-president Al Gore's in 2000.
In 2000 I managed the foreign media for the vice-president. Starting in Iowa and then New Hampshire I went on to work at the Convention in Los Angeles finishing up at Gore's national HQ in Nashville. It was on that fateful night in November that I obtained the unique distinction of telling the world's media we'd conceded the election - only to announce 20 minutes later that we'd changed our minds!
The two most potent tools we'll use in this election will be targeted retail (one-to-one) communication plus carefully managed media exposure to reach a mass audience. The complexities of the former amaze me. Retail communications in this campaign opened my eyes to the future.
Automated presidential messages
The Americans have always been in the forefront of this - in 2000 they pioneered the 30-second automated voice message from the candidate: 'Hi Mrs Jones this is the vice-president.
I'd just like you to know on the issue of jobs I think...'
Thousands of new automated messages would go out each night. At 6.45pm the phone rings at the house of the Baker family in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
When Mrs Baker picks it up she hears: 'Good evening this is John Kerry.
I'd like to share my views on some of the issues facing America. If you are interested in our environment, please press one now, for jobs press two, the Iraq war press three, healthcare four, education five.'
Mrs Baker, with two children in high school, presses five and listens to the senator's plans on education.
When the message is finished Mrs Baker is asked if she will be voting for the senator - one for 'yes', two for 'no,' three for 'undecided'.
Next door the Goodhart family have a son in the army so they press three.
Four doors away the Lewis's are in Greenpeace so they hit one. And so it goes on across New Hampshire. A central computer logs and analyses the calls. By the next morning we know the Baker family is interested in education and hasn't yet decided who to vote for - more work to be done there.
The Goodharts on the other hand are against the Iraq war and are voting Kerry. By mid-morning, 10,000 calls have been analysed and we know who's with us, who's against and who the important 'undecideds' are. They'll receive follow-up calls from campaign volunteers.
With so many networks and press outlets, media management in the US is a highly professional business. My first (and every) day in New Hampshire begins with a 7.30am press briefing and ends with an 11pm round up. On day one I'm handed a foreign media file that is surprisingly thin. But the next we win in Iowa by 20 points and the campaign is about to change - big time.
By the time the Iowa bounce hits New Hampshire, it's a tidal wave of support that propels Kerry into the lead in all the polls.
Consequently, the press descend on the HQ in constantly increasing numbers.
Foreign crews abound - Danish, Polish, Portuguese, Paraguayan, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, South African and every country in the EU, all wanting to interview the senator. They all get the same response: not a hope in hell. The media has to settle for me explaining how it all works - God knows what sense they made of my Welsh accent on Korean radio.
Everyone in New England is into ice hockey and Kerry is an accomplished player. What better way to show he is more than just a politician than to have him play an exhibition game with one of the most famous teams in the land, the Boston Bruins.
We place 40 TV crews in order of priority around the half-way line, with a further 20 photographers rotated into the penalty box throughout the game. Sixty foreign media crews are allowed entry only after they agree to a camera pool. The senator gives an interview from the ice to ESPN, America's foremost sports channel.
Victory party is key PR event
But the single most important PR event is the victory party on New Hampshire primary election night. I'm asked to organise and manage the press riser (podium) inside the hall from where the senator will speak.
The riser is 70 feet long, three tiers high. On it will be 52 TV networks, a dozen radio stations as well as photographers and print media. The BBC is the only international crew allowed inside. One hundred domestic and foreign journalists are refused entry.
This event is no longer just about the voters in New England. It is designed to reach out to the rest of the USA, especially those primaries due the following week. So prime spots have to be given to the networks from the next primary states.
The New England networks also need to be accessible in case the afternoon exit polls are not good and we need to make a last minute push for votes.
All media are told to set up at 3pm, to go live by 5pm.
At 5.30pm word comes down from the boiler room that the exit polls are showing the race is tight. A decision is made to put the senator live in front of as many local networks as possible for the 6pm news run.
It is at this point that riser planning pays off. From 5.45pm to 6.15pm we manage to shoot live interviews straight off the riser with the six TV networks broadcasting into New England. One final appeal to get out the vote.
At 8pm the polls close. At 8.10 the exit polls show a Kerry victory and at 8.30 the networks call it - John Kerry has pulled off another stunning victory with the biggest vote ever in a competitive New Hampshire primary.
The automated phone calls have done their job.
OTHER DEMOCRATS' PR STAFF
- Wesley Clark - former general and Vietnam war veteran PR: Matt Bennett (former Clinton strategist), Chris Lehane (former Kerry and Gore adviser) and Mark Fabiani (former Gore adviser)
- Howard Dean - former governor of Vermont PR: Jon Haber (former Fleishman-Hillard SV-P)
- John Edwards - Lawyer and North Carolina senator PR: Jen Palmieri
- Dennis Kucinich - Ohio Congressman PR: Jeff Cohen (founder of media watch group FAIR) and David Swanson - Al Sharpton - New York community leader and religious minister PR: Roger Stone (former Nixon and Reagan adviser) and Charles Halloran.