It was me wot won it (with a little help from Tony)

Trevor Beattie, Labour's advertising campaign boss, recalls the 'magic moment' inside No 10 when he sold the Thatcher/Hague poster to Tony Blair
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The Independent Online

We'd known exactly what we were going to do for the campaign all along. We might have looked as though we were making it up as we went along, as though we were reacting to certain situations, but the majority of it was written and ready to go.It was always a combination of attack and positive news ­ a warning to voters not to make a mistake and also to tell them what we'd done. But the interesting thing is how the media reacted ­ I refused to talk to them for a month because I didn't want to blur the issue.

When we did the "thank you" campaign, we were attacked in the press, which said it was soft, generic, a bit meek; and then you go on the attack, and the press says, "Oh, that's a bit negative." Does anyone know a third way? The thrust of the campaign had to be about getting the buggers out there to vote, and I'd like to think that message got through, especially in the later stages; if that message hadn't got out, God knows what the turn-out would have been.

Then there was that nonsense question from Paxman, the question of his career: "Tony, do you think too many people will vote for you?" Yeah, yeah, we wanted to try to stop some of them voting for us.

Putting Blair in front of the crowds live, "Blair unplugged" ­ I would like to have done that more; that was my plan; I wanted him to do more of that, and that is what he did in the second half of the campaign. And in doing so, he grew and became more statesman-like and more mature and he looked like the Prime Minister of this country.

But the advertising was never to promote Tony; the advertising was to tell everyone what we thought the election was about in a snapshot.

I became very dismayed by the media, which became victims of their own even-handedness. I think the reason people say all politicians are the same is that broadcast media make them the same. They have a Conservative saying something outrageous for 12 seconds, Labour countering it and the Lib Dems disagreeing with both of them, and I think you end up with everyone sounding the same.

I would rather some Tory was allowed to ramble on for 20 minutes, and we'd answer it another day, because that's life: it isn't divided into three boxes. When you have a row in the pub about politics, everyone doesn't get an equal say. But there's this strict, unnatural equilibrium that the BBC (and Sky) tries to impose.

It's funny: they kept telling me they would be the client from hell, and they ain't ­ they're the best, most intuitive client I've ever worked with. They kept saying, "Oh, you're going to hate us, Trevor, and we'll apologise in advance because we're really difficult to work with." They know what they want. Every piece of work we wrote ran, and you can't say that about a lot of clients.

They were totally on board ­ the only debate was over how many different messages we ran. We had the icon (Hague with Thatcher hair) that was bought straight away ­ they knew it was genuine political satire. No one ever calls "Labour isn't working" a negative campaign; they call it a great, famous poster; they don't say, "What a horribly negative ad." I don't think this is a horribly negative ad; I think it's a fact. If you don't vote Labour, you get this lot, fact. You get this bloke, who is the heir to this woman. That's a political fact of life ­ it's not nasty.

The greatest moment of my career was presenting ­ in No 10, back in January, in a room that used to be Margaret Thatcher's office and is now a meeting-room ­ to a Labour Prime Minister, work that would help him win a second term, and saying, "We think we've developed the icon of the whole election." There was no debate, except what message to put with it. We said to Tony, "We've got it", and he said, "That will run." That was a magic moment.

Blair is a great absorber of information. When we did a party political broadcast, he knew exactly what we were trying to do. We worked on the scripts together; he'd be getting his make-up done, and I'd say, "Right, we've made some changes. Here's the script ­ have a look." And he'd say, "No, I've got it."

When we were doing it, I wanted to capture some unguarded moments, but there weren't any; he doesn't do out-takes. He's polished; he does the job. If I said, "Here's how the campaign is going to pan out ­ we're going to go mainly on posters; we're going to use strategic ad vans; we're going to creep up behind Michael Portillo", he got it.

I had total access to Blair, but there weren't many presentations of the work, because there didn't have to be. He'd see it and say, "Don't show me that again; that's done." If only all meetings were that simple.

Trevor Beattie is chairman of TBWA, Labour's election campaign advertising agency. He was talking to Jade Garrett