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What We Do

Political Candidates & Campaigns

What do groundbreaking political upset victories like Jesse Ventura’s, Paul Wellstone’s. John Hickenlooper’s, Ned Lamont’s and Alan Grayson’s have in common? North Woods Advertising, the nation’s preeminent most creatively strategic media consultants.

North Woods has been opening up America’s political system and adding “more voices and more choices” to our elections since 1990. North Woods excels at developing cost-effective communications and communications strategies for challengers to the established political system, especially underdog, third-party and independent candidates.

In fact, North Woods has been called “one of the nation’s foremost authorities on swing voters and independent voters” by The National Journal.

The company has constantly advanced the state-of-the-art in political communications, including broadcast TV and radio, cable TV, print media, direct mail, out-of-home advertising and earned media (PR). North Woods has also been a leader in pioneering effective uses of the internet and social media in politics, from building websites to creating engaging online media strategies and content.

Cause, Non-Profit & Issue Advocacy

North Woods Advertising specializes in taking complex, challenging, and sometimes controversial issues and boiling them down so they’re dead-on relevant to your target audience. Our memorable creative work allows our clients to spend far less than their opponents on media airtime and more time connecting with those who hold the key to change. North Woods has a winning track record of making the emotional connections that lead to meaningful changes in public opinion, whatever the issue.

Commercial Products & Services

We don’t just develop award-winning political campaigns; we have a 30-year track record of successfully marketing to consumers. Whatever the product or service, chances are someone on our staff has experience in and an understanding of the category. North Woods can provide everything from strategic marketing consulting to creation, development and execution of full-scale integrated marketing communications campaigns. We’ve yet to meet the marketing problem we can’t solve.

Who We Are

North Woods Advertising

North Woods Advertising is the nation’s most creative, longest-operating and most unique INDEPENDENT political communications firm.

Founded in 1985 by Minnesota ad agency creative director Bill Hillsman, North Woods has won the highest honors for effectiveness and creativity in marketing communications, with over 100 POLLIE awards (American Association of Political Consultants, an EMMY, and numerous EFFIE awards from the American Marketing Association, including their Grand EFFIE, awarded annually for the country’s single most effective advertising/marketing campaign.)

Among many other unique successes, North Woods’ personnel have been instrumental in the launch of Mall Of America (the nation’s largest enclosed shopping center); the launch of the Minnesota Timberwolves NBA franchise (setting an all-time single-season attendance record); renaming, reviving and strategically positioning the Malt-o-Meal brand for a $1.15 billion acquisition by Post Brands; and directing some of the biggest political upsets in American history.

North Woods Advertising

In 1990, North Woods started a creative revolution in politics which continues to this day. We introduced the importance of the following ideas which were, at the time, radically new to politics and political communications:

  • A focus on and long-time understanding of self-identified Independent voters, the largest swing vote in nearly every campaign
  • The effective use of humor in political ads
  • Voting as an emotional act, not a rational one
  • Customized, cost-effective media strategies and tactics for underfunded, underdog challenger candidates, causes and brands
  • Expanding the electorate by bringing out “unlikely” voters
  • The first true internet-driven, voter self-organized political campaign (Jesse Ventura, 1998)
  • Cost-effective voter targeting
  • Leveraging earned media from attention-getting creative ads and strategies
  • Challenging the transparency, return-on-investment and built-in flaws of online ads and digital strategies

For more information, see our NEWS section

Bill Hillsman is a writer, an expert on Independent voters, a revolutionary strategic thinker, a teacher, and one of the nation’s premier marketing communications and political practitioners. His media consulting firm, North Woods Advertising, is regarded by many as the most unique and creative political communications firm working today.

It’s been said that Hillsman’s motto is more like “what box?” than “think outside the box.”  Slate called Hillsman “the world’s greatest political adman.”  He has worked on successful campaigns ranging from many of the biggest political upsets in American history to the launch of a national talk radio network to electing an accomplished pitcher to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Under his leadership, North Woods Advertising has developed a unique record of success. The agency is the smallest ever to win the American Marketing Association’s Grand EFFIE, awarded annually to the single most effective marketing and advertising campaign in America. Advertising Age has named Hillsman to The Marketing 100, its annual selection of the 100 best marketers in America. North Woods has won numerous awards for creativity in advertising communications and programming, including an EMMY, as well as numerous POLLIE awards, sponsored by the American Association of Political Consultants to honor the country’s best political communications.

Hillsman’s work extends to cause, issue and advocacy communications as well. North Woods has done strategic and creative work on issues pertaining to the environment, universal health care, social security, privacy, tort reform, gay rights, rural voting, clean election legislation, veterans’ issues, instant runoff voting, education reform, and others. His campaigns have pioneered many of the effective uses of the internet in political communications.

Prior to turning his full-time attention to North Woods, Bill was the original founder of Periscope, Inc., Minnesota’s first true integrated marketing communications company, which grew into the largest independent ad agency between the Mississippi river and California.

He is a former resident Fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, the founder of Independent Voters of America, and author of the book Run The Other Way, an exposé of the political consulting industry published by The Free Press/Simon & Schuster.

In addition to his time at Harvard, Bill has taught at the University of Minnesota, Minnesota State Colleges & Universities, and lectured extensively at major universities and colleges of art and design.  Many of North Woods’ campaigns are taught as textbook examples of effective integrated marketing communications on a limited budget.

During the 107th Congress, Bill served as advisor and communications director for independent U.S. Senator Dean Barkley. He has been profiled on ABC News’ Nightline, and in The New York Times Magazine, Newsweek, Advertising Age, ADWEEK, the Los Angeles Times, Washington Monthly, The Christian Science Monitor, and George magazine, among many others.

His commentary, election insights and writings have appeared in The New York Times, the Washington Post, on NBC’s Today Show, National Public Radio, CNN, Hardball, C-SPAN, MSNBC, internationally on the BBC, Japanese and German television and in Spain, Brazil, Italy and other countries, as well as in many documentary films.

Hillsman is a native of Chicago; a graduate of Carleton College and holds a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.