You knew it was going to be an interesting cycle when, at a Hollywood panel discussion days after the 2008 election, former Seinfeld star Jason Alexander asked Fred Davis how he could "sleep at night" for daring to produce commercials questioning Barack Obama. Davis had just served as John McCain's chief media strategist.
As it turned out, he could sleep quite well.
After bucking the waves in the last two cycles, emerging as one of the few Republican media strategists with a winning record, you'd think what turned out to be the Republican tsunami of 2010 would have provided a clear path for Fred Davis to maintain his winning edge.
But to stay on top, Davis had to negotiate a path that threaded the needle from the meandering of demon sheep to the elevation of "huckster" to the Parthenon of political epitaphs; to pushing a fledging congressional candidate to the national forefront of taking on the president of the United States; making the concept of a nerd cool enough to come out of nowhere and be elected governor, and reviving a 25-year-old ad to capture the angst of the nation grasping to understand its disappointment with a new president.
As the word viral became more associated with the Internet than medicine, Davis pushed the envelope to dominate the viral world of political communication like no other media strategist. He garnered kudos across the media spectrum, with five of Time Magazine's Best Viral Campaign Ads of 2010 and half of Human Events Best Campaign Ads of 2010.
Rick Snyder rode nerd mania to become the first businessman/governor of Michigan since the days of George Romney and John McCain had to shake off the hangover of his Presidential defeat, turning what started out as a tough primary battle into a convincing victory.
And Davis' efforts for the RGA in Ohio ensured that voters knew that Gov. Ted Strickland "didn't get the jobs done," paving the way for Republican John Kasich's takeover of that seat as well. Congressman John Sullivan faced voters for the first time since a well publicized bout with alcoholism and rehab, and convinced them he was back on the job.
Some of his candidates fell short (some by just a handful of votes), but Davis enabled them to cut through the clutter with images of a Rod Blagojevich wig on the Illinois capitol, Tim James bringing some common sense on the use of English in Alabama and Karen Handel attempting to shake up the "good ol' boys" in Georgia. And what campaign cycle is complete without a video of a pompous U.S. Senator morphing into a bulbous blimp?
2008 was the sort of year Republicans hope never to see again. The sad approval rating of President Bush, the 95/5 wrong track/right track direction of our country; then, the world financial collapse just weeks before the election. It proved to be a monumental challenge for much of the GOP.
SPI was in the thick of it. In the summer of 2008, Fred Davis was brought in as Chief Creative Consultant to John McCain's presidential campaign. SPI produced perhaps the most publicized TV spot of the cycle, featuring Barack Obama as "the biggest celebrity in the world," comparing him to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. The spot surpassed one million YouTube views in just 24 hours and instantly changed the national dialogue in that race.
The RNC retained Fred Davis as Creative Director for the 2008 Republican National Convention, which involved every element from the low key set design to the writing, shooting and production of more than 100 high-definition video backgrounds and 24 films. By the end of the convention, John McCain was tied or in the lead on most national polls.
SPI also worked on numerous senate and congressional races, including the successful campaigns of Senators Lamar Alexander, John Cornyn, Jim Inhofe and Congressmen John Sullivan and John Carter.
Lamar Alexander's uplifting "Find the Good" campaign was uncommonly successful, with Lamar taking 65% of the vote, and all but one of Tennessee's 95 counties.
John Cornyn's "Common Sense" campaign was also extremely successful, with John receiving 55% of the vote. His "Big Bad John" video, which debuted at the Texas Republican Convention, was named Best Campaign Video of the Year by Time Magazine.
The admittedly blunt-speaking Senator from Oklahoma, Jim Inhofe, won most of the state's 77 counties. His "hard-headed" and "stubborn" characteristics were turned into positives in his ads, and proved to be a statewide hit.
John Sullivan, U.S. Congressman from Tulsa, was re-elected by an overwhelming majority in trying times. Sullivan was shown in his ads as budget conscious in his personal life as well as his professional life, even sleeping on an air mattress in his D.C. office. Sadly for John, a true story.
What a cycle.
2006 was also a difficult year for Republicans nationwide, but it was a good year for SPI. The firm had major wins with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and all of our congressional candidates, plus the turnaround victory of Tennessee's new U.S. Senator, Bob Corker. SPI was hired to help reinvigorate the Corker campaign a mere five and a half weeks before the general election. Senator Corker's victory was the sole shining light for the national Republican Party in 2006.
A little history.
In 1972 at the age of 19, Fred Davis took over his father's three-man Tulsa, Oklahoma-based public relations firm.
By the time Davis was in his mid-twenties, the firm had grown into Davis & Matos, Inc. with more than 50 employees handling corporate advertising and image development; with offices in the U.S. and Venezuela.
Clients included: Citibank, N.Y., The Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookie Company, Inc., Mako 7-Eleven, U.S. Tobacco Company, HealthMark, Inc., The Farm Credit System and the Associated Funeral Directors Service Corporation, among others.
Davis was drawn into the world of politics in 1994 when, after having moved his business to Los Angeles in the mid 80's and rechristening it as Strategic Perception Inc., he received a call from his uncle, then Oklahoma Congressman James M. Inhofe, to help rescue his campaign for the U.S. Senate. Hired three months prior to the election, when polls showed Inhofe as a 15-point underdog to Congressman Dave McCurdy, Inhofe won the election by 15 points, a 30-point swing in 90 days.
A 30-second television commercial depicting hardened, grizzled convicts taking dancing lessons while wearing pink ballerina tutus won the top "Pollie Award" from the American Association of Political Consultants in Washington, D.C., as best of the year, and the "Best of Show Addy" in the American Association of Advertising Agencies competition.
Suddenly, SPI found itself thrust into the world of politics and its practice grew and developed a reputation for injecting creativity, life and momentum into political campaigns.
Davis plunged deeply into the world of political advertising in 1998, when SPI handled 12 political races, including Paul Coverdell's successful U.S. Senate race in Georgia; gubernatorial races in Georgia, Alabama and Iowa, as well as successful reelection campaigns for U.S. congressional seats in Georgia (Bob Barr and Charlie Norwood).
In 1999, SPI was retained to handle all media/image work for the Quayle 2000 Exploratory Committee, Inc. Davis' work with Dan Quayle was featured in a ten-minute segment of ABC's Good Morning America, with George Stephanopoulos.
In the 2000 cycle, SPI handled media development for two U.S. Senate races and Tom Gallagher's race for Treasurer/Insurance Commissioner in Florida, which Gallagher won with more than 60 percent of the vote.
SPI handled 14 political races in the 2002 cycle, winning 12, including the stunning upset victory of Sonny Perdue in Georgia, the first Republican governor in that state in 135 years.
Other clients that cycle included the U.S. Senate campaigns of Elizabeth Dole and Jim Inhofe, work for the National Republican Senatorial Committee in New Jersey, Iowa and Missouri, the gubernatorial campaign of Tim James in Alabama (SPI had previously handled the gubernatorial race of Governor Fob James, Tim's father), U.S. congressional races for Charlie Norwood, Max Burns (another major upset victory) and Bob Barr in Georgia and Tom Gallagher's race for chief financial officer of Florida.
SPI again received top honors from the American Association of Political Consultants, winning four television "Pollies." Davis' work on the Perdue for Governor campaign was featured in the cover story of Campaigns & Elections magazine in June of 2003.
A year later, SPI helped guide Ernie Fletcher to victory as the first Republican Governor of Kentucky in more than 30 years.
With corporate offices in a landmark structure in the Hollywood Hills and satellite offices in Washington, DC, Austin, TX and Tulsa, OK, SPI continues to be involved in corporate imaging, as well.
Over the years, SPI's corporate client list has included ARCO, Doral Hotels, Loews Corporation, the Vail Athletic Club, Heston Oil, COX Communications, B.U.M. Equipment, Giorgio Beverly Hills, Qorval LLC, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, Insight Communications, Digitech Systems, Aladdin Bail Bonds, Goodyear Farm Tires, Alton Healthcare, Titan International, PhRMA, Flying Tigers, Kirkland & Ellis, and Health-Mor Industries.
Davis lives in Hollywood and Santa Barbara, CA. He served two years as chairman of the southern California board of JA Worldwide (formerly Junior Achievement), and is a former member of their national board of directors. He serves on the national board of the Dream Foundation.
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