Strategic Perception, Inc.

Wall Street Journal

The Republicans' Ad Man in St. Paul

Published: SEPTEMBER 2, 2008

Hollywood ad man Fred Davis's creative staff is editing video this week in an 8 x 10 foot room cubicle featuring a cow skull over the door, a deer head on the wall, an oriental rug and five people working around the clock.

One hint politics may be at play is the poster of Barack Obama on the wall smoking a cigarette—and plans to add big photos of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Another is that editing room sits backstage at the Republican National Convention at the Xcell Energy Center here in St. Paul, Minnesota.

As Republicans cope with the impact of Hurricane Gustav, Mr. Davis, whose Hollywood shop Strategic Perception now does now does most of the ads for Republican John McCain's campaign—including one recent ad featuring pictures of Ms. Hilton and Ms. Spears—has been tapped as the convention's creative director.

In that role the veteran GOP admaker known for producing political ads with a lighter twist is restaging the convention. He's producing convention videos and re-editing them again and again as Hurricane Gustav prompts party leaders to rewrite convention plans.

On Monday he was planning an interview of VP candidate Governor Sarah Palin, and a voiceover by actor Jon Voight for a film to introduce to Ms. Palin's expected Wednesday night acceptance speech. But plans are in flux for that speech and Mr. McCain's expected presidential acceptance speech Thursday.

Some of the re-editing reflects the problems of using video produced before the convention and the need to reflect the hurricane. Other edits are part of the normal rush to put finishing touches on elements of a big event.

Mr. Davis was found commanding a small editing room, which had as many as 10 people working at the same time.

"We are right behind the stage where everybody wears suits and ties," he said Monday. "Needless to say nobody in my group wears suits and ties."

He said the wall hangings were intended "to make it look a little more creative" while the oriental rug was to give the room a touch of elegance.

"It's tiny, but classy," he said.

Mr. Davis said Gustav has brought "dramatic' changes in convention plans.

"We've got these live remotes that were heavily produced. They've gone bye bye," he said. "We had HD satellite trucks all over the country. They were of no use."

"Everything has changed so much. I still can't tell you where John McCain will be when he gives his convention speech. He might be right here or he might be in Texas. He might be in Louisiana. We just don't know yet."

The hurricane-related changes accentuated the problem of getting the convention assignment just 60 days ago and the resulting rush to produce videos.

Mr. Davis said his aim for the convention is to make sure that viewers know that John McCain understands the nation is in trouble "and we have a convention that reflects the times.

"It's low key and serious, just like John McCain is," Mr. Davis said. "Like what this country needs. Do you want a flashy celebrity dude president or do you want somebody low key who gets the job done whose and tough and understands what things are like?" he said.