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For John Davies, Passion for PR All Starts with the Creativity

Public affairs firm earns 10 top industry awards, including for Bank of Santa Barbara campaign

All John Davies wanted was to learn from the best. In doing so, he has created one of the most recognized public relation firms in the nation.

“I didn’t concentrate on expanding the business, I wanted to get better by learning from the best (writers and artists),” Davies said.

John Davies
John Davies

Davies Public Affairs is recognized as one of the top 25 national firms by PRWeek, with high-profile clients in 47 states. His firm recently won 10 awards at the 2011 Hermes Creative Awards.

But before Davies established himself in PR, his background traces to journalism.

Davies’ journalistic roots stem back to State University of New York, where he ran the school newspaper for a summer and learned to juggle the editorial and business roles. Davies said the daily paper hadn’t made money in 20 years until he took over as a business manager.

“I loved the writing side and loved the business side, and little did I know I could do both,” he laughed.

Davies moved to Santa Barbara more than 25 years ago, when the economy was recovering from recession and jobs were sparse, similar to today.

After working for a major corporation in Los Angeles, he decided public relations was a better fit and he pursued his own firm. But it was a struggle, he acknowledged.

“I didn’t know how to do the business side but I could handle the creative side,” Davies said.

He said he wasn’t concentrating on expanding his firm; he wanted to hire the best writers and artists and learn. Davies said his initial commercial advertising campaigns in Santa Barbara were “hard and ugly” so he focused more on issue-based management.

“We live in a transparent world and you have to tell the truth well,” Davies said. “You have to tell your story in a persuasive manner and in fewer words than ever before. You have to really vet down the copy and display strong graphics and images that tell a story so people don’t have to work hard to stay with you.”

Davies relies on face-to-face communication to provide his clients with the best service. He travels about 250,000 miles a year to do so.

“When you talk to someone face-to-face for an hour, you get more done than any other means of conversation,” Davies said.

Davies Public Affairs was a $3.5 million company with a staff of 15 people in 2002, and it has since grown to more than 50 employees and is worth more than $12 million today.

Davies is particularly proud of the Hermes awards pertaining to the campaign Davies Public Affairs developed for the The Bank of Santa Barbara.

“The history of banking in this community is that a bank opens four or five branches and a chain comes along and buys it out, but a group of locals bought it away from the big chain to stay a good local bank,” Davies said.

“The whole idea was to show people actual customers who go to a bank that represents the way banking used to be where the president and CEO would meet each customer.”

Five of the Hermes awards the firm received were Platinum Awards for exceptional work in Web site design, brochure design, company branding and publication design for clients across a diverse cross-section of industries, including banking, mining, pharmaceuticals, real estate and crisis management.

Davies has helped clients such as Ty Warner, founder of Ty Inc. and Ty Warner Hotels & Resorts. He helped Warner promote the Four Seasons Resort in Santa Barbara.

“He has had such a vision, he never makes anything bigger but makes it better,” Davies said of Warner, adding that the billionaire has never been comfortable in the spotlight.

Davies’ firm also won a Gold Award for a campaign designed for a nonprofit organization his teenage son and friends founded. Called H4O, or Hands 4 Others,, the organization creates and implements water-treatment systems for developing countries. Davies has helped the group raise $400,000.

The company received two additional Gold Awards for brochure design and Web site design and two Honorable Mentions for brochure design and a TV spot.

But the award Davies is most proud of is the firm’s sixth consecutive Best Agency to Work For. Davies is flexible with his employees and doesn’t undervalue the importance of a good laugh.

“Humor can be a sophisticated ability to enjoy life, especially if you can make fun of yourself,” Davies said.

Jokes aside, what has changed most in the industry from when he started his firm in 1983 is the speed with which information is disseminated, Davies said.

“It’s amazing how things change so fast and how quickly you have to move,” he said. “Also, the massive amount of tools you have to reach people has become more and more important. It means you have to be totally transparent.”

Davies also established Blaze PR, which he said serves as an excellent example of how to stay on top of the social-media game.

“They do an excellent job connecting people when people are looking for something; social media gets people engaged,” he said.

But direct mail and calling still plays an important role. The results Davies gets from those mediums are better than they have been in the last 15 years because so many people have taken to the Web, he said.

“Facebook and email is a great way to track what people are doing and saying, but none of it matters unless you have a good message,” he said.

Davies’ message is simple: hire the right people and the rest will follow.

“When you have the right people, everything works well,” he said. “We have an amazing team.”

Noozhawk staff writer Alex Kacik can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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