Robert Squier is hot. As the media consultant who masterminded the come-from-behind bid of fried chicken mogul John Y. Brown to become Kentucky's Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Squier is sitting pretty in the close fraternity of political ad-makers. And depending on what role Gerald Rafshoon chooses to play in Jimmy Carter's re-election effort, Squier may wind up as the president's media man for 1980.
"I was a friendly ear for Jerry [Rafshoon] in the last general election," says Squier, who was also one of three people who negotiated for Carter before the debates. Later he produced Carter's election-eve, half-hour broadcast and since then has been called on by the president's men to help handle the press during Middle East talks at Camp David.
"My accountants told me if I continued to work for the White House, I'd go broke at something like the rate of $374 a day," cracks Squier, a 44-year-old Robert Wagner look-alike. He directs The Communications Company from a renovated townhouse on Capitol Hill, and he knows helping the White House today can pay hugh dividends tomorrow.
Ever since he ran the television division of the Democratic National Committee at age 26, Squier has been regarded as the whiz kid for liberal Democratic candidates. His particular specialties in the increasingly sophisticated field of political advertising are hugh, star-studded telethons (one of which he put together for Hubert Humphrey in 1968) and hard-hitting, studio-produced TV spots.
When the former chief of Alabama's Supreme Court, Howell Heflin, was trying to break out of the pollster's cellar to whip Rep. Walter Flowers in the Democratic primary for a Senate seat last year, he turned to Squier.
One quickly produced studio spot featured a baby playing with a toy airplane and toy car on a floor. Behind the child was a silhouette of the Washington skyline. An off-camera voice recited the following:
"Remember when you first started playing with toys? It was the beginning of learning about life. Some members of Congress have forgotten those early lessons.When Congress voted itself more money to travel by car than plane, Walter Flowers took the plane and put the difference in his pocket. But the government caught him and made him give the money back. Maybe Flowers never learned the difference between a car and a plane. Or was it right from wrong? Howell Heflin for the U.S. Senate."
Heflin won. So did Bob Graham, now governor of Florida and another of Squier's candidates who wasn't supposed to win. To set Graham apart from a crowded field of candidates. Squier suggested the candidate work a full day in each of 100 different jobs. The campaign slogan was: "Bob Graham-working for governor." And each of Squier's commercials featured shots of Graham working at jobs such as collecting garbage or herding dairy cows.
"It was a little gimmicky," says one media consultant, who nonetheless grudgingly admires Squier's idea. "And his John Y. Brown Jr. spots looked good. Brown came off as he is, a hard-charging, aggressive, cheerleader-type businessman."
Of course, having Phyllis George as the new bride at his side didn't hurt Brown's campaign either, though Squier says his man would have won anyway. (Squier's high-school-aged son by a first marriage played "My Old Kentucky Home" on the guitar as bridge music for a final, full 10-minute TV spot that wrapped up Brown's $300,000 media blitz.)
Squier grew up in Minnesota, the son of a physicist who helped invent an aircraft automatic pilot. Like his father, young Squier was a competitive swimmer, and he likens his father's advice on how to win a swim meet with the technique necessary to win an election.
"It's easy," Squier says his father told him. "You swim the first length as fast as you can. Then you increase your speed each length." CAPTION: Picture, no caption, By Bill Snead