BEST OF 2008

Campaign Crusader

Yosi Sergant used youth-friendly ideas and instantly iconic artwork to help Barack Obama's grassroots efforts.

By Rosalba Curiel November 24, 2008, 8:00 AM EST

Evolutionary Media Group publicist and former Obama team media advisor Yosi Sergant

Photo: Darius Twin

In February, publicist Yosi Sergant helped launch a campaign movement for Barack Obama that was so successful the promotional material inspired knockoffs, spread virally on social networking sites, and traveled to Europe. Sergant, a publicist with Evolutionary Media Group who had also worked as California media adviser to the Obama team, decided to leave his official campaign post to volunteer his PR services. “I wanted the freedom of developing strategies without submitting them up the ladder,” he says. As a volunteer, Sergant helped promote the candidate through what has become one of the most iconic images associated with the campaign—the Andy Warhol-like Obama graphic by street artist Shepard Fairey.

Art History
: Sergant first talked to Fairey about contributing to the Democratic candidate’s efforts at an Adidas party. The next day Fairey emailed his design, and Sergant went on to deliver the image to his network of media contacts and coordinate the strategic placement of the posters in front of cameras at Obama rallies, as well as in multiple cities to coincide with local primaries. Sergant has tracked several thousand domestic and international media impressions featuring the image, including an appearance on the front page of The New York Times, more than 10 inclusions in The Los Angeles Times, and coverage in magazines that typically refrain from running political news, like Juxtapoz and Urb.

People’s Choice: The public latched on to the image, which began to pop up on social networking sites the day after it debuted at an Oprah Winfrey rally for Obama in February. Sergant fed the viral frenzy by incorporating the design into fund-raisers, turning to companies like Polite in Public to create photo-booth sets featuring the work and giving guests access to downloadable images. T-shirt company Hit & Run created shirts with Fairey’s artwork that went on to blanket Facebook profiles.

Offline, supporters wanted posters, too. “The demand was insatiable,” Sergant says. Sergant and Fairey gave posters to Obama volunteer groups and supporters, but also sold the work, funneling the income into making larger batches. They initially printed 3,500 posters, but soon made more than 300,000, eventually printing 20,000 bike spoke cards and 300,000 stickers as well. Retailer Urban Outfitters approached Fairey for exclusive rights to the T-shirt in the poster’s signature hues and had purchased more than 62,000 units from Fairey’s company, Obey, by September.

The Final Push: Sergant and his team used a portion of the profits from the promotional products to purchase advertising featuring the Obama artwork in four states during the primaries, and 20 in the general election. Sergant also funneled money into producing the Manifest Hope Gallery and the free concert called Unconventional ’08 during the Democratic National Convention. “We easily had 200 media impressions, ranging from the Associated Press to MTV,” says Sergant. “We had to turn away 100 people, including senators.”

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