A Q&A With One of Nashville’s Most Admired CEOs

By Tom Hayden

As the son of a World War II fighter pilot, MP&F’s David Fox has been on a mission of service throughout his professional career and personal life.

His devotion to service has led him to explore how he could best undertake his calling.

After graduating from Vanderbilt University in 1972 amid the backdrop of the Vietnam War, the national political conventions and Watergate, he became a journalist working at The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal, Nashville Banner and United Press International.

He also wrote three published, nonfiction books and numerous magazine articles, and later embarked on a career as a public relations executive. David has counseled a number of high-profile clients and serves on the boards of several local nonprofit organizations.

In recognition of his longstanding leadership in the community and at MP&F Strategic Communications, where he recently served as managing partner, David has been named one of the most admired CEOs for 2019 by the Nashville Business Journal. He was chosen by a number of his peers.  

To mark the occasion, below we have a brief Q&A with David.

Where did the interest in journalism, politics and professional communications come from?

I was an English major, so I loved to write. I got interested in journalism and politics the summer of 1972, watching the political conventions until the wee hours that summer and then starting my career as a reporter just as Watergate was unfolding. Journalism felt like a higher calling then, and it still does today. The media are protected in our Bill of Rights for a reason. They are essential to the successful execution of a ‘government by the people,’ and the health of our news organizations, just as the health of our government agencies, should be extremely important to all of us. They need to be protected.

What do you feel has led you to the professional success you’ve experienced?

There’s a saying, ‘Don’t go into business with your friends.’ That’s good advice. Friendships complicate business. It’s messy and time-consuming and difficult to maintain a friendship with a business partner. Having said that, any success I’ve achieved in business is due to the fact that my friends and I ignored that advice. Mark McNeely, Mike Pigott, Katy Varney, Keith Miles, Alice Chapman, Jennifer Brantley. Friends and partners all.

What are your thoughts on the current state of public relations agencies?

Agencies have to be asking themselves every day, ‘What business are we in?’ We’re all story tellers, so getting the message right is Job 1. But the message delivery infrastructure is in a constant state of change. Staying current with social media channels and on top of tech trends is paramount. For the last several years, MP&F has been in the process of recalibrating its business model – expanding the services we offer to include integrated marketing, website design, advertising, media buying and data analytics, in addition to our core PR services, and the results have been beyond gratifying. But it’s all in support of having a good story to tell for clients.

What was your experience like as the managing partner of an agency?

I loved it. Mark McNeely ran this company for many years, and I never fully understood what we had created at MP&F until I took over and went down into the boiler room with the admin team. What an education. We have a company with 80-plus people, and so many things have to work seamlessly and simultaneously to keep that motor running. We have a brilliant team of communicators at MP&F; but our administrative staff is every bit as brilliant, and I look forward to working with our new managing partner Alice Chapman to maintain the forward momentum of our business.

As the communications industry continues to change, what advice would you give to those just starting out on their career?

Always be honest. Make it your business to know more about what’s happening in the news than anybody you know. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. Remember that everything works better when your focus is on serving others. And be patient. Things never happen as quickly as we want them to; but if you hang in there, you will be rewarded.