When former NBC News international correspondent Charles McLean's phone rang recently, it was a recruitment agency manager asking for advice on hiring a seasoned communications chief for the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The former college anthropology major, and, at the time, the Dilenschneider Group partner, saw the position as a perfect fit - for himself.
"I told [museum president] Ellen Futter I could remember when I was a sophomore in college," he recalls. "I came home at Christmas-time and I had just taken my first anthropology course. I was thinking about majoring in [it]. My mother said, 'What are you going to do, work in a museum?' Here I am years later working in a museum, so you never know how those things come around."
McLean directs messaging strategy for the institute's public offerings and exhibits, and sets the tone for its relationship with its neighbors. He is currently touting the museum as a center of scientific research, in addition to being a destination for history buffs and class trips.
"I tell [friends] there are more than 200 scientists working here, and they say they didn't know that. So there's a really good story," he says.
McLean credits his years at Hill & Knowlton and at the Dilenschneider Group for helping him understand communications strategy. That PR experience aided him when he was director of communications for the World Economic Forum in Geneva in 2000 - an event he called "brain candy" - during a period of rampant anti-globalization protests.
Between college and the start of his PR career at H&K in 1995, McLean spent 15 years as a foreign correspondent for NBC News, covering international crises such as the Persian Gulf and Falklands Islands Wars. He won an Emmy Award for his work as a Hong Kong correspondent during the Tiananmen Square uprising.
McLean witnessed firsthand the media transitioning into an around-the-clock information source when covering the first Persian Gulf War from Saudi Arabia, an experience that was professionally gratifying but personally challenging.
"For a journalist, it was fascinating," he explains. "It was very different from the experience journalists have now in the current Gulf War in that it was a relatively easy [battle]. I got to know Gen. [Norman] Schwarzkopf quite well. I was posted most of the time in Riyadh, so covering Central Command was like my soap opera that I got to cover every day.
"It was probably less fascinating for my wife at home in Johannesburg," adds McLean. "We had a new baby at the time and she was always wondering when I'd be home. It was kind of open-ended. I'd say that I have to ask Gen. Schwarzkopf, since I'm here until it's over."
That type of diligence helped McLean formulate communications strategies at many of his succeeding posts, including for environmental and energy service provider APX, a Dilenschneider client. Tom Lewis, the company's former chairman and CEO, cites McLean's "roll-up-the-sleeves approach" as a key asset.
"He [possesses] great values and he's a straight shooter," adds Lewis. "And we were impressed with his ability to capture a vision for our business. We were building a system for green energy credits - something he had no exposure to - and he instantly got it."
American Museum of Natural History, marcomms SVP
The Dilenschneider Group, partner
Borderless Communications, founder