PROFILE: Capps' energy propels DFW's profile to new heights

It may have taken 13 jobs in 22 years, but Ken Capps seems to have finally found his ultimate career path as he leads DFW's public affairs efforts in a better direction.

It may have taken 13 jobs in 22 years, but Ken Capps seems to have finally found his ultimate career path as he leads DFW's public affairs efforts in a better direction.

Ken Capps is a self-diagnosed news junky. Because of that addiction, he couldn't resist the call from Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) on September 11. DFW's public affairs VP job was vacant for months, as executives took their time searching for the right person, says senior EVP Kevin Cox, the number-two person at the airport, and Capps' boss. The terrorist attacks suddenly made filling the position urgent. "We had no more time to negotiate," Cox says. HR called Capps, who had been offered the job, but hadn't yet accepted it. "Ken, to his credit, jumped in," Cox says. "From the moment he stepped foot in here, he hasn't stopped." Capps aggressively and immodestly promotes the world's third largest airport. "DFW is a business story when it comes to airlines and all their economic woes. It's a security story with the new Transportation Safety Administration taking over here. We're also a government story and an environmental one," Capps says. "This is the closest I've been to the news business since I left it in 1993. I get calls every day and night." "He's a great addition for the airport, especially now that all US airports need to communicate more than ever," says Ken Luce, president of Weber Shandwick Worldwide's Southwest office, which represents American Airlines. Recently, Capps and his four-person staff provided media relations support as DFW played a prominent role in successfully urging Congress to push back the baggage-screening deadline. Industry groups, such as the Airport Alliance, and 142 other airports participated in the push. And on the lighter side, Capps grabbed national media attention for revamped parking services by bringing in a dozen Elvis impersonators and arranging for pink cars to park free for a week. But Capps' career-defining moment came on his first day at DFW. The airport's management team met hourly on September 11, and Capps organized four or five major press conferences, Cox recalls. "Some of the people I talked to that morning barely knew me," Capps says. "My message was, 'I know I'm the new guy. There's a lot we can't say. Let's figure out what we can say, and say it." At press conferences, Capps talked about plans for getting planes on the ground and for taking care of displaced passengers. Administration authorized hundreds of employees to leave their desks and go into the terminals to help travelers find food, lodging, and transportation. No one was left stranded at the airport. The volunteer group formed that day has grown, and will help passengers during the holidays, Capps says. Once things settled down a bit, Capps focused on bolstering communications processes at the airport, improving the website, and hiring a PR firm. Nineteen firms battled for the two-year, $480,000 contract that ultimately went to Ackermann PR. Capps says he found a few of the firms' lack of preparation appalling. "Some of them had done absolutely no homework on us," he says. "They had cut and pasted really bad documents. One had the name of another company in there." Ackermann has helped rewrite DFW's communication plan, produced a Spanish-language newsletter, and is helping with media relations over the holidays. Friends and associates agree that Capps may not have an off switch. "I've seen this consistent drive and ambition since he was a student at the University of Texas (UT)," says long-time Austin broadcaster Neal Spelce, who worked with Capps on his first job at KTBC, then the city's CBS affiliate. "He's had to work all his life. Nothing has been given to him." Capps says he draws motivation and inspiration from the memory of his father, who died when Capps was just 10. His proudest moment came in May 2001, when he received the Outstanding Young Texas Ex award at UT. "I got to stand on the stage, with my mom in the audience, and thank my dad and mom," he recalls. When not at work, Capps likes to play golf, attend UT football games, and raise money for his alma mater (his son's name is Austin). Professionally, Capps has had 13 jobs in the last 22 years, his longest tenure being an eight-year run as Austin bureau chief for Dallas' KDFW-TV. "I'm not a person who likes to job hop, but I've been offered some very good opportunities," Capps says. "When I thought it was a good move for myself and my family, I made it." As a reporter, Capps covered everything from the Challenger crash to the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco. "After 15 years, there was no new story to cover," he says. "I was just bored." The transition to PR proved difficult at first. "A lot of people think broadcast reporters aren't deep," he laments. His PR career took him through agencies, government jobs, and the corporate world, including four years at EDS. Capps' lucky number may just be 13. "My gut was right that day," he says of his decision to initially go to the airport. "DFW is my favorite job. It's a public sector job with a private-sector attitude. That's what I like. I'm not a good bureaucrat, and I'm proud of that." --------- Ken Capps 1978-1993 Broadcast reporter for various news outlets, spending the most time at then-CBS affiliate KTBC in Austin, TX 1982-1983 Earns bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin (1982), and a master's from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism (1983) 1993 Begins PR career, promoting AmeriFest, sponsored by the Dallas Commission for International Cultural Affairs 1996-2000 Joins Electronic Data System's internal comms staff after stints at Dallas' Levenson & Hill and the TX Dept. of Commerce 2000-2001 Leads PR efforts as a VP in Cunningham's Austin office, and works briefly for Computer Sciences and San Jose start-up Netigy 2001-present Public affairs VP, Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport

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