PROFILE: Lone Star's Richards brings her savvy to the Big Apple

Few Texas politicians love the Big Apple. But few possess the style and PR savvy to thrive there. Ann Richards does, and that's why PSI tapped her to help open its New York office.

Few Texas politicians love the Big Apple. But few possess the style and PR savvy to thrive there. Ann Richards does, and that's why PSI tapped her to help open its New York office.

Dorothy Ann Willis' parents moved from tiny Lakeview, TX to Waco just in time for their only child to start high school. Determined to make her mark in the big city, Texas' future governor dropped the "Dorothy" and introduced herself at freshman orientation. Late last year, Ann Richards gave the Big Apple the same treatment on behalf of her new employer, Austin-based Public Strategies (PSI). "I have a lot of good friends in New York, and I'm working to increase that," says Richards. "Almost anyone will take my calls out of curiosity, if nothing else." Her decision to join PSI surprised many, but Richards says she'd been looking to spend time in New York for years. Old friend Jack Martin offered her a challenge she couldn't refuse. "We knew she was perfect to help us build a high profile quickly in New York," says Martin, PSI's founder and chairman. Richards first met Martin when he was in his 20s and working on John Hill's ill-fated gubernatorial campaign. "I think you can tell a comer," Richards says of the man who would later lend a hand in her own political races. Her love for New York might be unlikely for a Texas politician, but it's well reciprocated, notes Richards' former gubernatorial press secretary Bill Cryer, now corporate communications VP at Samsung Austin Semiconductor. "I recall walking out of a theater with her [in Manhattan]," remembers Cryer. "They had to get a cop to handle the crowd." New York's elite jostled to meet the charming Texan at a welcome party co-hosted by New York Post gossip columnist Liz Smith in December. In her article on the event, Smith lauded PSI for opening an office in post-9/11 New York, while others abandoned the city. Outsiders might see PSI's staff as a strange mix. The roster includes Richards and Mark McKinnon, who worked on her first gubernatorial bid, but later became media director for George W. Bush's presidential campaign. Folks from both parties populate PSI, and Richards sees a great advantage in having McKinnon as an ally. "You're not going to send me to the White House," Richards admits. "Mark simply broadens our reach." Austin political consultant George Shipley agrees Richards is no yellow-dog Democrat (someone who'd vote for a "yeller dawg" if it ran as a Democrat): she now counts many Republicans as friends. Richards even takes it easy on her old foe George W. Bush, who she once said was "born with a silver foot in his mouth." "I'm not a credible source on some office holders, and I'm not out to pick a fight," she now proclaims. In New York, Richards espouses Martin's vision - providing high-level communication counsel, while respecting the public's ability to affect business. Applying any one label to PSI wouldn't adequately describe the firm, claims Richards, who maintains her lobbyist's registration in Texas, "just in case." Helping clients reach goals might require several different communication approaches, she explains. "Corporate America needs to take its PR activities out of the silos inside their own organizations," Richards laments, describing how IR, PR, and government affairs pros rarely speak in some organizations. Many companies haven't caught up to public demand for clearer disclosure about corporate governance, says Richards. She sees great opportunity in this new age of scrutiny for PSI's broad, systemic approach to communication. Her New York goal is to make PSI's five-person office a profitable launch pad to Europe, where she says the firm now is exploring several options. "If I do that by the end of the year, I will have been a great success," she says. Richards still spends about half her time in Austin, makes speeches across the US, and stumps for candidates she likes. She's also co-authoring a book on her experience with osteoporosis with Dr. Sydney Bonnick. The book's title, I'm Not Slowing Down, aptly describes her. She paraphrases a line from John Lennon's "Beautiful Boy" ("Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans") in describing her attitude toward aging: "You reach a point when you don't have to plan. This is it." At a time when most contemplate retirement, Shipley believes Richards is coming into her own. A PR thread runs through her life, from high school debate titles to teaching TV interview skills at women's seminars to interviews on Larry King Live. "Her wit conceals a very shrewd sense of PR and communications," Shipley says. "I think she's found her niche in many ways." After her rousing speech at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, Richards wrote these opening words in an autobiographical book co-authored with Peter Knobler: "If my mama in Waco can't understand what I'm talking about, no one else can." As that star-making speech and her warm welcome in the really big city prove, that communication philosophy serves her just as well in New York as it does in Texas. ANN RICHARDS 1954 Earns BA in speech from Baylor University. Actively supports Democratic candidates and issues over the next 20 years 1975 Elected Travis County Commissioner (Austin). Over next few years, she serves on President Carter's Advisory Committee for Women, and is a top ERA advocate 1982-1992 Elected Texas state treasurer in 1982, delivers keynote address to Democratic National Convention (DNC) in 1988, elected governor of Texas in 1990, and is named chairwoman of the DNC in 1992 1994 Defeated in gubernatorial reelection bid by George W. Bush. Becomes senior advisor to DC law firm Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson & Hand 2001 Joins Austin-based Public Strategies as senior advisor to open its New York office

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