A political background isn't essential in PR, but it certainly
doesn't hurt. Same goes for having friends in high places. After all,
both have served Ken Luce well. Sherri Deatherage Green reports.
Ken Luce never has lived more than five miles from his childhood home.
He's worked in the same office since 1996. But the more things stay the
same, the more they change for Luce - like the sign on his door. Weber
Shandwick Worldwide replaced BSMG, which replaced Temerlin McClain.
As letterhead logo succeeded letterhead logo, Luce and nine steadfast
employees plunged on with business as usual. "There's never been a fear
factor," says the president of WSW South-west. "They know if anything
was going to change, it would come from me first."
Luce also kept clients well informed through the name changes, says Toby
Purdy, marketing and business development SVP for Morningstar Foods, a
division of Suiza Foods. "Suiza was built on 24 acquisitions, so we
understand the dynamics of that," Purdy said the week Morningstar's
parent company merged with Dean Foods.
"Ken has been able to survive and prosper in what could have been a very
difficult time in a remote office in Texas for an individual who didn't
have a long heritage with the BSMG leadership," says former coworker and
current competitor Mike Lake, managing director of Burson-Marsteller's
Texas operation. "I believe Ken's political background has served him
Luce comes by his political talent honestly. His father, attorney Tom
Luce, is perhaps Texas' most influential political figure never elected
to office. The elder Luce was Ross Perot's lawyer, he led pushes for
antidrug and education reform laws, and he also mounted an unsuccessful
The younger Luce took a few detours, however, on the road to politics
and PR. He first become a leasing agent in Texas' red-hot, mid-'80s
real-estate market. He became national marketing VP at the Paragon
Group, and says skills learned in real estate - making cold calls,
learning clients' businesses, and sealing deals - serve him well in
But talents honed in politics - writing, public speaking, and thinking
fast - probably serve him better. "I still wish I could take every
beginner in the PR business and make them work on a political campaign,"
Even if Texas real estate hadn't slowed down, Luce says he would have
left to work on his father's 1990 campaign. "It was a good time for him
and I to work on something where we were more equal than we would have
been in any other situation," Luce recalls.
Although his dad lost the primary to Clayton Williams, who lost to
Democrat Ann Richards, Luce helped candidate Rick Perry win the state
agricultural commissioner's post that year. Later, Perry became
lieutenant governor, and took over the state's top political office when
George W. Bush moved to Washington. Although the Perrys are godparents
to one of his three sons, Luce claims that few people associate him with
the Texas governor, and he wouldn't exploit the friendship anyway.
Luce joined the PR department of Dallas' Temerlin McClain as sports
marketing director in 1996, and two years later, the PR branch split off
to become part of BSMG.
"We took a chance on him when we changed the complexion of the office,"
recalls Barbara Molotsky, president and COO of WSW's central region.
BSMG put Luce in charge of turning a group that served local advertising
clients into a strong regional outpost with more substantial accounts.
"He really didn't have a long history in the business, but he's such a
great manager and a great leader that he rallied everybody ... and
started bringing in new business."
The gamble paid off. The Dallas office built specialties in visual
communications and cyber PR, and fostered strong relationships with
clients like Sprint and American Airlines. "We were having lunch with
the American Airlines client, and (Ken) offered to baby-sit his
children," Molotsky marvels. "That's the ultimate in client
In fact, both American's corporate communications VP Tim Doke and WSW
chairman Jack Leslie called Luce immediately after jets crashed into the
World Trade Center on September 11. "The American account is the
professional challenge of a lifetime," says Luce, who expects to focus
this year on "getting people flying again."
Luce was the logical choice to lead Texas operations after the
Interpublic-True North merger because his 36-person Dallas office was
much larger than WSW's Houston branch or Austin's Weber Group outpost.
Houston's once-strong Shandwick office gradually shrank from more than
40 staff to only five after losing the Compaq account in 1999.
Overall, Luce now supervises more than 50 staffers, including one in
Denver. He predicted the Southwest group would bill more than $9.5 million in 2001. "Each merger has been beneficial not only for our
people, but for our clients," says Luce, who found opportunities in each
name change to expand his agency's geographic reach.
Yet Luce's strong roots in and proclaimed love for Dallas may be the
best thing WSW has going for it in Texas. Among national agencies with
Dallas offices, only WSW's is led by a member of the invitation-only
Citizens Council - a long-standing and influential institution of
business leaders that often shapes local public policy. "I think his
connections are a very large part of his success," Leslie observes.
1983-1990: An SMU graduate, Luce joins Paragon Group as a leasing agent,
eventually moving up to VP of national marketing
1990-1992: Stumps for his father, gubernatorial candidate Tom Luce, and
manages Rick Perry's campaign for Texas agriculture commissioner
1992-1996: Founds independent consultancies KWL and CMG after a year
with the Texas Department of Agriculture
1996-2001: Joins Temerlin McClain as sports marketing director. Becomes
COO when TM's PR office becomes a BSMG branch
2001: As president of WSW Southwest, oversees offices in Denver, Dallas,
Houston, and Austin, TX.