PROFILE: Luce proves successful PR is about who you know

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

gubernatorial bid.

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,"

Luce laments.

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.

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