Eric Rabe, VP of national media relations, tells Verizon's story
with an evangelical zeal. "He can become emotional, but in this business
a bit of emotion can be good," says Harry Mitchell, director of
Verizon's mid-Atlantic PR bureau, and someone who knows Rabe well. "He
has an orientation to action."
Ranking No. 10 on the Fortune 500 list, Verizon is also the country's
top local phone firm. But it was born on the front lines of battle.
Formed from the merger of Bell Atlantic and GTE last August, the
company's rebranding effort corresponded with a noisy strike by the
Communications Workers of America.
Rabe was born for this stuff. He admits he favors crisis or issues work
over any other PR discipline. "You've got to be quotable, frankly, and a
lot of PR stuff is not quotable, sometimes by design," he says. "More
than that, it is knowing the position well, understanding it so you can
speedily turn around a new development that comes at you."
Rabe's career has taken him from TV journalism to his own PR agency to a
lengthy stint working at the companies which predated the name
After finishing his BA in journalism at Penn State University, Rabe
served as a captain in the US Army Signal Corps in Germany in the late
"It was the Vietnam era and I spent it in Europe," he recalls. Rabe
reported to General Alexander Haig, who later became Secretary of State
under President Reagan.
After the Army, Rabe pursued TV journalism. "I'm one of those people who
likes short-term projects where you can see results immediately," he
says,"Television news is ideal for someone like that."
In 1983 he was offered the US Capitol and White House beat with
Metromedia Television's east coast bureau. Of the two beats, Rabe
preferred the less managed corridors of the Capitol. "I think the
Capitol is the best beat in DC," he says. "You have access that is
unlike anywhere else. Covering the White House you are on the air more
of the time and are travelling with the President, but you only get the
story that the White House wants to get out."
The advent of CNN reduced the need for Metromedia's bureau. Rabe moved
on to do something he had always wanted, run his own company, Media Edge
Consultants. The agency specialized in employee communications and using
video effectively. One of his clients was Bell of Pennsylvania (PA),
part of Bell Atlantic Corporation.
By 1989, the client was demanding more and more of his attention. "I
went to them and said I can't only devote my time to you unless you give
me some kind of multi-year contract," Rabe remembers. "They said why
don't you just come work here."
Since then he has steered communications strategy through the Bell
Atlantic/Nynex merger, the abandoned Bell Atlantic/TCI merger, right up
to its most recent incarnation.
In that time, his role hasn't changed so much as it has grown, as each
merger has expanded the company to new regions. "It's always been news
media relations of one form or another," he says. "The big change came
in 1993 with the Nynex merger. I came in to just do Pennsylvania. Then
they consolidated all of that at the corporate level.
I moved from a local company to the corporation."
Rabe advocates an aggressive philosophy towards media relations that he
encourages in the 30 staffers he oversees throughout the country. "We
try to do two things - make our case as effectively as we can, and we're
not shy about trying to unmake their case."
Colleague Mitchell says that Rabe's forceful media approach has been
particularly important in dealing with coverage of wrangles with AT&T,
which has accused the firm of blocking local competition. "AT&T was
spreading an awful lot of misinformation and we did a lot of truth squad
activities, including memos to reporters and editors to set the record
straight," he says. "We called them about things, rather than waiting
for reporters to call us," he adds.
"His philosophy is we have a story to tell," Mitchell continues. "We
have to make sure it is out there and reporters have that to chew
Simon Romero, chief telecoms reporter for The New York Times, calls
Rabe, "one of the best people I work with in the industry." He cites
Rabe's responsiveness and straightforward approach as key to his
"My first real exposure to him came during the Verizon strike, which I
thought Eric covered quite masterfully," he says. "He was, of course,
seeking to put the company's spin on things, but was also honest about
what was happening."
Romero also cites Rabe's approach to coverage he does not like. "Of
course we've had our differences, but having a sense of humor about it
keeps the relationship strong," he says. "I've dealt with others who are
completely different and it can make them very difficult."
Rabe is also known as a pioneer on the use of the Internet. He set up
one of the first corporate Web sites for Bell back in 1993 to provide
information on the Nynex merger.
He is a gadget junkie, the kind of guy who used cell phones before they
were easy to carry around. A caricature in Rabe's office depicts him
using a cell phone and regular phone simultaneously, with a microphone
pushed in his face, a laptop in his hand and a fax machine buzzing in
It's a fitting description for telecoms' most wired spokesman.
1974-1979: News director, reporter and anchor, WTAJ-TV, Altoona, PA
1979-1983: Managing editor, reporter and anchor WCAU-TV, CBS Television,
1983-1986: National correspondent, Metromedia TV, Washington, DC
1986-1989: Owner, Media Edge Consultants
1989-1993: Director, media relations, Bell of PA, Bell Atlantic
1993-1997: Corporate communications executive, Bell Atlantic
1997-2000: VP, media relations, Bell Atlantic
2000-present: VP, national media relations, Verizon Communications