Southwest Airlines didn't want competition from bullet trains, so
it hired Jack Martin's Public Strategies (PSI) to convince Texas
legislators that intrastate passenger rail wasn't a good idea.
Martin's friend, Peter Zandan, founder of WPP-acquired Inteliquest,
recalls discussing light rail with a group of community leaders.
'Everyone was talking except Jack. And at the end of the discussion,
everyone turned to him and asked what he was thinking,' Zandan recalls.
'It's interesting to see someone who is an introvert use that
characteristic to be a gifted listener.'
Even so, Martin isn't afraid to tell clients what they don't want to
hear, adds another friend, Austin lawyer Tommy Jacks.
A decade later, commuter rail remains a pipe dream along Interstate 35,
and Jack Martin has proven that you don't have to be an extrovert to
become one of the country's most influential communications
'I've always thought I'd devote a significant amount of time to being a
rancher, and I haven't done it yet,' says Martin, who owns a spread near
Hutto, Texas. He sits for interviews about as often as a rancher wears a
tie - only three times in 12 years.
But building PSI's prominence took more than horseback ambition. The
175-member, Austin, TX-based firm has offices in Dallas, Mexico City,
Sacramento, CA, San Antonio, San Francisco and Washington, DC. Business
partner Mike McCurry served as press secretary to former president Bill
Clinton, and Mark McKinnon, PSI's managing director of media services,
served as campaign media director for George W. Bush.
The company is no easier to define than the man who founded it in
But whatever you do, don't call it grassroots. 'A grassroots firm is two
kids and a mailing list,' Martin scoffs. Yet PR doesn't really suffice,
either. In fact, PSI didn't apply the term to itself until acquiring
Austin-based Kristi Ozmun PR in January.
'It's really a hybrid of a management consulting firm and a firm much
like the early EDS,' Martin says of his agency. He wants PSI to be to
communications what Goldman Sachs is to finance - a firm that refines
clients' organizational charts, reporting structures and staffing to
communicate their messages to Main Street, not just Wall Street or
Capitol Hill. PSI uses PA, PR and other disciplines as tools in broad,
Politics, however, is Martin's first love, and he credits Lyndon B.
Johnson with jump-starting his political career. He met the former
president during one of LBJ's visits to Southwest Texas State
University, where Martin led the student senate. LBJ made a passing
suggestion to an aid that eventually led to Martin landing a job with
then-Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-Texas).
Although politics lured Martin away from college, the move proved
It was while working for Bentsen that Martin met many of his current
associates, including McCurry.
In 1982, Bentsen threw his political weight behind a coordinated
Democratic campaign that ousted Texas' incumbent Gov. William Clements
and swept government offices statewide. Martin led that charge,
marshaling research and computer analysis. Outsiders, like former Texas
Gov. Ann Richards, became insiders with Martin's help.
Losing his taste for politics, Martin noticed corporations often needed
help explaining themselves, given that the public now influences not
only politics but business. 'Everything (corporations) do now has to
interact with the public,' explains Martin, who founded PSI on this
PSI diversified politically in the '90s by recruiting several Republican
operatives. Martin defends McKinnon against those skeptical of his
'He really, really fell in love with George W. Bush,' Martin claims.
Understandably, Martin also bristles at the 'Astroturf' label used by
those who view his practice of influencing politics by shaping public
opinion as an artificial means of raising grassroots support.
Whether Texans would view home-equity loans or telephone deregulation
favorably without PSI's intervention is open for debate, but
Southwestern Bell and the state's finance industry got their points
One such campaign recently left PSI wincing, however. The Licensed
Beverage Distributors of Texas opposed a bill that would let Texas
wineries sell their wares over the Internet. PSI sent out direct mailers
portraying a fresh-faced Caucasian boy's descent from hawking lemonade
to selling contraband beer. An African-American committee chairman took
offense at one of the photos featuring a black man leaning against a
graffiti-covered wall. PSI pulled the ad and voiced concern for youth of
all races. Also PSI helped Dell organize its government/public affairs
staff and, along with Ketchum, helped Firestone through its
PSI set aside its aversion to influencing lawmakers directly last year
by acquiring Austin lobbyist Rusty Kelly's operation. The firm has also
hired two Washington lobbyists.
The next big thing for PSI is going global. Martin anticipates opening a
New York office soon as a springboard to Europe and Asia. 'I want to do
it in an unconventional way,' he says. 'When I grow up, I want to be
Tommy Lee Jones in (Lonesome Dove),' Mar-tin says. 'Instead of driving
my cattle north to the new market, I'm going to be changing the face of
Worked with politicians such as Sen.
Lloyd Bentsen and Gov. Ann Richards
Executive assistant and state campaign director for Sen. Lloyd
Founds Public Strategies Inc. (PSI); senior advisor to the Democratic
National Committee chairman
1994, 1997 & 2000
PSI opens offices in Mexico City (1994), San Francisco (1997) and
Washington, DC (2000)
Forms Public Strategies Group with former White House spokesman Mike
McCurry and Joe O'Neill, who runs lobbying firm Public Strategies