ANALYSIS: Profile - Martin on a mission: put PSI deep in the heartof Europe - An introvert with a gift for listening, Jack Martin isnonetheless outspoken. And that combination is what has helped himsucceed. Sherri Deatherage Green reports

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,

unified strategies.

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

Democrat-to-Republican switch.

'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

this business.'



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


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in