It’s a PR pro’s worst nightmare. You wake up to screaming front-page headlines suggesting one of your biggest clients, a top-level state official, is a crook. And the crisis gets bigger, becoming a national story with new revelations that threaten to tie your agency to the alleged fraud.
It’s a PR pro’s worst nightmare. You wake up to screaming
front-page headlines suggesting one of your biggest clients, a top-level
state official, is a crook. And the crisis gets bigger, becoming a
national story with new revelations that threaten to tie your agency to
the alleged fraud.
Welcome to the world of David De Pinto.
As president and CEO of Stoorza, Ziegaus & Metzger, one of the top
independent PR shops in California, he’s been diversifying the agency at
warp speed, scoring over dollars 1 million in new technology business in
the past two months.
De Pinto has also bolstered Stoorza’s public affairs domain, but the
agency now derives less than 50% of its income from that discipline. In
fact, there have been so many high-level comings and goings (both Alan
Ziegaus and Bobbi Metzger are now gone) that De Pinto plans to change
the firm’s name.
The firm’s evolution into a full-service operation has been going on for
several years but gained momentum when De Pinto arrived last August
after leaving Ketchum under less-than-amicable circumstances. Under De
Pinto’s stewardship, Stoorza has placed increased focus on hot sectors
like e-commerce, telecom and medical technology while not abandoning the
firm’s roots. ’We remain an elite public affairs and campaign-management
company,’ he says. And he has the results to prove it, as the firm’s
political consulting arm was behind 13 winning ’Super Tuesday’
initiatives in California earlier this year.
Robert Deen, managing partner of Deen & Black Public Relations in
Sacramento, who pitched some accounts with De Pinto years ago, calls him
’intent, hard-core, with a take-no-prisoners approach and determination
- which hasn’t always meshed well with people who worked with him.’ In
fact, some claim that this abrasive style hastened his departure from
Ketchum, whose CEO, Dave Drobis, declined comment. But Bob Feldman,
president and CEO of GCI Group and De Pinto’s boss while at Ketchum,
says he ’combines the rare talent of a keen intellect and an
understanding of our business with a warm, engaging style. He has the
ability to build and motivate staff.’
Learning to play ball
De Pinto’s intensity almost led to a career in baseball, which remains a
big part of his life. Stoorza handled the campaign for the San Diego
Padres’ new ballpark, and De Pinto, a former pro soccer player, high
school baseball star and rabid NY Yankees fan, once used his baseball
savvy to land an account. After learning that a business prospect was a
hard-core Boston Red Sox fan, he had a company associate come to the
next client meeting wearing a Sox cap.
So why is a guy from California a Yankee fan? Well, he’s actually from
New Jersey, where he worked on many statewide and national political
campaigns for various state officials, including the governor. He moved
to the left coast ’with just the shirt on my back in 1982’ and got his
MBA at the University of Southern California.
When it comes to new business, De Pinto’s batting average is Hall of
Fame caliber, says Dan Durazo, EVP of LA-based Durazo
Durazo, who has known De Pinto since 1993 when he was with Pacific/West
Communications, says, ’He never lost a new-business pitch when he was
there. Never. It was a killer for other agencies to come up against him
because he always won.’
One new client representative of De Pinto’s push toward technology is
Gateway. After talking with several top national agencies, Gateway’s
worldwide communications director, John Spelich, was convinced that ’we
were more concerned for Gateway’s success than we were for our own,’ De
Adds Brad Shaw, Gateway’s VP of corporate communications: ’We needed an
agency that was nimble, fast-moving and as entrepreneurially focused as
we are. They brought all that to the table.’
In April, the firm helped launch ideaEDGE Ventures, a business incubator
based in San Diego, and will also service the companies it hatches with
a matrix of cross-practice and multi-office account teams. Asked about
the risks of deviating from the firm’s successful formula, De Pinto
counters, ’It would be risky not to. San Diego, Orange County and Los
Angeles are each developing their own niche in the technology world.
And, secondarily, these markets are somewhat converging because the
interplay between telecom, the Internet, wireless and hardware is
interconnecting California’s technology communities.’
To that end, De Pinto is expanding the firm’s tech focus from San Diego
to the entire state and is currently searching for a senior member to
further grow the practice. Thanks to this influx of new business, De
Pinto expects revenue to grow from dollars 8.6 million last year to over
dollars 10 million this year, including dollars 2 million in tech work.
And Stoorza will do that, he says, while retaining long-time clients
like City National Bank and Pardee Construction, as well as new ones
like Waste Management and Jaycorp.
The 90-strong firm plans to hit the 100-employee plateau this year. San
Diego remains the base, with some 40 staffers. Los Angeles has 15, with
35 scattered between the Sacramento, Riverside and Fresno offices.
Account stability and client loyalty is what drew De Pinto to the firm
in the first place. ’(Chairman) Gail Stoorza is the consummate
client-relationship builder and maintainer,’ he says. ’We are
experiencing more than 70% retention of client revenue from last year -
remarkable, given the changes we’ve made in the past year. And with my
own m.o., we’ve got a balanced, yin-yang relationship that works.’
An innocent man
As for that nightmare story, which involves California insurance
commissioner Chuck Quackenbush, De Pinto spent a good part of last month
proving to the media that Stoorza’s work on the account ’was completely
honorable and effective.’ Quackenbush is charged with selling out to
insurance companies and mishandling the funds set up by a fraudulent
settlement he arranged to pay for TV spots to further his career. The LA
Times’ story, he claims, confused the funds, and he eventually convinced
the Associated Press reporter who had been tracking the affair to file
his own version of the story, giving De Pinto and Stoorza good marks.
All in a day’s work.
DAVID DE PINTO
President and CEO Stoorza, Ziegaus & Metzger
Director, market development and PR
Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of LA
Pacific/West Communications Group
Partner and GM
Named president and CEO