Johanna Schneider's résumé includes work as a journalist and press secretary. At the Business Roundtable, she uses that know-how to garner lawmakers' respect for the group of top CEOs.
During her nearly quarter century as a Washington communicator, Johanna Schneider has acquired a sterling reputation among lawmakers, cabinet officials, and journalists. Her tenure has included stints as a Capitol Hill press secretary and senior federal public affairs official. Earlier in her career, she worked on the other side of the fence as a journalist in CBS News' DC bureau.
Such diverse experience has proven priceless in her current role as executive director of external relations for the Business Roundtable, a highly influential Washington trade association that represents more than 160 of the nation's top corporate CEOs.
"Her background is a nice blend of Washington, media, the corporate sector," says Mike O'Neill, SVP of public affairs and communications for American Express, whose CEO is an active roundtable member. "She brings the perspective of all three together in a way that very few people do."
Since joining the roundtable a dozen years ago, one of Schneider's greatest accomplishments has been her work to revive the entity's reputation. The roundtable always knew it had a great asset with the CEOs, "but we didn't quite know how to communicate that asset to the government," she explains.
One way that Schneider has boosted the group's visibility is through the quarterly CEO Economic Outlook Survey, a poll she developed in 2002 to gauge corporate America's expectations for the US economy.
"I give her a lot of credit for spearheading the roundtable's re-emergence as the premier CEO organization," says US Treasury Secretary John Snow, pointing to Schneider's work on the survey. "Through her efforts, the roundtable has a real brand."
Snow, who served as roundtable chairman in the mid-1990s, continues to rely on the survey's findings as Treasury secretary. "It's become one of the important things people look at in terms of how the economy is doing," he notes. "It gives the roundtable a major vehicle through which it can communicate the viewpoint on the economy of the senior leadership of the business community."
Schneider began her career as a general assignment reporter for a local CBS affiliate in Rockford, IL, where she covered the 1980 independent presidential campaign of her congressman, Rep. John Anderson. "When we found out he was running for President, I came to Washington to do a story on John and fell in love with the city," she says.
After moving to the DC area, she worked briefly as a production assistant for CBS News - her idol, Walter Cronkite, once did the nightly news broadcast from Washington from her desk. In 1981, she left journalism to work as press secretary for Rep. Lynn Martin (R-IL), who won Anderson's seat in Congress. Later, she served as press secretary for Robert Michel (R-IL) in his role as House Republican leader.
She also worked as deputy assistant secretary for public affairs to Labor secretaries Elizabeth Dole and Lynn Martin, and as senior adviser for media relations to Bernadine Healy, former National Institutes of Health director.
In 1994, after closing its offices in New York, the roundtable recruited Schneider to head its communications operations in DC. When she first arrived, Schneider operated a one-person communications department. The staff now has three people, but often leverages the communications resources of member companies.
"The whole concept of taking a group of 163 CEOs who collectively represent one-third of the US economy - and probably the fourth-largest economy in the world - and positioning them collectively in the organization individually as a major economic force has really been something she has led very well," says John Castellani, the roundtable's president. "It was really a matter of unleashing her very considerable talents, expertise, judgment, and contacts."
Schneider stays on top of her game by sharing ideas with colleagues in corporate communications departments, as well as by picking the brains of journalists to determine what is newsworthy.
"You don't get the sense that she is trying to give you a hard sell," says Alan Murray, who rejoined the staff of The Wall Street Journal as assistant managing editor earlier this year after serving as Washington bureau chief for CNBC. "You sense that she is grappling with the very same issues you are, and she's trying to find honest answers. That builds a lot of trust with the reporters she deals with. She's really a pretty rare breed."
In addition, Schneider serves on the executive committee of the Public Relations Seminar, an exclusive group of top corporate communicators who gather for a three-day professional development seminar once a year. This year, Schneider is serving as invitations chairwoman, a position in which she must identify Fortune 500 corporate communicators not involved in the seminar.
O'Neill, a past chairman of the PR Seminar, says Schneider possesses a great ability to network. "She knows what's of interest to the corporate sector, and she knows it at a level of detail - from pharma to heavy industrials to the financial sector to tech," he says.
Schneider's job has changed drastically since she joined the roundtable, , with the rise of satellite TV, the internet, and blogs. "It used to be fairly contained," she says. "You'd go to your print outlets first. You might go to your broadcast outlets. But now there are any number of ways to achieve your communications objectives."
"There are more voices, outlets, and avenues into the public policy makers," adds Castellani." Johanna is very creative in staying up with those trends."
Because of her years of experience, Schneider's bosses and colleagues defer to her as an authority and applaud her willingness to be forthright with advice.
"One of the most impressive things about Johanna is she doesn't tell her clients just what they want to hear. She tells them what they need to hear," Snow says. "Telling people what they need to hear is the key to effective PR and getting the message right. She's awfully good at that side of things."