PROFILE: Hands-on Hall helps Halliburton explain its business

Wendy Hall may work on Halliburton's inherited asbestos cases and its Iraq rebuilding efforts, but she learned PR by driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

Wendy Hall may work on Halliburton's inherited asbestos cases and its Iraq rebuilding efforts, but she learned PR by driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

Wendy Hall's to-do list includes countering complaints from Capitol Hill about her company's growing bill for helping rebuild Iraq's oil fields. As chief spokesperson for Halliburton, Hall stays on message. She explains the company's decades-long history of government work, and stresses that Vice President Dick Cheney severed all ties when he agreed to be President Bush's running mate. If that weren't enough, Hall also handles media relations involving a massive settlement of complex asbestos lawsuits. When asked to explain what prepared her to juggle so many meaty issues, Hall quickly cites her summer spent driving the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. In 1995, while finishing her degree, Hall set her sights on a prized summer job aboard the iconic Wienermobile. She beat out hundreds of applicants to become one of the 30 "hot doggers" Oscar Mayer hired that summer. "They did a really good job of media training," Hall recalls. "It's where I learned to do a lot of PR." Hall toured the Southeastern states promoting a talent search to find the next child star for Oscar Mayer's TV commercials. "I sang the Oscar Mayer Wiener song on an awful lot of radio stations," Hall laughs. However, when representatives from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) showed up to protest, Hall received her first lessons in dealing with controversy. "This was my first exposure to handling adverse media attention," she says. The only child of late Rice University baseball coach David Hall, the 30-year-old knows how to achieve her goals. In college, Hall interned with both Disney and Austin advertising powerhouse GSD&M. She credits her parents' support for such success. "I was told I could do anything I wanted to do, and I believed them," Hall says. As a child, Hall became fascinated with the media relations aspects of her father's job. She's also living proof that high-school aptitude tests sometimes work. Hers revealed a talent for PR. "Wendy is one of those natural-born PR people," says Dirk Vande Beek, Hall's former boss and now SVP of government and public affairs for RJI Capital. "She has an inborn sense of what to do and what not to do." After her Oscar Mayer days, Hall stayed in Atlanta and worked for Cohn & Wolfe as the 1996 Summer Olympics heated up. Her most memorable experience involved coordinating media relations for client BMW, which sponsored the Olympic Spirit Award given to Kerri Strug and Carl Lewis. "The challenge was to attract media right at the cusp of the Games," says Joe Donohue, then special projects VP at Cohn & Wolfe and now president of EventSavvy in New York. "Wendy was able to come up with creative storylines to attract the media to what some might see as a standard awards ceremony." Her father's illness brought Hall back home, where she worked at Space Center Houston. Her boss, Vande Beek, soon moved to Halliburton, and brought Hall along. When Vande Beek left in 2000, Hall was promoted to global PR manager. She supervises five PR people at headquarters, works with 15 field employees, and since last year has reported to IR VP Cedric Burgher. "This has allowed us to really improve our messaging and speak in one voice," she says. One of her early assignments required spending weeks in Bangladesh, where she dressed in traditional saris. Halliburton and Royal Dutch Shell constructed the first offshore oil platform in the Bay of Bengal, and local reporters who couldn't see it from shore were suspicious. "There was a lot of mistrust and misunderstanding," Hall recalls. She arranged a press tour that included a trip to the rig, and she learned a lot about Bengali journalism - like how an unreliable electric grid necessitates hand-delivery of press releases. A b-to-b oil-field services and construction company, Halliburton didn't trip off the tongues of many mainstream reporters until Cheney, then its CEO, quit to pursue the Vice Presidency. "We certainly did become a lot more high-profile, but we continued to focus on our core messages," Hall says. Spokespeople stressed the company's technological leadership, innovative business strategies, health and safety initiatives, and employee expertise. Scrutiny waned after the 2000 elections, but returned once Democrats began questioning the rising costs of Halliburton's troop support and oil-field infrastructure contracts in Iraq. Cheney had nothing to do with awarding such contracts, Hall tells reporters. "Our employees in the Middle East are preparing meals, building houses, delivering the mail, and providing many other vital services to our troops," she adds. "Our Halliburton people are sharing in the hardships and the risks as well. We've lost three lives while working there." Meanwhile, Hall assures the business press and investors that asbestos liability won't sink the company. Halliburton bought Dresser Industries in 1998, almost doubling its size. Six years earlier, Dresser had spun off Harbison-Walker, which retained access to Dresser insurance policies. Thus, asbestos claims by Harbison-Walker employees ultimately became Halliburton liabilities. Affected subsidiaries filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. They now are soliciting votes from plaintiffs to approve an asbestos settlement agreement, and a prepackaged bankruptcy plan is expected to be filed within weeks. Halliburton developed a special website section dedicated to asbestos claims, and Hall's staff issues frequent press releases. The site includes an extensive, plain-language FAQ, along with explanations of asbestos and bankruptcy issues. With so much on her plate professionally, Hall doesn't have much time for outside hobbies. She is involved with a number of professional and civic groups, including the Junior League. She is also getting married next year. The hot-dog PR practitioner wastes few words describing the ingredients to her success at such a young age: "Understand your business, be honest, and communicate early and often." ----- Wendy Hall 2000-present Global PR manager at Halliburton 1997-2000 PR manager at Space Center Houston. Goes on to join Halliburton as a global PR specialist 1995-1997 AE at Cohn & Wolfe in Atlanta 1995 Earns bachelor of journalism, specializing in PR, from the University of Texas-Austin. Spends summer as a hot-dogger for Oscar Mayer Wienermobile

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