PROFILE: Harris' world of PR experience fits the Ducks' bill

With a PR career that has taken him from southern California to Israel and back, Charles Harris proves that sometimes the most fruitful journeys land you where it all began.

With a PR career that has taken him from southern California to Israel and back, Charles Harris proves that sometimes the most fruitful journeys land you where it all began.

"You only live once. In that time, you should always be evolving," professes Charles Harris, director of publicity, community development, and synergy for the NHL's Anaheim Mighty Ducks. With a career that's seen him hold top jobs at two SoCal pro sports teams, with the launch of his own firm in Israel sandwiched in between, Harris, 37, practices what he preaches. The man who has helmed the Ducks' PR for just over a year puts landing his present job down to good fortune and great timing. The club was celebrating its 10th anniversary, and would advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. "I've always sought newly created positions where I could really make my mark," says Harris. The first such imprint was at his alma mater, UC-Irvine. As an ambitious freshman, Harris went to the school's sports and information director (SID) and created his own internship. ("Someone said I could work in sports and get paid," Harris remembers. "Sign me up.") Upon graduation, he became the assistant SID. One year later, he launched the university's sports marketing and promotions department. In the process, Harris caught the eye of the LA Dodgers, who in 1991 made him, at 25, their assistant director of publicity - a dream gig for a baseball fan. For three years, Harris learned sports marketing's ins and outs, but something was missing. He'd find it after the '93 season. Following the team's Far East exhibition tour, Harris visited Israel. "I saw an abundance of brainpower there," he recalls. "So many people making great contributions in business, medicine, and culture. But they couldn't market themselves. I saw opportunity." With a baseball strike imminent as the 1994 season began, Harris traded in his Dodger blue for the land of milk of honey. He gave himself six months to learn a language he didn't speak and develop contacts without knowing a soul. After two months in a four-hour-a-day Hebrew course, surrounded mostly by Russian immigrants and Arab citizens who spoke no English - "the best way to learn Hebrew quickly," he advises - Harris had become fluent enough to convince a small Jerusalem PR firm to give him some projects. His name got out there, and his half-year experiment would become a new life. Two years as an SAE at Charles Levine Communications cemented Harris' standing. He was ready to scratch that entrepreneurial itch in May 1996, and Coast 2 Coast Communications was born, with a focus on guiding nascent, fast-growing Israeli tech companies targeting the US and European markets. Soon thereafter, an influx of US government agencies came over on trade missions to convince Israeli companies to move to America. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, then governor of Pennsylvania, was among the top visiting delegates who sought assistance with the Hebrew-speaking media contingent based in Jerusalem. With a client list that included Ridge and Major League Baseball (for which Harris secured the Middle East rights), this one-person operation grew to a nine-person staff over a five-year period, and revenue grew at least 50% over each of the next five years. Harris had surpassed his aspirations and decided to return to the US. A deal to sell his firm was nearing completion. He was negotiating with a large US PR agency looking for someone to launch an Orange County outpost. On September 5, 2001, he came home. Six days later, terrorists scotched all those plans. All offers went by the wayside. It took eight months before Harris was courted heavily again. The two most intriguing suitors were a California-based tech PR firm and the Ducks. His skepticism over the tech industry's ability to turn around quickly made his decision easy. The Ducks wanted one individual to direct both publicity and community development, as well as the website and alumni association, and they wanted a proactive person. With his sports and agency experience, Harris fit their needs. "In sports PR," says Harris, "you're so busy reacting to media needs, you have little time to think strategically. Having owned my own agency, I understood branding, messaging, and the like." Among the projects Harris initiated was a Ducks-branded postcard supporting the US military. When the war in Iraq began, the team offered Ducks fans postcards they could send to US troops in the Middle East. Another project Harris proudly cites relates to the Ducks' home arena, The Arrowhead Pond. The team has called that building home since its 1993 inception, but there were no highway signs or billboards signifying its presence. After eight months of lobbying, Harris secured freeway signage in eight places. "Charles is always thinking and anticipating," notes Tim Ryan, GM of The Pond. "Sometimes in marketing, gut feelings prompt appropriate action. His unique combination of global and local experience gives him, and the Ducks, every reason to trust his instincts." Harris faces an interesting second year. The Ducks are coming off that fantastic playoff run. On the flip side, the league's collective bargaining agreement expires after next season, and the prevailing sentiment holds that a work stoppage is unavoidable. As is often the case in pro sports, there are a litany of factors out of the PR staff's control. "I can't get consumed by that," offers Harris. "I must focus on how the Ducks can penetrate a region that, despite our recent success, isn't a traditional hockey hotbed. Aggressive PR is the only way. "In my experience," adds Harris, "I'd say most pro sports teams don't have clipping services or specific media kits for off-ice functions. They don't do the basic X, Y, and Zs of proactive PR. We will, because, quite frankly, we must. Good thing I'm a type-A personality." A team will enjoy its greatest success when its best players rise to the forefront and lead. The Ducks certainly did that on the ice this past season. With Harris' guidance, the team is counting on similar success in the PR arena. ----- Charles Harris 2002-present Anaheim Mighty Ducks, director of publicity, community development, and synergy 2001-2002 Dual Graphics, SAE 1996-2001 Coast 2 Coast Communications (Israel), founder and president 1994-1996 Charles Levine Comms. (Israel), SAE 1991-1994 LA Dodgers, assistant director of publicity 1987-1991 University of California-Irvine, assistant SID (1987-1988); went on to become director of sports marketing and promotions

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