Political appointees make switch to PR

As Bush's term in office nears the end, staffers make mass moves to PR jobs in the private sector

As Bush's term in office nears the end, staffers make mass moves to PR jobs in the private sector

With about two years to go until the end of the Bush administration, a number of political appointees are jumping from government agencies to the PR world while the getting's good.

All of them cite personal reasons or their excitement about meeting fresh challenges. Yet the elephant in the room - besides the political one - is that no high-level job in the federal government can be guaranteed past Inauguration Day 2009. After every presidential election, particularly when control of the White House passes from one party to another, thousands of jobs change, as well.

Among the recent departures from the executive government: Robert Tappan, a former senior State Department public affairs official, is now president of Burson-Marsteller's DC office, and Timothy Thompson, previously executive director of global trade programs at the US Commerce Department's US Commercial service, is now GM of Burson's new Houston office.

Jamie Brown, former special assistant to President Bush for legislative affairs, is now federal relations counsel for Google, and a number of ex-federal executives are now employed at former attorney general John Ashcroft's new consulting firm, which represents defense giant General Dynamics, among other clients.

In addition, Hill & Knowlton recently hired Becky Relic, former deputy assistant secretary in the Treasury Department, as SVP and public affairs director in its DC office and, more spectacularly, bagged former Transportation secretary Norman Mineta, who will be a Washington, DC-based vice chairman starting July 24.

As H&K chairman and CEO Paul Taaffe notes, White House or senior federal executives never tend to last more than a couple of years, wherever the election cycle may stand. The stress of long hours and heavy travel is tremendous.

"Mineta said he hopes he only has to work 12-hour days at H&K," Taaffe says. "The pace that these guys work is ferocious. It takes a toll on their personal relationships."

But the recent flow of government officials joining the private sector is typical for this stage of a presidential administration, says Torod Neptune, SVP of public affairs at Waggener Edstrom, who adds that competition among PR agencies to hire top government officials has been fierce as of late.

"The most vital thing is getting someone who can leverage people they know," Neptune notes. "So timing is critical if you're going to position your appeal as 'I know Tom, Dick, and Harry at Treasury,' or wherever it is you're coming from."

Of course, the flow of new hires does not totally go in one direction. New personnel joining the White House to help with various types of communications include Tony Snow, who jumped from Fox News to become press secretary, and Henry Paulson, the former chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs whose new duties as Treasury secretary include promoting the White House's economic policies to the public.

Stan Collender, MD at Qorvis Communications, notes that the hiring of Paulson, for example, involves more than typical election-cycle churn. "At that level, it's a little different. That's when a President calls you and says, 'Would you do this for me?'" Collender says. "But if someone were being asked to be the special assistant to the deputy assistant secretary, at this point they might not think about it in the same way Paulson did."

In the event Democrats regain control of the White House, or even if another Republican wins, expect a flow of PR executives in the other direction. "You have the same 200 people that cycle out and in for any administration," Neptune says.

But the revolving door between government and the PR world often spins around something simpler than election outcomes. Taaffe notes that every Cabinet secretary has his or her favorites who are personally committed more to the secretary than to the administration itself.

"When they see they are about to go, they go, too," Taaffe explains. "People have close personal ties to their bosses. Equally, the new guy coming in has his own team."

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