Three decades in the public policy sector may have brought LaVarr Webb even more experiences than stories he has penned in it. It started with the St. George Spectrum, a community newspaper in southern Utah. Once he then worked as an editor of the Salt Lake City-based Deseret News for 17 years, Webb had established himself in the policy arena through the media avenue.
The veteran communicator has appreciated walking down another boulevard as well—and still in sight of his passion. After also having worked for former Utah Republican Governor Mike Leavitt’s administration and on numerous Republican campaigns, Webb spearheaded the founding of the Exoro Group in 2008, assisting national and local clients in government relations and public policy communication needs.
Webb’s current focus is a diversion a share of the public forum that has dramatically shifted, he said.
“The glamour jobs used to be in journalism,” Webb said. “Now, anyone can be a journalist.”
Webb’s move reflects a broader industry trend: public relations jobs have more than tripled in the past half-century and are expected to grow another 24 percent in five years, according to the New York Times. “Public relations specialist” was recently rated by the U.S. News and World Report as one of the 50 best jobs in America.
The Exoro Group has partnered with more than five dozen organizations, along with numerous candidate campaigns, to promote various public policy issues. One was the Utah Economy Can-Do Coalition. That certainly paid off: Forbes Magazine recently ranked Utah, with its low takes and little red tape, as its “Best State to do Business” in 2012. The state has garnered the honor from the respected publication for three consecutive years.
The venue provided by the Exoro Group has allowed Webb to be selective in his gatekeeping—a practice sometimes divergent from his first occupation, but a function he appreciates equally.
“As a journalist, I felt I made contributions to society to government and political issues,” Webb said. “Now, I don’t take advocacy efforts that where I don’t want to see the products expanded.”
After decades of unbiased reporting, Webb has drawn lines with his values—a practice he sees as natural, given the polarization of the nation. Particularly in his work, often sees the division even in a region like the Salt Lake Valley, an oft-assumed politically homogenous region where most of Webb’s clients find their stakeholders.
“In that climate, you need effective communicators,” he said. “There’s a demand for those who can direct a conversation favorably towards an interest.”
Consequently, a rapidly growing market for jobs such as Webb’s and Jessica Abensour’s has gained prominence in the contemporary job market, as interest groups, non-profits, PACs and other organizations seek to gain leverage.
Abensour is a senior vice president at VOX Global, a public affairs subsidiary of Fleishman-Hillard, a full-service public relations and integrated marketing firm. The company relies primarily on stakeholder engagement, grassroots advocacy and social media in its messaging. As the firm has grown from 15 to 50 employees in the past six years to meet employee demand for effective policy communications, it has relied increasingly on digital media to serve a rapidly growing clientele.
“Because of the expectation of immediacy, what you say is that important,” she said from VOX’s Raleigh, North Carolina office—one of six offices ranging from Indianapolis to Boston. “It would be a mistake to put your social or digital media shop to the side. Collaboration must be cohesive like never before.”
The mechanisms offered through digital communication amplified public outcry over a bill two years ago in the Utah state legislature that would have nullified many protections afforded in the state’s Government Records Access and Management Act. Twitter also invited public retribution nationally over the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011 and the Stop Online Piracy Act in May and October 2011, respectively. Both bills died in committee.
Webb said each would have become law before the rise of digital and social media allowed the public to provide more backlash than it could have even a few years ago.
Since the severe rise of social media hardly a half-decade ago, more organizations have often drawn hard political lines than any time in history, said Abensour, a 14-year veteran in the education and non-profit sectors.
“There is a very different feeling in D.C. a decade ago than there is now,” she said. “So we must be resonating with the public and moving the needle on public policy.”
“Most political success,” Webb added, “is success in communications, whether it’s a campaign, coalition-building or a business.”
Rhett Wilkinson is a student at Utah State University. Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire