Mar 30, 2009
NBC Universal alumnus and former White House Communications Director Kevin “Sully” Sullivan announced today he’s opening Kevin Sullivan Communicationsand also entering into an affiliation with Weber Shandwick as executive vice president. Sully sat down with Potomac Flacks last week in Washington and here’s what he had to say:
1. How is reentry into the private sector?
Reentry has been pretty smooth. It’s been nice to spend more time with my family and I am definitely enjoying the flexibility that comes with a less rigorous schedule. And sleeping later than 5 a.m. has been nice – although I hope to maintain some of the discipline that comes with the White House lifestyle.
2. Do you still talk to the President?
We’ve exchanged notes and the President has invited me to stop by his office when I am in Dallas, which I hope to be able to do soon.
3. What is your most profound memory from working at The White House?
Aside from the privilege of working as part of an incredibly talented and dedicated team, I would say the way communications was embedded in the DNA of the White House. The very first topic of the very first meeting of the day — the senior staff meeting run by Chief of Staff Josh Bolten at 7:30 a.m. — was the press secretary’s report. Then at 8 a.m. communications staffers from across the White House convened in Ed Gillespie’s office for a strategy session. That meant that by about 8:20 a.m. each day we had our strategic battle plan for that day and the next couple of days. It may not have always looked like it, but we really did follow a strategic gameplan each day, including in the way we built out message events on the President’s calendar.
Having worked in corporate communications, I saw firsthand how our those in the private sector would benefit from a White House-style rapid response effort. We were committed to aggressively refute stories that were inaccurate or misleading. One of the most effective efforts came when we released “Five Myths About Bob Woodward’s New Book” back in 2006 when “Act of Denial” was published. A Reuters story about our document ran in the Washington Post in the middle of the exclusive first excerpt of the book and Woodward was asked about the five myths during his book tour.
Finally, I will always be grateful to the President and Josh Bolten for valuing the input of the communicators and for always giving us a seat at the table at the outset of any policy process or issue that was being addressed.
4. What’s keeping you busy these days?
I have launched Kevin Sullivan Communications, LLCand also entered into an affiliation with Weber Shandwick as executive vice president. What I hope to do in all my work is to draw upon my experiences at the White House, the U.S. Department of Education, NBC Universal, NBC Sports and the Dallas Mavericks to provide strategic communications counsel in the corporate, sports/entertainment and non-profit arenas. I have been incredibly blessed to have had multiple “once in a career” professional experiences, working alongside some really talented, bright people and working for a string of remarkable leaders, including Norm Sonju and Tom Luce in Dallas; Dick Ebersol, Ken Schanzer, Bob Wright and Randy Falco at NBC Universal; and of course Margaret Spellings and President Bush. I want to use those experiences and the skills I gained to help companies and individuals tell their stories and face both challenges and opportunities in the most effective way possible.
While I remain based in Washington – and Pam Jenkins and her team at Powell Tate // Weber Shandwick have generously provided me with an office — I am excited about working with the incredibly talented people in multiple Weber Shandwick offices, including Dallas, where the bulk of my work for the agency will originate.
I have also hit the speaking trail, where I have enjoyed relating my White House experiences — including my unusual journey from the sports world to the Administration.
5. What grade do you give Team Obama?
During the transition, I thoroughly enjoyed working with my successor Ellen Moran and her deputy, Dan Pfeiffer. President Obama has assembled a talented group of smart people to lead his communications efforts. Some of the missteps (not bringing the press pool in to cover President Obama’s re-swearing in, for example) can probably be chalked up to being new at the White House. Their judgment on those things will improve with each passing day.
6. Sleeper pick for the NCAA Tournament?
My beloved Purdue Boilermakers, of course, especially if Robbie Hummel can stay healthy.
7. Is this Friday Night Lights’ last season on NBC?
Happily, I don’t think so. There was an encouraging report in the New York Post last week that NBC is in negotiations on a two-year renewal with DirecTV (they have a unique cost-sharing arrangement which allows the show to premiere on DirecTV in the fall and air on NBC in midseason). So hopefully it will be “Texas Forever” for at least two more years for what is television’s best kept, critically acclaimed secret.