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Spotlight: Kevin Sullivan // After time in the White House, Sullivan returns to sports

Sports Business Journal

May 11, 2009

After reporting to Ross Perot Jr., Dick Ebersol and George W. Bush, Kevin Sullivan decided it was time to be the boss. He started Kevin Sullivan Communications to use what he learned as vice president of communications for the Dallas Mavericks, senior vice president of corporate communications for NBC Universal and communications director at the White House to help teams, leagues and brands more effectively tell their stories and reach their goals. Staff writer Theresa Manahan spoke with him recently.

Age: 50

New title: Founder of Kevin Sullivan Communications and a consultant for Weber Shandwick 

Previous title: White House communications director

First job: Delivery boy for the Southtown Economist Newspaper (now the Chicago SouthtownStar) 

College education: Bachelor of science in management, Purdue (1980); master’s in mass communications, Iona College (2004)

Resides: Northern Virginia 

Grew up: Chicago

Executive most admired: George W. Bush 

Brand most admired: Microsoft

Favorite vacation spot: Holden Beach, N.C.

Last book read: “Covert: My Years Infiltrating the Mob,” by Bob Delaney 

Last movie seen: “Monsters vs. Aliens” in 3-D

Favorite movie: “The Godfather,” “Double Indemnity,” “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”

Favorite musician/band: The Smithereens

Is emerging social media changing the landscape of communication and if so, how?
 It is revolutionizing the landscape of communication. It allows a level of engagement and a personal connection that has never before been available. One thing that Weber Shandwick is big into and that I have learned is that advocacy is a really powerful thing. When you get a tweet from a friend of yours saying eat at this restaurant or buy this product or go see this player, this person is functioning as an advocate and those messages you receive carry more weight than something you would see in the media.

What will be the biggest challenge in your new position?
 Demonstrating to potential clients that just because we are in difficult economic times, the need for strategic communications counsel doesn’t go away; it becomes more important.

What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in your career?
 Leaving a great job at NBC Universal as the senior vice president of corporate communications to join the Bush administration and the Department of Education. But I am glad I took a break in my career to do public service, and it was extremely rewarding.

What is your biggest professional accomplishment?
 The thing that is the most rewarding is to see some of the young people succeed. Mike McCarley was an intern of mineat the Mavericks and he just made the [SBJ/SBD] Forty Under 40 list. Believing in people who worked with me and giving them a chance and watching them go on to achieve great things on their own is the most rewarding thing.

What is your biggest professional disappointment?
 While at the White House, being unable to convince the Congress back in 2007 that the time was right for comprehensive immigration reform.

What is one story you are continuing to watch in the sports world today?
 The creative things that teams are doing to remain connected to their fans during the tough economic times.

What is the one element you would like to see changed about the sports industry? 
World Series games could potentially be starting a little earlier. I think it is so important for kids to be able to watch the World Series, and it is tough to do when the games don’t start until 9 p.m.

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