December 10, 2015

Name: Brian Berry 
Title: Partner 
Time with CLS: 15 years

1. In your career, what is the best advice you’ve been given?

You’re in the relationship business.  Never believe for a second that you can carry a relationship over email. 

2. What would you tell yourself if you could go back and give yourself advice on your first day at CLS?

Arrive at Greek Deli at 11:45 and you’ll always find Avgolemeno. 

3. If you weren’t in the PR industry, what would you be doing?

Back in the restaurant business.  It’s brutal, unforgiving, and a 360 degree joy and passion for me personally.  Just like deep sea fishing. Yeah, maybe I’d be a charter fisherman too. 

4. What dream client/industry would you like to work with?

Easy.  My dream client would be AC/DC. Those boys are no bullshit rock and rollers. What you see is what you get, absolute professionals in every sense of what the music industry was and unfortunately no longer is today. 

5. What has been a highlight moment in your career with CLS thus far?

We were part of a campaign in Florida to increase Medicaid reimbursement rates for kidney dialysis.  I was running point on media relations and grassroots.  This was pre social media so we couldn’t turn to digital targeting and engagement.  We relied on paper petitions that we delivered to dialysis centers throughout the state to generate more than 10,000 signed petitions in less than 2 weeks. Every media market and daily newspaper in the state covered us.  Our lobby days in Tallahassee were inspiring, as I walked alongside sick kidney disease patients to help them make their case to legislators.  We won. Didn’t have to concede an inch.  Patients would continue to receive their life-sustaining care and doctors who provided it would no longer be forced to take a loss. I formed a friendship with a terrific soft-spoken advocate, John, who was an on-the-road Gibson guitar salesman for years before he was diagnosed.  He died later that year, and learning of his passing but a very depressing blow, but the Chronic Kidney Disease community in Florida reminded me that he was a success in helping improve the situation for everyone else.  He inspired me.  To this day, my greatest professional achievement.   

6. What is your favorite sport? Sports team?

NY Giants

7. What is your hidden talent?

Most people know I can cook (former chef), but they don’t know I am very handy and am proud of my finish work (cabinetry, moldings, etc.). 

8. What would be the theme song of your life?

For those About to Rock, We Salute You (AC/DC)
Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution (AC/DC) 

9. What is the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Bull brains in Sevilla, Spain.  

10. Which superpower would you choose: the ability to fly, time travel, or invisibility?

Time travel.  Just once.  I’d go back and relive my 2011 Costa Rican fishing trip with my father.  I wouldn’t change a thing, but now that he’s gone I’d cherish getting to do it all over again. 


April 29, 2015
April 29, 2015

When it was announced in February 2014, the conventional wisdom on Comcast’s plan to acquire Time Warner Cable was that the merger would be approved, perhaps with conditions similar to those imposed on its last acquisition of NBC Universal. Instead, after completing their reviews, the DOJ and FCC escorted Comcast to the nearest exit and cut the cord on their merger.  

What can be learned from this dramatic shift in merger sentiment and outcome?  

The most significant obstacle to the merger turned out to be Comcast’s colossal miscalculation that the national broadband market doesn’t matter – or worse, isn’t even a relevant market. From the day it announced its deal, Comcast stuck to its basic talking points claiming that only local markets mattered, that there would be no overlap between the two merging companies, and dismissed any suggestion that there was a national broadband market affected by the deal. Meanwhile, Netflix and many other programmers, over 1,000 competing broadband network providers, and consumers and public interest organizations, made a compelling case against the deal that Comcast failed to rebut. They raised concerns that Comcast’s post-merger share of the national broadband market would jump to well over 50%, and threatened to be a serious bottleneck for over the top (OTT) content providers, their consumers and an increasingly broadband-dependent economy. 

In the end, Comcast wasn’t nimble, didn’t adapt and lost the argument over the merger’s relevant market and impacts by a landslide, a fatal defeat in any antitrust review. We are proud that the Los Angeles Times recognized our Don’t Comcast the Internet Campaign, led by COMPTEL, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association and ITTA, as a driving force in the successful effort to stop the merger.  

Another major shortcoming for Comcast was its failure to articulate significant benefits of the merger and to generate support from Members of Congress or third parties who would give voice to these outcomes. Indeed, several reporters mentioned to us over the course of the deal that it was striking how little Congressional support Comcast generated for this transaction after leveraging quite a bit for its NBCU acquisition. Comcast senior executive, David Cohen, certainly did not help his own case when he candidly commented:  “We’re certainly not promising that customer bills are going to go down or even increase less rapidly.”

With few benefits and little organic backing, Comcast tried to use its financial muscle to manufacture the perception of widespread support, only to have this backfire when The New York Times published an exposé revealing that the Company spent millions on donations to more than 80 civic groups, each of whom dutifully filed comments with the FCC in support of their donor. Comcast’s “Astroturf” was clearly no match for the unprecedented opposition the merger faced, which by the end numbered about 800,000 hostile comments to regulators, making it the most opposed merger in history.

Last, corporate reputation may not play much of a role in some mergers, but in those involving well known consumer-facing companies, Comcast’s failed merger may come to stand for the large handicap faced by businesses with reputations so poor that the mere mention of their name provokes disdain.  This past December, the University of Michigan’s Consumer Satisfaction Index found that Time Warner Cable and Comcast were the two most unpopular companies in America. In our own research, we found that the prospect of Comcast doing to the Internet what it already had done to cable TV provoked universal and passionate opposition to the merger. Consumers strongly opposed putting more control in the hands of these companies over their online programming options. These findings gave rise to our campaign name, Don’t Comcast the Internet, and these very real fears ultimately brought an end to this merger.  

The good news is that Comcast’s defeat is a very important win for competition and consumers as it helps to keep the market for broadband access more open and vibrant. But all those who have a stake in the broadband-dependent economy should remain vigilant, as there surely will be follow on efforts to “Comcast” the Internet.

 


February 18, 2015

 

After speaking to several colleagues about our company one year after we rolled-out our new CLS Strategies brand, playing paintball years ago  came back into view –the feeling of maintaining the edge on the playing field, and doing what it takes to win. If you’ve ever played paintball, you know just how unsettling it is to be pushed from an offensive position to a defensive position in a split second. If you haven’t played, suffice it to say it isn’t pleasant! To win, you must get back and remain on offense and control the playing field at any cost. Last February, at CLS Strategies we decided it was time to give our own look and feel a refresh that reflected our “always stay ahead” approach to our work. We rebranded our company, and shed much more than an old name.

Believe it or not, the paintball strategy is not dissimilar from our work at CLS Strategies. The stakes are high, and to be successful you must outsmart the opponent and have the courage and preparation to implement a new game plan in a moment’s notice. Our rebrand efforts allowed us to start fresh. We moved into a new, more modern office space; we gained some new team members; and, as appropriate, we began to share news and updates about our work against a long-held position that we didn’t want to be perceived as boasting.  

When we worked through our rebrand, we were insistent that it wasn’t just about a new catch phrase.  And fortunately, we found in our colleagues at Siegel + Gale a terrific partner to help us chart a new path true to our team and what we offer.  It was important to all of us that we didn’t rebrand the company in a meaningless way and they challenged us at every point to ensure that we could deliver on our new brand promise. 

I am reminded a year later of what living up to the challenge commands of each and everyone one of us.  In a word, grit. It takes a team not bothered by late nights and weekends. It requires professionals who come to the table with fresh ideas informed by thinking critically about both the immediate and long term challenges facing our clients. And it means we can never be mere observers (that isn’t in our DNA, anyway). We hunker down in the trenches alongside our clients. If that paintball is coming their way, then it’s coming our way too! Our client roster runs the gamut, to be sure, but it also reflects issues and challenges that you won’t necessarily find adequately addressed with a canned, off-the-shelf solution. As we look back over our first year as CLS Strategies, I am proud of some of our accomplishments: 

  1. Grand Prize winners for the PR Daily’s 2014 Media Relations Award, for our part in securing care and benefits for former NFL players 
  2. Helping cast light on a flawed $200 million federal contract award to assist a homeland security contractor client protect its rightful contract
  3. Guiding the launch of the educational campaign, “Know Before You Fly,” a novel partnership between AUVSI, hobbyist groups and the federal government to provide prospective operators the information they need to fly safely and responsibly
  4. Blurring the aim of financial regulators intent on labeling asset managers as too-big-too-fail, with all the new regulation that comes with the moniker 
  5. 2015 Platinum AVA Digital Award winner for our social campaign which supports the mission to protect, promote and spread the message that Champagne only comes from Champagne, France 
  6. Advocating for human rights in Iran and giving human rights defenders a new voice through Impact Iran, the latest coalition aimed at bolstering the UN’s ability to hold Iran accountable to its international obligations  
  7. 2014 Gold MarCom Award  winner for launching a social campaign to help educate millions of Americans on how to file their taxes for free
  8. Protecting intellectual property and innovation by helping to make the case for meaningful patent reform in Congress  
  9. Helping the National Consumers League launch its data security initiative, to fight back against hackers and identity thieves

No time to rest on our laurels.  It’s been a terrific year. We hit a good stride and are excited about what’s ahead.  As always, we thank our clients for putting their trust in us. In the meantime, it’s a busy February in Washington. For our clients, we’re trying to not get pegged by a frozen paintball…   

 
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May 13, 2014

Data security issues are top of mind these days for corporate leaders – and for good reason. The numbers are sobering. Target’s ubiquitous incident aside, in 2013, the Verizon RISK team reported more than 1,300 data breaches. The average cost to a company of a data breach is up worldwide in 2014 too, according to the latest annual Ponemon Institute study. In the U.S., a data breach costs organizations on average $5.85 million. The U.S. likewise had the highest cost per record stolen, at $201, up from $188 last year. The country also led in terms of size of breaches recorded: U.S. companies averaged 29,087 records compromised in 2014.

I am pleased that our team at CLS Strategies is working on this issue every day.  Our crisis experts help companies plan ahead, our media team works with writers on the beat, and our digital strategists monitor for early signals and recommend steps on how our clients can best engage and direct their resources.     

As just one example, CLS Strategies is helping the National Consumers League develop and launch its new Data Insecurity Project, which will examine the experience of consumers caused by data breach.  For some, it comes in the form of a breached email account, while for others it leads to identity theft, credit card fraud, and stolen property. NCL is examining the efficacy of current programs aimed at helping consumers, such as data breach notification and credit monitoring. 

Lawmakers and federal regulators are awake to our data security problems, and through telling the consumer side of the story, we will help NCL raise awareness of various reform proposals.  For example, since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has sightlines into all cases of breach and their investigations, the Commission might consider issuing guidance and best practices information to companies to help them combat hackers.  If companies are better informed by the government with the information they need to more effectively mitigate a breach, everyone benefits.

As my colleagues and others have opined, Target has become the poster child example of how to mishandle communications while in crisis. There is no doubt Target made mistakes. While the company may have had technology safeguards put in place, it’s mishandling of communications points to the lacking of a communications contingency plan. This is an area where I have offered clients advice - what to do when it’s time to break the glass and make clear this is no longer a fire drill. More and more companies are realizing that in addition to data loss prevention, malicious code detection and vulnerability scan tools, how to communicate internally and externally when a data breach occurs belongs on the same list.  

There are many lessons to be learned from data breach.  Among them, business leaders need to make sure that a communications plan is established, that it is tested regularly, and that is it nimble and prepared to endure and remain strong in an environment where the situation and stakes will change rapidly. Effective communications can help to keep your reputation and credibility intact.  Companies that store consumer data, whether for purchasing music or household goods, banking or keeping family medical records, are entrusted by their customers to keep this data and personal information safe. Period. While trust is difficult though not impossible to rebuild, it’s better from the start to demonstrate a genuine effort to play it straight.

 


February 12, 2014

Goodbye Chlopak, Leonard, Schechter and Associates. Hello CLS Strategies. When CLSers first explained to friends and clients how it was different in 1992, they often described how our company provided “strategic communications” and not “just public relations.” This mantra was true, and it worked for a long time. In our view PR was more akin to publicity and promotion, raising your voice for the sake of being heard. Strategic communications, on the other hand, meant calibrating both the message and the targets in order to help clients’ win, or at least move the dial in their direction. This may, or often may not, involve raising our clients’ profiles. Twenty years later we found CLS surrounded by many other agencies large and small, all offering “strategic communications.” We realized that our business had evolved, and that today we are much more than the “strategic communications” brand we’ve wrapped ourselves in from the beginning. It was time, we all agreed, for a refresh. So, our journey began.

For us, one guiding principle led our rebranding. We didn’t want to develop some catchy name or phrase that sounds appealing but doesn’t reflect the reality of CLS and what makes this place special. So we worked with two widely respected researchers to interview some past and present clients (of ours and theirs) to discuss what they know about CLS and how they go about selecting an agency partner. We then turned to our Omnicom cousins at Siegel + Gale to help us chart a new path. We explained to them that because CLS doesn’t specialize in a single sector or type of work, we faced a tough challenge: How do we describe our work simply when what we do isn’t simple at all? Public affairs for legislative and regulatory battles, crisis and litigation communications, corporate and reputational campaigns, foreign governments and international political campaigns...how do we stitch it all together?

It turns out, it’s not so knotty a problem when we keep things simple and approach it from the right perspective. Our clients (thank you!) were a big help. Siegel + Gale helped us focus on what our clients’ value, specifically talking less about what we offer as an agency and more about how we help solve problems. This pivot from communicating a ubiquitous menu of services to focusing on our firm’s approach toward solutions makes perfect sense, and, frankly, it’s more interesting. It ties seemingly disconnected parts of our company together.   

Conversations with our clients and our colleagues confirmed that CLS is at its best when the stakes are high and the environment is adversarial or competitive. We heard that our approach is highly collaborative, pairing experience and strategic foresight with the grit to roll up our sleeves and get the job done. But above all, one thing broke through more than perhaps anything else: vision. It comes from our dedication to learn and understand our clients’ businesses combined with our relentless pursuit of opportunity and advantage to help them gain momentum and reach their goals. Our clients have told us that what they really appreciate and value is that we “see not just around the corner, but five steps ahead.”

These are difficult differentiators to communicate on paper, but they are central to our new brand. We set out on our rebranding journey in search of a brand promise that we could deliver, not one that would require us to reinvent what makes us CLS. The good news, is that we are already living the brand. We realize that we are, and have been for a very long time, CLS Strategies. We develop and deliver unexpected solutions. We hope you agree. Read about some of our clients’ successes, which offer perhaps the greatest testament to CLS Strategies, our people, and the work that we do.