PR pro and former Uber communications executive Lane Kasselman had some sage advice for the attendees at the PR Round Table’s April 24, 2018, Scholarship Program lunch: “Fake it ’til you make it” — a lesson he learned the hard way, several times over.
While he started his talk with this note of encouragement for the four college scholarship winners in attendance, Kasselman’s messages resonated with both ends of the spectrum — the newbies in the audience and the established PR professionals. Listening in rapt attention were the three dozen PR Round Table members and guests who gathered at Golden Gate University to recognize this year’s Philip N. McCombs Scholarship Program honorees (read about the four student winners here) and to hear insights from Kasselman.
As a graduate of Cal State University-Sacramento with a BA in government and journalism, Kasselman went to work for the Office of Governor Gray Davis as a public information officer before returning to academics and getting a law degree at Golden Gate University. While in law school, he started to work for San Francisco’s then-mayor Gavin Newsom, as his deputy policy director. It was in this role where he had his first experience of “faking it,” when he was the mayor’s liaison on the scene as police raided illicit massage parlors. He found himself thrust in the position of dealing with the media who came along on the high-profile operation.
From the Mayor’s Office he went on to work for Hillary Clinton’s initial campaign for president, from 2007 to 2008, and in 2010 he was recruited by AT&T to be director of communications and public affairs. He experienced a trial by fire early on at AT&T when a story by a notoriously critical LA Times reporter made mincemeat out of him. In fact, it was so harsh that Kasselman’s father, a faithful LA Times reader, felt compelled to call the reporter and yell at him.
“It was my first on-the-record thing, and my dad had to fix it,” Kasselman said wryly.
The call had a miraculous and unexpected effect, prompting the reporter to apologize; and forever after, Kasselman was known around AT&T as the “whisperer” for this reporter.
In 2014 Kasselman made the hop to the position of Uber’s head of communications for the Americas. It was in the fast-paced environment of Uber, where he led a 50-person team driving the legalization of ridesharing across the U.S., that he really honed his skills: He was called upon to exercise every facet of PR every day, with many on-camera interviews.
Kasselman left Uber after a little under two years. After some down time to regroup and get in tune with nature and his body (he’s now an avid cyclist), he partnered with an Uber colleague to form Greenbrier Partners, a San Francisco PR firm specializing in crisis communications, public affairs and narrative development.
Kasselman has a philosophy of rejecting monthly retainer relationships, preferring to work on projects with a defined scope and an end date. In fact, Greenbrier has had about 80 clients in its two years of existence. While Greenbrier has been acquired by a parent company based in Washington, D.C. (The Messina Group), his office continues to operate independently.
Kasselman ended his talk by conveying his 10 Rules of Public Relations. Key among these:
- “We all do windows, we all do floors.” In other words, be prepared to do anything. He learned this while working for Mayor Newsom, where he was once called upon to hold a boom mic for an entire day for a photo/video shoot.
- Mentors are important throughout your career, and are even more important once you’ve made it. He credits two career-long mentors with helping guide the way for him.
- There’s plenty of work to go around. You don’t have to fight or stab people in the back if you don’t get today’s contract or assignment, because another opportunity will come tomorrow.
- A closely related rule: “Don’t sweat the break-up” with a client. “There are clients all over the place,” he said. “They’re waiting for you. They’re looking for you.”
Kasselman highlighted two seemingly contradictory trends: While on the one hand big corporations are bringing PR work in-house, the explosion of new companies around the Bay Area translates to opportunities for smaller PR agencies, as startups often can’t afford an in-house PR team.
As for what’s meant by “narrative development,” a key focus area for Greenbrier, he gave an example. When Amazon merged with Whole Foods, the development was seen as a potential threat to Instacart, a locally grown food delivery service. Kasselman’s team changed the narrative to portray it as the best thing that ever happened to Instacart. “We flipped it,” he said.
For more info, visit Greenbrier’s website, and you can contact Kasselman at firstname.lastname@example.org.