There is some significance to the statue of Wonder Woman on Gail Becker's desk. The comic book character is owned by Warner Bros., Becker's former employer and a major client of Edelman, the public relations agency where she now works. Although the slim, blond Becker bears no physical resemblance to the raven-haired Queen of the Amazons, she has worked some wonders over the course of her career. Originally a TV reporter in Washington, D.C., she joined the Clinton-Gore presidential campaign in 1992. That led to a job as communications director at the Department of Health and Human Services. She returned to Los Angeles in 1994 and joined Warner Bros. to handle the public relations campaign for the launch of the DVD format. In 2000, she moved to Edelman, where she is president for the western region and chairwoman of the company's Canadian and Latin American operations. Her clients include the Motion Picture Association of America and other Hollywood trade groups. Becker met with the Business Journal in her corner office 24 stories above Wilshire Boulevard on the Miracle Mile.


Question: You didn't last long in local TV news, did you?

Answer: After graduate school, I got a TV job in Beaumont, Texas. I covered chili cook-offs, a hurricane, a crawfish festival, refinery fires and about 100 ways to kill a man lots of crime. After about a year, I decided local news was not for me.


Q: Where did you go?

A: I moved to Washington, D.C., where I worked for a news bureau. We did Washington stories with a local angle for TV stations all over the country. It was one of the best jobs I ever had. But after three years, I went back to Los Angeles for personal reasons.

Q: That led to your big break?

A: I did freelance assignments and for one I interviewed Ron Brown. He was Democratic National Committee chairman at the time. He called the next day and said he was looking to hire producers for the New York convention in 1992. Could I work for them? I said sure.

Q: What was the campaign like?

A: I was the satellite news producer. After the convention, I would go to a city two days before the candidates and pick a location for the satellite link. I was like an advance man, but for satellite news. I did all the interviews with Clinton and Gore via satellite during the entire campaign, up to election night one of the best nights of my life.

Q: And that led to a job with the Clinton administration.

A: I got a job as director of communication for the Department of Health and Human Services. I worked for Secretary Donna Shalala.

Q: Was it a good fit?

A: What type of person joins a political campaign? Type A personality, willing to put their lives aside and move across the country, travel to a new city every couple of days. Then the campaign wins and these people are rewarded with Type B jobs. You're working in a very large bureaucracy. It strikes me as fitting square pegs into round holes. But I would not have traded that experience for anything. I feel glad about having done it.

Q: The best part?

A: You'll never be with so many like-minded people who have such passion for a common goal that they are willing to forego high salaries and time with their families to make a contribution to society.



Q: What brought you back to Los Angeles again?

A: After a few years in Washington, my husband said it's time to go back to California. I came back to Los Angeles and thought, "What am I going to do?" I saw a big blind ad in Variety that said, "Come to a movie studio and launch a technology that will revolutionize the industry." Six interviews later, I got the job at Warner Bros.



Q: Why did you get the job over established Hollywood applicants?

A: I had no technology experience and no entertainment experience, but I had political experience. At the time in 1993, the introduction of the DVD was seen as a political battle between Time Warner and Toshiba on one end and Sony and Philips on the other end. The battle was over who would have the specs for the DVD format, and Time Warner won.

Q: Why was that campaign so successful?

A: First, the DVD was the first crossover product linking the television and the computer. Second, it was the first consumer electronic launch that used the Internet to spread the word among early adopters. Those two factors were a lethal combination.

Q: But it's predicted that DVDs will be obsolete in a few years due to Internet downloads.

A: Hard to believe. The launch of the DVD was a unique moment in time. It became powerful faster than anyone expected. When you think back to the launch of the DVD, it has one goal: prolong the life of the packaged media business. It accomplished that goal; it extended it for a window of time.

Q: How did that lead to your current assignment?

A: I worked six years and launched the DVD format. Warner Bros. was a client of Edelman and that led to this job.

Q: What is your advice to midcareer executives contemplating a move to PR?

A: When I was in college, I interned at ABC News in Washington. For a summer of free work, they gave us an hour with Ted Koppel. I asked him if he thought I should switch my major because I was majoring in communications, but I didn't like the classes. I loved my political science classes. His advice was that I should study things I don't know about. So I changed my major. I would offer similar advice to people looking to switch careers. Come to the PR industry with an expertise, something you're passionate about. We can teach you the rest.

Q: As the traditional media deflates, are you inundated with people looking for jobs?

A: We get a lot of resumes. We have a lot of former journalists working here, including myself, but it doesn't always work out. Journalism is such a lone profession. You get an assignment, you work on it and you turn it in. Public relations is much more collaborative. Some journalists can't switch to that environment.

Q: Do you ever regret leaving journalism?

A: I was tired of being objective. The idea of having a career telling people what I actually thought was too good to pass up.

Q: Before you went into PR, what did you think it was?

A: Coming from Washington, I communicated for the administration. And in L.A., I worked for an entertainment company. When I came to Edelman I thought I would be part of this top-down communication model that no longer exists. The definition of public relations has turned out much broader than I ever expected.

Q: Was it hard to switch from Washington to Hollywood?

A: Actually, both cities share a great deal. A good deal of our business comes from outside Los Angeles and even outside the country. Many people want to affect what goes on in Hollywood, and the reverse they want to be affected by it. Companies want a touch point with Hollywood and the West Coast region. The same logic holds in Washington.



Q: But in terms of business style, aren't they on opposite ends of the spectrum?

A: The clothes are different, but the people and the passions are very similar. Not by happenstance, Hollywood and Washington are enamored with each other. That hasn't changed over time. Whenever I'm here, people ask me what it was like to work in Washington. When I was in Washington, people asked me what was L.A. and Hollywood really like.

Q: What is a typical day like for you?

A: I get up early, between 4 and 5 a.m. I work and go through e-mails at home. Then I exercise by lifting weights at the gym. I come to the office about 8:30. I spend most of the day in meetings and video conference calls.

Q: What's difficult about your job?

A: It's hard to be responsible for people in offices where you don't sit and work I supervise people in Seattle and Latin America. But there's always something unexpected during the day, whether it's an internal management issue, a new business opportunity or the crisis of a client. I've been here almost 10 years, and I can't think of two that were alike, or even one day when I was bored.


Q: How does the consolidation of media affect the PR industry?

A: Because of rapidly declining advertising dollars, journalists are losing jobs left and right. As a consequence, the media news space is shrinking. But you have to reconcile that with more people consuming more information from more sources, a lot of them digital online communities, social networking. So the opportunity for public relations is greater than ever.



Q: You prefer the term "public engagement" to "public relations."

A: We think the term is more descript of where the business is heading today. Continuous conversation is the only way to build trust. Traditional public relations must embrace the new media landscape.

Q: Examples?

A: We had a viral video for WonderBra; as a result, the line sold out in stores. For Axe body spray, we created a Facebook page to share experiences of manly attraction. With Brita, we encouraged people to refill bottles of water rather than buying new ones enormously successful campaign. Those are all examples of engaging the public in a way that builds trust.

Q: What about the future of advertising and PR?

A: If you look at advertising over the last decade, the growth has been 3 percent. For PR, it has been 10 percent, according to the Boston Group. So dollars that previously went to advertising are going elsewhere. This is the opportunity for PR to lead in the coming decades.

Q: Both journalism and the PR profession have low ratings from the public in terms of trust and likability. Why?

A: Based on responses to this year's Edelman Trust Barometer, it seems for PR professionals our image is outdated and associated with the old top-down corporate communications model. For media, the reason people gave for giving it low trust ratings had to do with what happened in business the recession and companies falling from grace. A lot of people are wondering how come journalists didn't get that story and why they didn't serve the watchdog function.



Q: How is working for the Hollywood trade associations different than accounts of corporate clients?

A: Under other circumstances, the members of a trade group are fierce competitors. They only come together to achieve an industry goal. That's pretty challenging. It would be false to say politics only exist in Washington.

Q: What is your advice to entrepreneurs and chief executives about PR?
A: When CEOs look at the world today, they see a recession, collapsing press, a government talking about good corporate citizenship and consumers moving from what they want to what they need. All of that has led to a demand for transparency, reduced compensation and the need for a social benefit from corporations. In other words, companies are now accountable for more than just making money. That should give CEOs a new perspective on where their companies are headed.

Gail Becker

Title: President, Western Region and Chairman, Canada & Latin America

COMPANY: Edelman

Born: San Francisco

Education: Bachelor's degree in political science, UCLA; master's degree in
journalism from Northwestern

Career Turning Point: Interviewed Ron Brown, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, as a freelance journalist. He then asked her to join the Clinton-Gore campaign.

Most Influential People: Michael Deaver, former aide to President Reagan and vice chairman of Edelman; Ted Koppel, ABC News anchor; President Clinton; Chief Executive Richard Edelman

Personal: Lives in Studio City with husband Jon Miller, an attorney at Sony Corp., and two sons, ages 11 and 6

Hobbies: Travel to Europe and the Caribbean

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