Ron Rogers spends his time in L.A. running the county’s biggest independent P.R. firm, but on his off hours he likes to punch cattle in Colorado
As head of Rogers & Associates, the biggest independent public relations agency in Los Angeles, Ron Rogers continues a family tradition of P.R. His father, Henry Rogers, founded the firm Rogers & Cowan five decades ago, and Ron worked there before setting up his own shop.
Rogers & Associates is among the fastest-growing P.R. agencies in L.A.; 1999 fee income was around $8.2 million, and that number is projected to exceed $10 million this year. Clients include Honda, AT & T; Wireless and American Airlines, as well as a slew of government and quasi-government agencies. Pro bono work for such foundations as the Rape Treatment Center and the L.A. Roman Catholic Archdiocese’s Cathedral project are also testament to Rogers’ reach.
Rogers is married to attorney Lisa Specht, a partner in the L.A. firm of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP, and a force in local political circles thanks to her seats on the L.A. Coliseum Commission and L.A. Parks and Recreation Commission. Together, they own a cattle ranch in Colorado, where they spend their off hours herding the animals across the plains.
Rogers’ success is all the more remarkable given that he didn’t even finish high school, due to a learning disability related to dyslexia.
Question: You and your wife are both active in Los Angeles civic affairs, as well as within the Democratic Party, leading to your reputation as one of the city’s power couples. What does that mean for you?
Answer: I’ll talk for me, not Lisa. I would say I’m active in the political process and active within the Democratic Party. But we have a mayor who is a Republican, who I think is the best, and I’ve spent a lot of time (being) supportive of him. I talk to the mayor all the time, about all sorts of things. I would say that I am active in the political process, but more of my time is involved in philanthropic and other issues affecting the state than in political campaigns. Lisa’s the high-profile one, I really like to stay behind the scenes.
Q: How did you meet President Clinton?
A: Really through (former U.S. Commerce Secretary) Mickey Kantor, because Mickey was Lisa’s legal partner for more than 20 years. That’s one of the connections.
Q: So what form does your activism in the Democratic Party take?
A: From raising money, to strategy, to building coalitions of people behind someone that I believe in that I think will do a good job.
Q: Your influence clearly extends beyond politics, encompassing the corporate world as well, as it relates to your P.R. business. Tell us about that.
A: I think I was bred to it, to a certain degree. My father started in the public relations business. I’ve been in it since I was 19 years old. Worked in the entertainment industry, left. Worked for Alfred Bloomingdale for a number of years, who was part of (then-California Gov. Ronald Reagan’s) kitchen cabinet. He was this crotchety old character who would scream at me to come into his office, and he’d say, “I have this company that’s losing money, go figure out why, and if you can’t figure out why, don’t come back.” And so I wound up running companies for him. I started as his administrative assistant and became vice president. I was taking accounting classes at UCLA because I didn’t know how to read a balance sheet. So that’s where I got my unofficial business degree.
Q: So you never got a college degree?
A: I was a high school dropout. I never made it past the 11th grade. I did go back and go to junior college for a couple of years, but never finished. When I was growing up, I had real learning difficulties, and at the time, they didn’t know what it was. The only thing I did well was ride (horses). So it became a passion, and it stuck with me. I was on the rodeo team in college. So I feel more comfortable on a horse chasing cows than I do in a suit and tie.
Q: And you probably get plenty of opportunities to chase cows on your Colorado spread. Word is, it’s huge.
A: It’s a “section,” which is 640 acres. We have 200 beef cattle. We sell the calves every year, and grow our own hay. We have 10 horses and 40 chickens and dogs and cats and ducks and geese. With our neighbors, we also lease 40,000 acres of federal land for the cattle to graze on. It was an old cattle ranch that had been started back in the 1880s, 1870s. I saw it and fell in love with it. There were two old rundown houses, one a little log cabin that dated from the turn of the century and a farmhouse that was built in 1910, 1915. They were about to collapse, and the fences had all fallen down, and the irrigation ditches had all collapsed. And so we just started rebuilding. And then we got a couple of horses, and then we started with about 16 cows and built it up.
Q: What about your primary business?
A: In broad terms, we are strategic communications counsel to business, government and nonprofits, and advisors to presidents, CEOs and elected officials. About half our business is working for government agencies, the other half is working for private corporations. So we do programs like the anti-smoking program for the state of California, AIDS education programs. With these big education programs we can take a lot of the kinds of (P.R. campaigns) we’ve always done (for corporate clients) and apply them, and do great work, make our society a little better and get paid for it, too. Whether in the private sector or public sector, we can pick and choose our clients very carefully, and fortunately, we’re in a position to do that.
Q: Along those same lines, you’re doing some work for the White House, aren’t you?
A: We work with the “drug czar,” (Gen. Barry) McCaffrey, on the large anti-drug campaign.
Q: You are close to Police Chief Bernard Parks. In light of the Rampart scandal, what is your assessment of the job he is doing?
A: I met Bernard eight or nine years ago, and was quite disappointed when he didn’t make chief the first time. I worked in being supportive of him becoming the chief, and continue to help the department in other ways. I don’t want to get into specific issues, because I definitely have a vested interest in the department and the chief. But if you take a look at where it has come from since Bernard became chief, it’s pretty remarkable from (his) trying to build up a department with more staff, to introducing technology which wasn’t there a few years ago. There were people working in closets. There is always tons of room for improvement, but I think the job that has been done has been remarkable. (Rampart) has been going on for evidently some time, and they needed a system in place to do better tracking.
Q: While Chief Parks clearly has a tough job, it’s probably tamer than the one you held briefly, as a rodeo cowboy. What was that like?
A: It was idiotic, is what it was, because when you get older it’s harder to get up in the morning, your bones ache. If you’ve ridden enough, whether rodeo or just riding, you wind up breaking things over the years. I’ve done saddle bronc and bareback bronc (riding). And bulls once.
Q: How many seconds were you up on the bull?
A: Probably about two seconds, before I was thrown into a fence and got a concussion and broke three ribs. That’s when I decided you really have to be crazy to do that.
Q: So now you’re content to stick with P.R. and cattle ranching. No doubt P.R. is profitable, but how about ranching?
A: You are lucky if you’re ever able to make a profit. And I’m learning that the more cows you have, the more money you lose.
Q: Why not just have the ranch and forego the hassle of the cattle?
A: That’s not a ranch, that’s having a piece of property. It’s a different lifestyle, it’s a different life.