Friday, April 22, 2005

Say Hello to Edelman

The public relations guard has changed at the California stem cell agency.

Red Gate Communications, which handled PR for Prop. 71 and some of the early months of the agency's existence, has resigned the account. Edelman, the world’s largest independent public relations firm with 1,800 employees, has been retained.

Also on board as a state employee is Nicole R. Pagano, senior communications specialist, and formerly with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. She is listed at the top of the two-person contact list on the CIRM web site. Below her is Adam Silber, who is head of Edelman's Sacramento office.

In response to questions, Fiona Hutton, president of Red Communications in Studio City, CA., said in an email, “Red Gate Communications recently resigned its representation of the California stem cell agency. As you might imagine, we are very proud of the communications and outreach efforts we so successfully orchestrated during Prop 71 and during the first few, formative (albeit challenging) months of the Institute. It has been our pleasure to have worked closely with the Institute and so many passionate stakeholders throughout both these efforts. The firm continues its stem cell research expertise and advocacy in other regions throughout the nation.”

The change at CIRM came suddenly nearly two weeks ago, leading to a certain amount of speculation and rumor. The agency put out no advisory to the media about the change, merely altering the contact names on its web site.

Only on Thursday did the agency confirm that Edelman had been hired. That was after multiple queries by this blog to the agency and, on Wednesday, to the chief of staff nationally for Edelman

In an email, Pagano said, “CIRM has engaged Edelman to assist the Institute in fulfilling its public education and media relations duties, and was selected after a competitive search process.

“The mission of the Institute is to make grants and provide loans to advance stem cell research. Edelman will assist the Institute in its mission by making its progress as transparent and understandable as possible – both to the voters of California who have funded it and to the medical research communities who share its commitment.”

Pagano did not respond to questions concerning Edelman's compensation or whether it was required to file any economic disclosures in connection with possible conflicts of interest.

The contract is not insignificant. Red Gate's contract provided for as much as $70,000 for work from Jan. 18 to April 18, which was its entire term. While it is not yet known how much Red Gate was paid, the $70,000 figure is not unreasonable given the scope of the work, which went far beyond fielding phone calls from reporters. If Edelman is working under similar terms, a year contract could mean $250,000-$300,000 compensation. However, the agency now has on staff at least one fulltime person, Pagano, so that could affect Edelman's package.

Skilled public relations, information dissemination and public education are valuable assets for any organization. It is even more important for CIRM, which has virtually no track record and which is delving into areas new to medicine and public policy as well as to the public at large. However, PR is dependent on reality. To build a great reputation and keep faith with the people of California, CIRM must demonstrate accomplishment and accountability.

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