Monday, June 27, 2011

Stem Cell Agency Seeking High Level PR Person; Salary Could Top $200,000

The California stem cell agency is seeking to hire a public relations person at a salary of up to $208,250 to peddle the good news about its efforts and pave the way for voter approval of a $3 billion to $5 billion state bond issue.

The CIRM board approved the position last week. It was promptly posted yesterday on the CIRM web site.

The job description does not mention the bond measure, but that is clearly in the minds of the board. Last week, they chose a man to head the $3 billion agency who says it is in "communications war." Jonathan Thomas, a Los Angeles bond financier, said he is embarking on a misssion to tell CIRM's "great story" and assure its continued financing.

The new PR person will work under the direction of Thomas and Co-vice Chairman Art Torres, a former longtime state legislator and head of the state Democratic Party. Torres himself has a better-than-average understanding of PR and what it takes to win elections. Torres is also chair of the CIRM board's Communications Subcommittee.

The salary for the new position, with a range from $139,048 to $208,520, is likely raise some eyebrows. It could exceed that of the head of the NIH, who earns $200,000 and oversees a $40 billion budget, but who is obviously underpaid. It is certain to exceed that of the media director for the University of California system, who earned $110,437 in 2009 and that of the communications chief at UCLA, who was paid $156,180 in 2009.  The chief communications officer at CIRM was paid $194,409 in 2010, but the new person is virtually certain to be paid more. (The salary figures were reported by The Sacramento Bee's state salary database.)

Significantly, the position – director of public communications -- is within the chairman's office and not the office of the president of CIRM, Alan Trounson. Left within Trounson's purview, perhaps only nominally in terms of its strategic direction, is scientific communications. The California Stem Cell Report has commented earlier on the difficulty of running a PR operation with a bifurcated structure.

The job description makes it clear that the new PR person will be contracting with an outside firm for additional help. The description also indicated that CIRM expects to see "quantitative and qualitative growth" in media coverage of the stem cell research effort.

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