We all know that politics makes strange bedfellows, but when the bedroom itself gets auctioned off to public investors, who shares the linen gets stranger still. Last February, in a "highly unique" offering (as its underwriter, Washington, D.C.-based Johnston, Lemon & Co., characterized it), the public relations firm of Gray and Company Public Communications International Inc. put 425,000 shares in the company on the market, raising nearly $3 million. Gray and Company, the first major PR firm to go public, was founded in Washington, D.C., in 1981 by Robert Gray, former vice-chairman of the PR firm Hill and Knowlton Inc. and a veteran of Republican administrations stretching back to the days of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
A PR firm specializing in Washington power politics would seem highly vulnerable to election-year caprice, but Gray professes not to worry. Like any far-sighted chief executive, he has hedged against off-cycles by expanding his product line (read: Washington heavyweights) beyond narrow market (read: partisan) boundaries. Among Gray's new cohorts: Alejandro Orfila, a former Argentinian ambassador to the United States; Bryce Harlow, one-time Nixon White House adviser; Gary Hymel, longtime administrative assistant to House Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill; Richard Wirthlin, Ronald Reagan's 1980 political pollster; and Frank Mankiewicz, former George McGovern campaign director and recently retired president of National Public Radio.
Given the fact that Gray's personal ties to the incumbent Administration are well known (he was chairman of the 1981 Presidential Inaugural Committee, among other honors), was there not reason to suspect that the timing of the firm's offering bore some relation, however remote, to the realities of the political calendar?
"No, there is not," says Gray. "Whether President Reagan stays in office -- which I hope he does -- has nothing to do with it. I'm 62 years old, and even if I had the patience, I don't have the time ahead of me to get the firm where I want it to be by the time I retire. We didn't need the money to retire debt, either; we wanted it to expand existing facilities and be in a position to acquire other ventures that might expand our service capabilities."
Invoking the spirit of the equal-time doctrine, Gray points out that while he has had a close association with Edwin Meese ("a nonrevenue source for the company"), the Attorney General-designate whose nomination ran into severe trouble on Capitol Hill, colleague Mankiewicz was not shy about taking time off from his official duties to advise Gary Hart on strategy for the Presidential primary. "We've got a bunch of political animals around here," says Gray, "and I like 'em to go out and follow their own instincts."
CORRECTION-DATE: August 1984
The caption in "Capitalizing Contacts" (People & Innovations, June) incorrectly identified Frank Mankiewicz as Robert Gray.