From Clinton to Bloomberg, Jason Schechter Traces PR Path


From Clinton to Bloomberg, Jason Schechter Traces PR Path
Jason Schechter

Here’s a career tip Jason Schechter didn’t give to the table full of PR majors at his recent talk at a Public Relations Society of America luncheon at the Little Rock Club: Drop out of college for a semester your senior year.

Yet that strategy worked out beautifully for Schechter, communications chief at Bloomberg LP, who wasn’t idle as he sat out of Georgetown University 20 years ago. He was traveling with the 1996 Clinton-Gore re-election campaign.

Some of that time was spent in Little Rock, where his guide was Denver Peacock, then a young Ouachita Baptist University graduate working as an advance man for the Clinton team. “I’ve known Denver for 20 years; I know we don’t look that old,” Schechter joked.

Peacock went on to get a law degree, become PR director at CJRW and eventually to open his own strategic communications shop, The Peacock Group, in the River Market district. Peacock was driving Schechter around again on the day of the speech.

“It was strange to begin my working life at the White House,” Schechter said as his old friend lent an ear. “A lot of students spend a semester studying abroad, rather than helping get the president re-elected.” He eventually became an official spokesman for President Bill Clinton, traveling to virtually every state and to more than 20 foreign countries.

He also worked for three White House press secretaries — Mike McCurry, Joe Lockhart and Jake Siewert, communications chief at Goldman Sachs. “They were all great bosses and I learned a tremendous amount from each of them.”

Peacock worked for the near-miss Gore-Lieberman campaign in 2000 while Schechter entered the corporate world, taking executive positions at Robinson Lerer & Montgomery and then Burson-Marsteller, both New York-based communications firms.

That work was a far cry from clipping hundreds of newspaper items on the night shift for use in morning briefings, one of Schechter’s first White House tasks. “That actually gave me insight, a lot of information about the administration and what was important to it.”

Schecter has been with Bloomberg for four years, and he spoke on his role there to dozens of local PR professionals, along with a group of University of Arkansas at Little Rock PR and mass communications students accompanied by Professor Amy Barnes, the former KATV and KARK newscaster.

Schechter discussed challenges at Bloomberg, including initiatives to help the $9 billion software and communications company grow in the wake of CEO Mike Bloomberg’s corporate return after 12 years as mayor of New York City.

“When you work at a place where the name on the door is Bloomberg, and then a guy named Bloomberg comes back to run the company, it’s fantastic.”

Having the founder and owner back has energized the company’s 19,000 employees and affirmed its values, including transparency, innovation and philanthropy, Schechter said. “Mike sits out in the open like everybody else in our open office plan. That was something we were doing long before the tech companies took it up. His view is that it fosters better communication, better trust. When you put up walls, he says, the first question is what’s being said and done behind those walls. So openness removes a lot of trust issues. It’s good for speed and efficiency and idea generation too.”

Schechter told the communications pros to define their value clearly to their companies and clients, and to understand business objectives intimately. He pressed them to adopt measurement tools developed in marketing. “They have all these great metrics — lead generation, click-through data, cost per acquisition — and these help marketing departments show business value back to their companies and clients. We need to be thinking about these same things.”

He discussed Bloomberg’s goals against the backdrop of a drastically challenged media environment, but conceded that he has a great advantage. “Our capital base doesn’t come from our media side,” Schechter said. “It comes from our financial products side, the Bloomberg Terminal. So advertising revenue and media subscriptions are important, but not the bulk of our revenue.”

He urged communicators to focus on core audiences, but also to innovate. He said that the trend toward content creation is good in PR. “You have ways now to develop your own content and to place it in the marketplace directly,” he said. “But I don’t think it’s a replacement for traditional media relations or traditional employee relations. You have to have real relationships with the people who matter to your business.”