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PR Man Among Women, Aaron Sadler Tells a Human Story

4 min read

Aaron Sadler chuckles at the idea that he broke the glass ceiling — in reverse — at Ghidotti Communications in Little Rock.

He’s the only man among nine women at the firm, and Natalie Ghidotti’s first male employee since she was a strategic partner within Eric Rob & Isaac. Still, Sadler had to chuckle at being described as a trailblazer, and the gender barrier, the media relations specialist said, was less formidable than the generation gap.

“I’ve been in a sector, politics and law, where there are a lot of seasoned characters,” he said over blackened catfish the other day at Soul Fish Cafe. “Now I work with a lot of millennials, and sometimes that feels unusual.”

At 40, Sadler isn’t exactly a graybeard, but he has worked for more attorneys general than just about anybody (four) and has close to 20 years of newspaper writing under his belt in Arkansas and Washington. The math works out because he was just 13 when he started writing sports for the Trumann Democrat, for $35 a week. “During the summers that went up to $100, because I was helping stuff inserts into the paper, and helping deliver them.”

During college at Arkansas State University, he wrote sports for the Jonesboro Sun, breaking into news after graduation. In those days, he and a co-worker aspired “to be the next John Brummett and Harry King,” Sadler said. “Great columnist and great sportswriter, and it didn’t matter who was who.” Later, Sadler worked in the same Stephens Media office with Brummett, now writing for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, and King, the longtime Associated Press veteran known for his sports writing.

One highlight of his reporting career, years later as Stephens’ Washington correspondent, was covering Mike Huckabee’s 2008 presidential election campaign. He trudged along the frigid early trail in Iowa, often as the lone reporter, until one campaign worker had him checked out for being “this suspicious guy following Huckabee around, like a stalker.” He wound up at a roadside motel in Grinnell, Iowa, after learning the campaign had booked rooms there because “they were $62 a night.”

He quickly discovered one secret to that affordability. “To save money, they didn’t leave the heat running, so I was there in my coat, under the covers, praying that it would get warm at some point.”

The next morning, the campaign worker asked Sadler if he could borrow a windshield scraper. “I’m thinking, OK, you’re running a presidential campaign in Iowa in the stone cold middle of winter, and you’re from Iowa, and you’re hauling around a candidate, and you don’t even have an ice scraper?”

He didn’t know it then, but after years at the Sun, the Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith and Stephens, his journalism career was drawing to a close. After cutbacks at Stephens, he wound up with the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, his first taste of public relations. Next came nearly five years in communications and as chief administrative officer for Dustin McDaniel, the former Arkansas attorney general.

What sounded like “a good career move” went sideways after Sadler followed Blake Rutherford to Pennsylvania, where Rutherford had signed on as chief of staff for Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane. On Sadler’s first day of work, word got out that Kane was likely to face indictment. Three months of crisis management followed, and Kane was eventually convicted of perjury and conspiracy linked to leaks of grand jury information in an attempt to impugn a political rival.

“That was awkward, and also a learning experience,” Sadler said. “I discovered that even the most proactive positive message may not be able to negate a crisis. A criminal indictment is one of those things.”

The brief tenure in Pennsylvania led to jobs with attorneys general in Louisiana and finally in Mississippi, where it dawned on Sadler that it was time to head home. “If my career has shown me anything, it’s shown me that I love Arkansas,” he said. “And I think that we Arkansans want people to like us, and we want to share what’s good about our state. I think the reporters here are also rare in that mostly they feel the same way.”

Sadler said the attractions that drew him into journalism still apply in his PR work. “I still feel like a reporter,” he said. “You go in, you use your eyes and ears and pick up on what the story is, and you try to tell it well. In PR, you see clients doing a great job in a great place and not getting the notice that they deserve. You say, hey, let me find a way to tell that story for you.”

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