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Sully’s a Hit at White House – and with PR Tips

January 21, 2013

Former White House Communications Director shares insights from serving as adviser to the President in an “inauguration special” first program of 2013.

“I’m from Chicago, sir. White Sox, not Cubs.”

That was how Kevin “Sully” Sullivan – the featured speaker at the Tampa Bay PRSA chapter’s first program of 2013, a Jan. 15 luncheon at Brio’s Tuscan Grille in Tampa — responded to the first question during the biggest job interview of his career.

Sully was in the Oval Office, not a place for the faint of heart, to talk with President George W. Bush about becoming White House communications director. Going into the interview, Sully had done extensive preparation on key issues.

But he also had been told that an important part of the interview would be whether he could build a comfortable chemistry with the President. Sully had worked for the NBA’s Mavericks in Dallas, and for NBC Universal in New York. He knew the President is a big baseball fan, and that he ran the Texas Rangers before becoming governor of Texas.

But at the same time, he didn’t want to come off as a “sports guy.”

He didn’t know exactly how or if sports would come into the conversation, but if an opportunity arose, he’d be ready.

As it turned out, to begin the interview, the President said he understood Sully had worked in Dallas and New York, but he wanted to know where Sully was from.

Next thing he knew, Sully gave his answer.

Short, to the point, with a twinkle in his eye. It immediately made both of them feel at ease, and made the rest of the interview a success.

A week later, Sully found himself working at the White House in one of the most demanding, rewarding and fascinating jobs in public relations, and eventually became a trusted counselor to the President.

The anecdote illustrated one of Sully’s eight tips to becoming a trusted adviser: Be prepared, open and honest – and as he demonstrated in the Oval Office, be ready to be quick on your feet.

The inaugural program of the year was attended by about 50 appreciative public relations professionals, and was held six days before the Presidential Inauguration swearing-in ceremony, giving the chapter a timely tie in to a once-every-four-years national event.

Sully shared insightful and sometimes humorous stories from his experiences at the White House, and from his jobs with the Mavericks, where he received a lifetime achievement award from the NBA, with NBC Sports, where his duties included overseeing communications for NBC’s coverage of three Olympic Games; and on the corporate side with NBC Universal.

He has adopted St. Pete as his hometown, where he lives happily with his wife and children and, as an ardent sports fan, roots for the Bucs, Lightning and Rays (unless of course they’re playing the Chicago teams he grew up with).

Since 2009, he has been running a successful practice, Kevin Sullivan Communications, Inc., providing strategic counsel to companies of all sizes, and is in demand as a media trainer and speech coach for corporations and professional and college sports teams, and as an entertaining speaker.

You can follow him on Twitter @KSullie. And now you know – just like President Bush learned early on – that Sully’s from Chicago. White Sox, sir, not Cubs.

Sully’s Trust Tips

Below are the eight tips to becoming a trust adviser that Kevin Sullivan shared at the Jan. 15 PRSA Tampa Bay chapter program:

  • Trust must be earned and deserved.
  • Demonstrate how you can add value.
  • Be prepared, open and honest.
  • It’s not about you, but about helping your boss succeed.
  • Offer options and be a team player.
  • It’s not enough to be right; you must also be helpful.
  • Adopt the mindset of an expert – communications counsel is just as important as marketing, finance and legal
  • Advice from Undersecretary of Education Ted McPherson: “Take a look around, see where you can add value — and be bold.”
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