One on One with George Regan
‘If you’ve got a mouth, use it,’ says PR poobah
Photograph by Frank Curran
The scene: The Union Wharf office of George Regan, the president of Regan Communications Group and long-ago press secretary to former mayor Kevin White. His dog, Brother Bailey, named after former Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey, is up on the table in one corner and 400 pictures, most of them of Regan alongside friends and famous people, cover every inch of every wall.
Where do you get your news? I get up around 5, take the dogs out, then I check TV and radio, the Globe, the Herald, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News, and sometimes the Miami Herald.
How do you take your news, electronically or in print? I read everything in hard copies. I’m looking for potential new business. If someone’s got a problem, let’s go for it.
Your company does public relations, government relations, media training, marketing, and video production. What is it you specialize in? I’m a really good strategist. I learned that from Kevin White. You don’t really learn that at BU or Suffolk. I excel at dealing with crises and problem-solving. Restaurant openings are not really my thing.
Speaking of crisis management, you’ve got one on your hands with your fight with Suffolk University President Margaret McKenna. Where does that stand? It’s still ongoing. We’re only in the sixth inning.
Will you win? It’s not about winning. It’s saving the school. They made a horrible decision. Marty Meehan was their choice to lead Suffolk and three days before the announcement, UMass came roaring in the door and he took that job. The air was out of the balloon of the trustees and they really didn’t have the stomach for another search. They talked to Korn Ferry, the headhunter, who said there’s no one else out there. The only one that’s been vetted is Margaret McKenna. So they held their noses and went with Margaret McKenna. There’s a lesson in that. They paid a price and the school has paid a price.
Just when things seemed to be quieting down, your lawyer sent a demand letter to McKenna and Suffolk’s executive board alleging, among other things, that the school illegally broke its contract with your firm. Was it wise to keep the dispute going? I owe that school and that woman has no right being the leader. That’s why I took a very public stand. I learned that from Kevin. If you’ve got a mouth, use it. It gets me in trouble, too.
Did you release the demand letter to the press? No, I did not.
Did McKenna release it? I don’t know this for a fact, but I’m told she released it. [Suffolk’s spokesman says the school did not release the letter].
Her PR person, Greg Gatlin, used to work for you, right? Yes. Sometimes people forget where they came from. I think he thinks he came over on the Mayflower and had a window seat.
But isn’t he just doing his job now that he’s working for McKenna? Yeah, it’s fine, but I’m a little disappointed in him. That’s Greg. I don’t lose any sleep over it.
You said the last time you met McKenna in person was just before Christmas at Davio’s, where you and your staff presented your PR plan for the coming year to McKenna and John Nucci, the senior vice president for external affairs at Suffolk. What happened at that dinner? She basically said at that dinner, do you want to be on my team or Drew’s team? [Drew is Suffolk board chairman Andrew Meyer.] She thought I was the vehicle to get rid of him. She knew that I knew Drew very well.
Why do you think she wanted Meyer gone? She wants to get rid of him because he has a strong voice, too.
How did you respond? I told her she was delusional to think we’d get involved. When you’re the president by default, you have to understand that. She knew at that point where our allegiance was. She saw it as either her or him. It had nothing to do with the school. It was all about her.Was there any followup to that meeting? I got a call from Nucci. He said Carol Streit, who is McKenna’s chief of staff and has a personal relationship with her, had asked him to call me and get me to revisit the Drew issue, to get him to step down from the board. I told John absolutely not, it’s not going to happen.
How do you think this will end? I don’t know what’s going to happen. She’s made a lot of enemies unnecessarily. The board really wanted this to work. They really did. I remember the day after the announcement [of McKenna’s appointment], Drew called me and said the press was good, I can get back to work now. The second day she’s pulling down pictures of trustees at the law school. The second day.