by DAINA BETH SOLOMON, Staff Reporter for Los Angeles Business Journal
PR exec Richard Grenell doesn’t shy away from intense jobs or backing gay rights as a Republican.
COMMUNICATIONS strategist Richard Grenell thrives on the challenge of solving a headline-hitting crisis.
His latest efforts are on behalf of Kate Del Castillo, an L.A. actress under scrutiny from both the U.S. and Mexican governments after facilitating a meeting between movie star Sean Penn and Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Grenell, founder of Capitol Media Partners in Manhattan Beach, is uniquely positioned to burnish Del Castillo’s image on both sides of the border while finding a diplomatic solution to her problems given his eight years at the United Nations as a spokesman.
“I like to work with people who are brave and courageous,” said Grenell. “That innately means you are not afraid of scrutiny or bad press.”
Capitol usually turns down potential clients who want to avoid the media, since Grenell finds it boring to duck and cover. Instead, he opts for predicaments that are complicated and intense. Sometimes the clients come from as far away as the United Kingdom, Iran, Kazakhstan, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Closer to home, Grenell has advised Hollywood celebrities such as Ryan Gosling and George Clooney – but only on “substantive issues” never “fluff.”
Grenell aims for Capitol to stay small and selective about its clients, choosing only those whose issues align with its own causes. It charges a monthly retainer but would not disclose its fees. After launching in 2009 from his home office, Grenell brought in partners Brad Chase in San Francisco; Chris Byrne in New York; and Dave McCulloch in Washington, D.C. He aims for each to treat the job as a passion.
“I’m encouraging people to be themselves and live loud,” said Grenell, 49, who goes by “Ric.” “And I think people respect the authenticity.”
In the background of it all is Grenell’s personal challenge – advocating for gay rights from within the Republican Party.
“It’s a battle that’s in my heart,” said Grenell, who lives with his partner, Matt Lashey, and their dog, Lola. “I’m fighting intolerance on the left and the right.”
Grenell resigned from Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign in 2012 after enduring backlash from anti-gay conservatives. He said at the time the attention on personal issues would distract from the campaign. Now, the veteran spokesman, a self-described hardcore conservative who believes in limited government, said he doesn’t dwell on the episode.
“I don’t reflect. I still fight,” he said.
One of his strategies is to be comfortably out in frequent Fox News appearances discussing foreign policy and national security.
“People see me as a conservative on foreign policy issues – a hawk,” he said. “Then to hear me espouse a pro-gay marriage position, they’re, like, ‘Well, if he can do it, maybe it’s OK if I think that way.’”
A recent battle with cancer, which he recovered from in 2013, prompted him to sharpen his efforts.
“Life is short,” said Grenell. “I want to do big things, I want to make change. And that’s complicated and controversial and a lot of people don’t like you for it.”
Grenell, who has a master’s in public administration from Harvard University, doesn’t shy away from his opponents. And living in left-leaning Los Angeles, with a second home in Palm Springs, offers plenty of opportunities to be challenged.
“I love intense debate,” he said. “It would be dull to live in a community where everyone agrees with you.”
That philosophy carries over to Twitter, where Grenell, with 28,800 followers, is quick to spar over politics and political messaging.
In a recent tweet, he jabbed at feminist icon Madeline Albright’s rebuke of women who don’t support presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
“Team Hillary attacking young women for not supporting Hillary is a real #waronwomen,” he wrote.
Grenell sees Twitter as a powerful platform for all kinds of people to project opinions on equal footing with Washington politicians and established media.
“Normal, everyday Americans are finding their voice on Twitter and they’re standing up to the power,” Grenell said.
In fact, he credits the success of Donald Trump’s and Ted Cruz’s presidential campaigns on the deep engagement of their Twitter followers. But he does have a few words of advice for the GOP candidates: “Stop attacking Obama, he’s not on the ticket. And give us your ideas.”
Grenell served as the U.S. spokesman at the United Nations from 2001 to 2008, the longest period for an American to hold that position. As an appointee of President George W. Bush, he helped craft communication strategy on the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Iraq, along with Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Conflicts in Haiti, Liberia, the Congo, Sudan, North Korea, Syria and Lebanon also received his attention.
Grenell had previously represented former San Diego Mayor Susan Golding as well as a New York governor and a couple of congressmen.
Years of working alongside politicians taught him the value of educating reporters with triple-checked information, especially in the midst of fast-moving crisis situations.
“A lot of it is trust,” said Grenell. “They have to know that when you tell them something it’s the truth.”
Grenell said his plans for Del Castillo will involve an extensive diplomacy campaign.
The actress, known for portraying a tough drug boss on telenovela “The Queen of the South,” had begun communicating with El Chapo several years ago after posting a tweet calling for the kingpin to “traffic in love.” He appeared interested in her plans to create a biopic of his life, and agreed to secretly meet in October with her and Penn in Mexico. When authorities captured El Chapo in January, Penn published a lengthy Rolling Stone article recounting the meeting. The piece was blasted for making light of one of the world’s most notorious drug dealers, who has been blamed for many deaths. Meanwhile, Del Castillo is reportedly being investigated in a money-laundering probe.
Grenell said his task now is to help journalists get Del Castillo’s story right, even if they need to spend several weeks grappling with complex issues of international policy.
“You want someone to dig into the truth,” he said.
Source: Los Angeles Business Journal 02/15/16