Month: January 2018

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Exclusive Interview With Gerry Gunster of Goddard Gunster

Credit: Jetsetter

Editor’s Note
Gerry Gunster oversees international and state advocacy issues, providing strategic counsel for Goddard Gunster, a political consulting firm based in Washington D.C. with offices in London, Cairo and Lausanne. Mr. Gunster directs ballot measure and branding campaigns. This interview was conducted via email.

Interviewology: How did you arrive at founding Gunster Strategies Worldwide? Please describe your evolution and career path. 

Gerry Gunster: I believe I have a very typical Washington D.C. experience – serving under members of Congress, trade associations, and various other corporate entities in the realm of public affairs and communications. At age 29, I transitioned into initiatives and referendums in California – where I found great success. Particularly, I played a key role on Proposition 5, which afforded Native Americans the legal right to operate casinos on reservations. After such a decisive campaign win (62-38%) to cap my overall experience, I believed I had the necessary tools to successfully launch my own firm.

Interviewology: How had political consulting advocacy evolved with the onset of social media and the importance of online culture and smartphones? 

G G: When I first began working in the political communications sphere, we simply had television, radio, print, and lobbying efforts to advance an agenda. The budget was dedicated nearly in its entirety to these mediums to move the needle. In the current era, resources are spread to also include various social media channels to push digital advertising. To put the importance of digital advertising into perspective, I love the example of our campaign in support of Brexit. British law prohibits the use of TV ad buys for political campaigns so online marketing served as the most crucial tactical element in the success of Brexit from our strategic standpoint.

Interviewology: How has Gunter Strategies adapted with these evolutions? 

G G: We have adapted to the rise in influence by social media while also balancing what works in various markets. As Tip O’Neill stated, “all politics is local” and that applies to the tactical deployment of social media and digital strategy. Success in this industry requires adaptability as markets change frequently and drastically, especially from a global perspective. Case and point brings us back to Brexit where TV advertising was off the table, which forced our hand in directing predominantly all of our resources into digital campaigns, where we were extremely successful.

Interviewology: Please describe some of the ethical practices of your business concerning topics like conflicts of interest, political ideologies, etc?  

G G: GSW is well known for its work in breaking down unnecessary barriers that hinder pro-business policies and economic growth. Aside from that, our firm steers clear of social issue agendas that create divisiveness amongst staff and clients. Another key element to consider is that while we do issue advocacy in the United States, we do not represent domestic political candidates. We do however, handle strategy and operations for foreign political clients and party campaigns. As such, it is extremely rare for a conflict of interest to present itself, especially domestically. I am proud of the reputation we have built and it continues to gravitate clientele of similar ideologies to our company.

Interviewology: What role, if any, does philanthropy play in your business philosophy and culture?

G G: Giving back should be a core element of any successful business and it is something we pride ourselves on. Here at GSW, we frequently provide pro bono work to support various organizations and people who desperately need our advocacy. Further, we provide charitable donations to the Global Child Nutrition Foundation and Tracy’s Kids, and are always on the lookout for great organizations to invest and contribute to.

Interviewology: What is your ideal client? What do you look for in a client? 

G G: Ideally, we represent clients who not only align with our relative philosophy and ideology, but are willing to take risks. Over the years, I have also cautioned against companies seeking the ‘quick fix’ because there is no such thing. Any substantive victory I have achieved has been done through precision and an organized campaign, which takes time.

Interviewology: Describe one of your biggest success stories.

G G: My proudest professional accomplishment was serving as Chief Advisor for the Leave.EU campaign on Brexit. Aside from the obvious rationale of contributing to such a historic moment, I cannot emphasize enough what a risk this was. Countless friends and colleagues inside the Beltway pressured me to back off, as this was such a contentious and divisive issue with no room for victory. Not only did we prove them wrong, but we won after a strategic campaign that prevented traditional forms of media forcing us to operate solely in the digital sphere. I forged great friendships and learned a very valuable lesson through this experience in that the greatest risks truly have the greatest rewards.

Interviewology: What are your greatest challenges? 

 G G: Trying to find a good balance between developing strategies for clients while still overseeing a company that is growing daily and operating in three different time zones. Managing the time difference between various continents when we are trying to stay on top of business everywhere has proven to be challenging, yet not impossible. I believe we have a good model in place, but it keeps my mind occupied around the clock. 

Interviewology: What role do your candidates play in your strategies? Are they able to get heavily involved? Do they place strict limitations on strategies? 

G G: We do not provide services to any domestic, U.S. based candidates. Our clientele in the political sphere has focused solely on candidates in other countries. However, in my experience, there is no question the candidates are heavily involved because the “brand” is the person running for office. If anything, the limitations hinge on moments where we have a very aggressive approach and they are hesitant on executing the strategy – but that is rarely an issue. Here, we provide the appropriate amount of qualitative and quantitative research to weigh all the costs and benefits and that usually allows for a smoother process.

 Interviewology: Who is your biggest or most important role model as a professional? Describe the influence he/she has on you. 

G GBen Goddard has long served as my mentor and role-model and it was a privilege to serve alongside him for several years. Ben is commonly referred to as the godfather of issue advocacy because he was the first political consultant to serve in this capacity. While he led many successful campaigns, he is best-known for his “Harry and Louise” campaign that killed “Hillarycare” in the 1990s. I have personally never seen a more well-rounded professional who was so masterfully skilled at so many things to include political consulting, directing/producing TV and radio ads, and instructing elected officials in best practices, all while translating his work into terms the general public understood. I was fortunate to co-found the company with Ben and although he is now retired, try to keep the values and legacy he fought for over the years.


Greg Hauptner’s Star Studded Journey Leads Him to G-Star Charter School

 The G-Star School of the Arts for Film, Animation, and the Performing Arts In West Palm Beach, FL has become a national leader in preparing students for careers in the entertainment industry. They school has launched the careers of students in film, theater, and behind the scenes making magic for the stage and screen.

Founder and CEO Greg Hauptner is the man behind this innovative Palm Beach County school where students are just beginning their journey in the business. Hauptner has found his home at G-Star, and his journey there is just as remarkable as the stories his students will someday tell about their own exciting careers.

The entertainment industry was not always the career bath for Hauptman. It actually began on the end of a telephone line— and not talking on it. He had traveled and ultimately was installing phone systems in buildings in Miami when a conversation with a neighbor represented the fork in the road.

“He wound up convincing me that if I went to beauty school I could make lots of money,” Hauptner says.

So after finishing beauty school and refining his craft, he opened his own salon in 1976, quickly making a name for himself inside the industry. He joined a professional organization where he met some of the luminaries of the industry like Paul Mitchell and Vidal Sassoon, enabling Hauptner to grow his own business and serve an elite clientele.

It was during this time that he also worked with his first famous client. Susan Ford, daughter of President Gerald Ford, who was the focus of a cover story for Family Circle magazine. It was only the beginning.

By 1980, Hauptner had positioned himself as one of the very best. He began working on what was at the time perhaps the most famous head of hair on the planet: Farrah Fawcett.

Fawcett was starring in a six-week run of “Butterflies are Free” at the Burt Reynolds Theater, a production directed by Dom Deluise.

“Dom and I became really good friends, Farah and I became really good friends,” Hauptner recalls. “Everybody was a close-knit group and it was a time of ‘Oh my God I can’t believe I’m here, this is really cool.”

The celebrity clients continued to come in through Hauptner’s association with the Burt Reynolds Theater. Loni Anderson and Kirstie Alley both sat in the chair to take advantage of Hauptner’s measurable talent. It also gave Hauptner a chance to learn something about his famous clients.

“Being a hairdresser is very unusual… when they’re sitting there they start talking to you and telling you their whole life story—all their secrets—who’s dating who, who’s cheating on who, so you become an intimate part very quickly”

Life is about opportunities, and Hauptner’s work as a hairdresser enabled him to branch out into other parts of the business. He eventually worked as a producer for a handful of lower budget films, which opened his eyes to even more possibilities that would pay dividends down the road.

Children alter priorities, and they did for Greg Hauptner as well. He began trying to think of a new direction, and that is where his next idea began.

He thought, “I’d like to do like a kid’s TV show—like a news magazine and my son could work his way into it.”

Combining the first initial of his son Gregory’s name and an acronym for ‘students in the arts,’ Hauptner came up with the name G-Star for the fledgling program. It eventually aired on both PAX-TV and West Palm Beach, FL educational television station WXEL, showcasing videos produced by regional high school media departments and hosted by two teenagers.

But it was someone else’s idea that would position Greg Hauptner to have such a positive influence on the lives of so many young people with aspirations to enter the entertainment industry.

“Somebody came to me at some point and said ‘you should start a charter school.”

In 2002, there was one more charter school spot available in Palm Beach County, and Hauptner won out in a competition among 14 different companies. While an important victory, it was also a sobering moment.

“I walked out the door and had a piece of paper that said I had a charter school. I had no students, no teachers, no location, no books. I had nothing.”

After finding a location at what was then the Palm Beach Water Department, the process began of assembling a team— and recruiting the students— for the 2003 school year.

“I went to someone and asked if they wanted to join me, and then the two of us sat there and then we interviewed for a position,” Hauptner says of the hiring process. “The one we liked we’d just call them on the phone and have them come right back again and they’d sit on the side of the table with us that same day and the three of us would interview the next person.”

The process led to a truly collaborative effort to build the team of teachers and administrators.

“The teachers hired the teachers and the then the teachers hired the principals and their assistant principals,” Hauptner says. “They were hard workers; money didn’t mean anything. They were all about kids and wanting to educate them. They were true educators.”

After getting the faculty and staff together, getting students presented its own challenges. Hauptner says just a month before opening the school only had 60 students, needing 132 just to break even and stave off shutting the doors just as they started. By the time the bell rang for school to begin, G-Star had 156 students thanks in part to the work of everyone to find the kids and convince them that G-Star was the place for them.

More than a dozen years later, the school is still helping students fulfill their dreams by providing them with the foundation they need to find their place in an industry that can be difficult to break into.

“You take the best and the brightest kids and you teach them to be good actors or filmmakers or whatever it may be and then you graduate them. You’ve developed this wonderful talent—you’re brilliant, it’s terrific—and sincerely they are—and then you say okay, now go get a job.”

Hauptner explains that for example in the film industry, getting on a set is the key to getting a start in the business, and that can be a challenge in itself. At G-Star, kids can get that opportunity right on campus.

“There is no other school in the world that does what we do,” he explains. “I built a motion picture studio and put the school on the back lot.”

“If people want to come in and use our studio I will either give it to them for free or a super-cut rate as long as they have our students on set.”

This gives students the chance to work in many capacities, working in all different departments of the shoot. Some of them even work with the stars themselves.

And while the school is helping its students get the background they need in a very specialized field, it is also helping students excel in the classroom. About 97 percent of G-Star graduates go on to college.

After all these years and a journey through the entertainment that introduced him to the very best of their time, Greg Hauptner is working on preparing the next generation of filmmakers, actors, producers, effects specialists, and other entertainment industry professionals. And G-Star graduates are finding their place across the industry.

“We’ve got kids at Warner Bros, we’ve got kids at Universal, one of our kids is a production manager at the Jim Henson creature shop,” Hauptner says.

It all begins with finding the student’s talent and cultivating it.

“What we have discovered is that children are smarter than any of us put together. They are wildly creative until it is pounded out of them by bad teachers or bad systems that say ‘you’re no good,” he says.

“Our number one mission is to find what they’re interested in and then develop the talent along those ways. The secret of it all is finding something that interests the kid.”