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.
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 G: Ben 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.