By Debra Kaufman
Special to TelevisionWeek
When Chris Jones joined CAB as VP of corporate communications in December 2005, he knew his job was to be part of a team that planned to turn the organization on its ear.
“A lot of very talented people have arrived here in the past couple of years,” said Mr. Jones, who also handles administration for the organization. “My role is to raise the CAB’s profile, especially as it applies to the press.”
Among recent accomplishments, Mr. Jones is most pleased with having helped CAB play a larger role in the commercial ratings debate and helping to create a newly spruced-up annual conference featuring General Motors’ Betsy Lazar as keynote speaker.
“We did a lot of press work around her attendance at the show,” he said. “The fact that she broke news that GM was ready to shift ad dollars into VOD made the conference an even more worthwhile news event.” Ms. Lazar’s announcement was reported in TelevisionWeek, The Wall Street Journal and other publications.
CAB and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association recently announced that the CAB’s annual Sales Management Conference will be integrated with The Cable Show, beginning with next year’s show, scheduled for May 7-9 at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas. “The press work led to business opportunities, which is exactly my function,” Mr. Jones said.
In addition to his role at CAB, Mr. Jones has just finished the work for an MBA in managerial marketing from the Lubin School of Business at Pace University in New York. Part of his MBA work included a thesis on crisis communications, which drew on his earlier work experiences at Cendant Corp. and Marshall McLennan.
Mr. Jones also holds two bachelor’s degrees from Pace University, in English literature and media communications, with a minor in journalism.
Upon graduation, he started out as a junior communications associate for ESPN in its New York-based corporate communications group, supporting ad sales partners. From there he moved to Cendant, which was then one of the largest hotel and real estate franchising companies in the world, with franchising rights to major brands including Ramada Hotels, Avis Rent-a-Car, Budget Rent-a-Car, Century 21 Real Estate and Coldwell Banker real estate.
He was working in the corporate investor relations division when the company was brought down by a $500 million accounting fraud case, the largest in U.S. business before the Enron debacle. He found himself on the hot seat.
“When this accounting fraud went down, I was one of the last remaining people there-everyone else was fired or indicted,” he said. “I was promoted to director of corporate investor relations and was part of a team that led an 18-month crisis management plan.” Mr. Jones, who was two levels down from the company’s now-jailed chief financial officer, helped lead a $3 billion sale of noncore assets, a management retention program and constant communications to media, investors, employees and suppliers. “Every day I had to face a large group of cynical reporters and angry investors,” he said. “Every day was a new challenge. Professionally, it was a great time. I really cut my teeth.”
Mr. Jones’ next position also landed him in a crisis-a much worse one. He went to Marshall McLennan Companies, the world’s largest commercial insurance brokerage. As VP of North American communications from 1992 to 2005, Mr. Jones created a PR program from the ground up for the continent’s 52 offices. Among his accomplishments: He built a program to train, equip and provide media relations for all 52 offices; created a media relations handbook that became the company bible; and provided monthly turnkey press packages for use in the various cities.
Then came Sept. 11, 2001, and Marshall McLennan-which had offices in the high levels of both towers of the World Trade Center-lost 297 employees. For a company of 1,700 people, the blow was huge.
“When you lose 300 colleagues, it affects everyone in the organization,” said Mr. Jones, who was working that day at the company’s midtown office. “Everyone knew someone who wasn’t going home. There was a lot of gut-wrenching internal communications. We had to do a lot to make people feel safe and to relocate 1,400 people. Every day another funeral, another challenge.”
At CAB, Mr. Jones plans to continue the teamwork of building a world-class trade organization. “I want my legacy to be to help add the value that the company delivers to its constituents,” he said.
Mr. Jones, who is married and the father of a 3-year-old daughter, has a passion for baseball. After coaching a nationally ranked collegiate summer baseball team for 10 years, he “retired” to become a member of the board of the local chapter of the Miracle League, which organizes a modified form of baseball for children with severe disabilities. He was part of a team that wrote and won a grant to build a specialized baseball field, the first to be funded by a county government-an effort pushed forward by Mr. Jones’ many contacts among recreation directors.
“As a publicist, nothing surprises me anymore,” Mr. Jones said. “You have to quickly evaluate what’s happening and be calm. A reporter could be barking a question and if you answer incorrectly or provide bad information, you could damage yourself and your company. My experiences have taught me that, regardless of whether it’s reactive or proactive, you have to be measured in your response and give the best information you can.”