Jackson — In 1996 when Patrick Slevin was elected mayor of Safety Harbor, Fla., a city of 20,000 located near Tampa, it generated a media buzz. He had run opposed, so why all the coverage?
For one thing, Slevin had no prior experience in holding public office. In fact, the self-made Slevin, who earned his high school diploma via a G.E.D., was a former vacuum salesman for Kirby. Granted, he was successful. He was Kirby’s second-highest producing salesperson in the Northeast. (His approach? He wore a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and a straw hat, always — in Delaware.)
But the headline-grabber when he became mayor was Slevin’s age. He was 27 years old, making him one of the youngest mayors in the nation. It didn’t take long for him to show his inexperience.
“I called the media in, and I looked like the upstart I was — like a deer in the headlights,” Slevin remembered with a smile. “I realized that I needed to learn a lot about PR.”
Learn he did — and quickly, too. The same year he was elected mayor, Slevin was named the campaign spokesperson and surrogate for Bob Dole during his presidential bid in 1996.
Then, Corporate America called. Due to the publicity he garnered from his election, and also his performance as mayor when he worked hard on downtown revitalization, Eckerd Corporation, owner and operator of the pharmacy chain, hired Slevin as its first public relations executive in the history of the company.
He subsequently was named the Southeast regional media manager for the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), and while there developed a relationship with Ron Aldridge, the Mississippi representative of NFIB. The two would work together on a number of projects, most notably the recent tort reform movement.
Slevin said during his time with the NFIB, the entrepreneurial bug bit him. “I saw these small business owners and thought, ‘I want to be a part of this,’” Slevin said. Thus in 2002, he put out his own shingle in Tallahassee, Fla., and The Slevin Group, a public relations consulting firm, was born.
The philosophy of The Slevin Group is rather simple. It believes the client know his or her business best, and as consultants, its role is to appreciate that experience and knowledge, creating a productive atmosphere that establishes trust, facilitates teamwork and maximizes results. It’s an approach he learned while with Eckerd.
Slevin said, “I had this huge marketing budget, and these firms would come in from New York or D.C. with multi-million-dollar packages and more or less tell me they knew more about Eckerds than I did. It was insulting.”
The strategy of listening to clients then partnering with them to reach their goals has produced some impressive results. The Slevin Group has landed such heavy-hitters as Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Philip Morris USA, Florida Insurance Council, Food Marketing Institute and Virginia Retail Merchants Association. The issues the firm has tackled are weighty, as well, such as the war on terror, stem cell research, country-of-origin labeling and, here in Mississippi, tort reform.
This success has not gone unnoticed. Just this year, the firm earned the Silver Anvil Award of Excellence from the Public Relations Society of America, and Slevin was personally honored as one of the nation’s “Movers and Shakers” by Campaigns & Elections, a monthly trade publication for the political campaign industry.
This success is also breeding growth. Last summer, Slevin took The Slevin Group out of Florida for the first time when he opened a Jackson office on State Street. And he called on his old NFIB associate, Aldridge, to partner with him. Aldridge is now running the Jackson office.
“I wouldn’t have gotten involved in this if it was anyone else but Patrick,” Aldridge said. “I know the kind of person he is. He’s why I joined.”
Aldridge isn’t the only Mississippian at The Slevin Group. Gary Landry is running the Tallahassee office. He is a former reporter with WLBT-TV in Jackson, as well as communications director for the Republican Party of Florida and the Florida Education Association and is an author and policy writer with the James Madison Institute. Landry came out of retirement to work with Slevin.
‘Tough, challenging issues’
Slevin said he chose Jackson because he feels the market is underserved. He and Aldridge pointed to numerous issues such as workers’ compensation and eminent domain that could mean future business.
However, The Slevin Group is already working in the Magnolia State. The company has an extensive background in issues created by natural disasters from the Florida hurricanes of 2004. With this on its résumé, the insurance industry has hired The Slevin Group as recovery from Hurricane Katrina continues.
“We are experts in insurance. I know from my experience with the Florida hurricanes that some tough, challenging issues are going to arise in Mississippi post-Hurricane Katrina — increasing rates, carriers reducing exposure, etc.,” Slevin said. “We haven’t seen the real fallout from Katrina yet.”
Slevin said he envisions more growth. The Slevin Group is looking to open an office in Nashville during the first quarter of 2006, and another office in Montgomery, Ala., is in the planning stages. Slevin said his goal is for The Slevin Group to be the preeminent PR firm in the Southeast, and added that “Mississippi is an important component of that vision.”
In the meantime, Slevin is looking to become a part of the Jackson community. To that end, he recently presented a donation to Junior Achievement of Mississippi, explaining to local chapter president Tom Tabereaux that, as a self-made person, he appreciated the organization’s work.
“I’ve fallen in love with the community,” Slevin said. “People have asked me why I opened an office in Jackson. They don’t understand Mississippi, where a handshake still means something.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at email@example.com.