Beginning a Career in Public Relations

Monday, June 06, 2005

A Conversation with Peter Roussel, former Deputy Press Secretary to President Ronald Reagan and Public Relations Consultant

Tonight, I am honored to share with you public relations and political career advice from Peter Roussel, former Deputy Press Secretary to President Ronald Reagan. Peter has more than 35 years of experience in business, government, politics and media.

Peter Roussel, former Deputy Press Secretary to President Ronald Reagan and Public Relations Consultant; author of Ruffled Flourishes

From 1981-1987 he served in the White House as Deputy Press Secretary and Special Assistant to President Reagan, where his very first assignment was to handle media relations for the landmark historic appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor as Justice to the Supreme Court. From 1974-1976, he served in the White House as Staff Assistant under President Ford and as assistant to then chiefs of staff Donald Rumsfeld and Richard Cheney. From 1969-1974 he was press secretary to President George H. W. Bush when Mr. Bush served as U.S. Congressman, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations and Chairman of the Republican National Committee. From 1992-2003 he was a managing partner of Neumann Roussel Public Relations.

Mr. Roussel is a 1965 graduate of the University of Houston, where he was honored in 1983 as a Distinguished Alumnus. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post and numerous other publications. He is the author of the recently published novel, Ruffled Flourishes, acclaimed by national media, and which draws on his experiences as a press spokesman at the White House.

And now, Peter Roussel:

Kelly: Peter, Who or what influenced your decision to become involved in public relations, and later, politics?

Peter: Being the son of a drama, music and film critic (my father served in that capacity for The Houston Post, 1933-66) I early on became aware of the impact of public relations. In those days, however, those practicing the profession were often referred to as "press agents." I was intrigued by the way my father often interfaced with these individuals, many of whom represented film companies, theatres or other arts enterprises. This interest ultimately led to my first job out of college in 1966 as an intern at an advertising agency. That was a fateful intersection in life for me because that agency, in addition to business clients, also occasionally created the advertising for political campaigns. The work there ultimately led to my meeting a young congressman from Houston named George Bush which, in turn, led me to a fascinating career in Washington,. D.C., ultimately including two tours of duty in the White House.

Kelly: What lessons did you learn early in your public relations career that you can share with us?

Peter: The lessons I learned early in my PR career are the ones that have been the anchors of my entire career: work hard, always be thinking creatively (we are, after all, in the idea business), harbor a passion for writing, and above all, maintain a sense of humor.

Kelly: And what advice do you have for new professionals beginning a career in public relations?

Peter: These same criteria always have worked for me -- working hard, thinking creatively, enjoying writing and maintaining a sense of humor. I think they can do the same for anyone else seeking to pursue this profession.

Kelly: What is your most memorable moment serving under former President Ronald Reagan?

Peter: During my service as a special assistant and deputy press secretary to President Reagan (1981-87) I was fortunate to be present at, and eyewitness to, many historic and memorable moments. Certainly one that stands at the forefront is the opportunity that was placed in my lap my very first day in the Reagan White House--to go to Phoenix, Arizona and handle media relations for the historic appointment of Sandra Day O'Connor to the United States Supreme Court.

Kelly: Where did you get the idea for the name of your book, Ruffled Flourishes, acclaimed by national media, in which you draw on your experiences as a press spokesman at the White House?

Peter: The title for my novel, "Ruffled Flourishes," is a variation on "Ruffles and Flourishes." The latter is one of the two pieces of music that is played upon the entrance of the President of the United States at ceremonial events. The second piece of music played is "Hail to the Chief." My book title is a metaphor for the often hectic aura that in my experience I found often surrounded the press-presidency relationship.

Peter continues his book tour and speaks about his book and White House experiences often, and with humor.


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