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Leading a Firm In a World of Change

Since co-founding CFM in 1990, Gary Conkling has witnessed a lot of changes in political civility, partisanship and communications technology. “It feels today as if we are in a different business than when we started 27 years ago,” Conkling says.

Many of the issues remain the same, but how you talk about and advocate for public policy has changed, Conkling says. “Websites, digital news media and social media are now mainstays in any kind of public affairs or public policy campaign,” he explains. “Not that long ago, no one ever heard of a website, let alone asked you to build one for them. Now we undertake integrated campaigns that involve videos, targeted digital advertising and infographics.”

The more divisive and coarser tone of politics and public policy has put an even greater premium on proactive communications. “You have to get ahead of the curve of many stories,” Conkling says. “That is true in marketing as well as public affairs. If you wait to tell your story, someone else may tell it for you – in a far less flattering way.”

Conkling began his career as a newspaper reporter, where he learned lessons he has carried forward throughout his career of working in Congress, as a public affairs director for Tektronix and as president of CFM. “People like stories. They relate better to information in a story format,” he says. “There are untold ways to tell your story, but you need to find the way that works best for you. And do it sooner than later.”

“In the newspaper world, the best stories often appear on the front page,” Conkling says. “In the public affairs world, the best stories are the ones that can keep you off the front page when you don’t want to be there.”

Thanks to Holly and Wayne Paige at Wave One Group, who are master storytellers on video. My videos are part of their series about video storytelling. Check out their work at