Veteran PR Pro Babb Retires

Doug Babb leaves behind a reputation for high integrity and yeoman's work on projects relating to landfills, light rail and Portland City Hall.Doug Babb — who has pitched the virtues of restoring Portland City Hall, the authenticity of the Fort-to-Sea Trail and the need for a major landfill in Eastern Oregon — has retired after nearly 20 years at CFM. He remains in an of-counsel role to the firm.

"Doug was one of our first hires and we could hardly have made a better one," said CFM President Gary Conkling. "He has been a strong contributor, a great mentor and an invaluable team member."

Babb cut his teeth as a print and broadcast journalist — including, in the early days of Willamette Week, learning the art and value of writing economically with reader-tantalizing details. He also developed a keen sense for story leads and the news sources that could tell the story.

He carried his solid writing and nose for news to public relations, working on projects such as the original MAX light rail line from Portland to Gresham. "Light rail wasn't popular in all quarters back then," Babb recalled. "The construction that disrupted businesses was even less popular."

After a stint at Tektronix, Babb joined CFM as part of its PR team. One of his early projects was handling the media for proposed restoration of Portland City Hall, or as he referred to it, "Historic Portland City Hall."

"Portlanders by and large are proud of their beautifully restored City Hall today," Babb notes. "But business and civic leaders were pretty skeptical when it was first proposed. Our job was to marshal the facts so people saw restoration as a good idea that also was the best economic option."

Another milestone project was creation of a set of benchmarks that helped Portlanders and the entire state realize the emergence and economic importance of Oregon's electronics industry.

Later in his career, Babb handled media relations on construction of the Fort-to-Sea Trail from Fort Clatsop near Astoria to the Pacific Ocean. The pro-bono job turned out quite different when fire destroyed the replica of Fort Clatsop just as the trail was completed. "We had a wonderful trail under construction, but lost our trailhead that told the story of why the trail was important," he recalled. Fortunately Babb had helped produce a crisis communications plan for the trail, which the National Park Service adapted on the fly to handle the fire incident. “The park service did a great job explaining why the fort and trail were important, raising enough contributions so the replica as well as the trail could be completed.”

Babb has suffered restricted vision as a result of diabetes for most of his professional life, but it never inhibited his ability to see what many others missed. "I learned to see with more than my eyes," Babb often said.

Public relations is a creative profession, but not everyone has the same degree of creativity. Babb was always a source of clever ideas, such as the idea of a special microbrew to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Portland's electrical union that he dubbed, "Old Voltage Meter." A bottle of the brew proudly sat on his desk.

His was a strong, consistent voice for the importance of ethical public relations. His own professional integrity was recognized when the Portland Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America in 2005 awarded Babb with its prestigious William Marsh Lifetime Achievement Award.

CFM was also a client of Babb's. He led numerous marketing projects, including the task of building and populating CFM's own content-rich website. Babb was one of the most consistent and engaging contributors to CFM's five blogs. "When I started in this business, no one had ever heard of the Internet, let alone a blog," Babb chuckled. "It was a thrill to play a role in creating something people paid attention to and valued."

The man who referred to himself as "Senior Gray Beard" leaves behind warm feelings from teammates. "I will always remember when he took the web team out for Spanish coffees on the day of the CFM website launch," recalls Hannah Smith, CFM digital strategist. "It's one of my favorite CFM memories."

While Babb won't come to the office everyday, he will stay connected to CFM, working on select projects and providing strategic counsel. "I never tired of his advice," Conkling said, " but I worried when I didn't have it."