CFM Strategic Communications

Smooth Transition Fuels CFM Growth

Transitioning a personal services firm is a high-wire act. CFM managed to do it with minimal publicity and without losing legacy clients. It may have been one of the best PR moves the firm has made in its 28-year history.

The move from older to younger generation owners has proven a huge success. However, the transition didn’t always look so promising. “We started the transition discussion almost a decade ago,” recalls CFM co-founder Gary Conkling. “Every promising idea we had flopped.”

Transitions don’t occur in suspended reality. “Partners retired or left,” recalled Conkling. “Employees, including ones in line to become partners, peeled off.” Owning a personal services firm is not everyone’s cup of tea.

Senior CFM partners Norm Eder, Tom Eiland and Dave Fiskum got lots of advice, considered varied paths and lived through a series of failed opportunities. “We wound up,” Conkling said, “going back to basics.”

The goal was to enlist two to four young professionals who shared CFM’s vision for integrity and saw potential in a brand dedicated to results, not optics. Several candidates surfaced, but the two who stuck it out because they saw the potential for the firm and themselves were Joel Rubin and Dale Penn II. They made the transition possible and are now the owner-operators of CFM.

“Owning your own firm is an intriguing option,” Rubin says. “Owning a firm with a reputation for integrity and a commitment to client result is a dream come true.”

“From the beginning, CFM always felt like the right fit for my goals,” explains Penn. “Now Joel and I have a chance to build on past successes to scale new heights.”

Transitioning a 28-year-old personal services firm is not a small undertaking. However, the sellers and the buyers shared one important common goal – a transition that was seamless to clients. The sale date came and went with minimal notice. Clients were informed there would be no changes in their service. Yes, new people were in charge, but the old people were still at the wheel.

“We didn’t want the change of ownership to reflect a change in how we represent clients,” Rubin said. “Our priorities didn’t change and the way we advocate for our clients didn’t change,” Penn added.

Six months after the sale of CFM was consummated, the only noticeable change has been an increase in client work. “Whenever a firm with CFM's prestige transitions to new owners, there's sometimes the question of continuity,” Penn admitted. “But our senior partners have remained on the job and existing and prospective clients have responded positively.”

It may be too soon to judge the ultimate success of the CFM transition, but not too soon for this observation: “I have been impressed by how everyone in our organization has responded to the change in ownership,” says Rubin. “There is a feeling that if we can pull off a transition like this, we can do anything. That attitude is infectious and it is the attitude that is attracting clients.”



Audits Point to Smarter Communications

Are your communications engaging and effective or completely out of order? That's the big question CFM Research Partner Tom Eiland aims to answer with each communications audit he conducts. Eiland was recently commissioned to conduct an audit for the Central Kitsap School District in an effort to sharpen its communication strategies. 

Are your communications engaging and effective or completely out of order? That's the big question CFM Research Partner Tom Eiland aims to answer with each communications audit he conducts. Eiland was recently commissioned to conduct an audit for the Central Kitsap School District in an effort to sharpen its communication strategies. 

Direct communications are the most important avenue to learn about what’s happening in schools. Communications audits can reveal whether your communications strategies and tools are clicking.

“If school districts don’t communicate effectively, others will fill the vacuum of describing what’s happening – and you may not like what they say,” says CFM Research Partner Tom Eiland, who presented the value of communications audits to the annual conference of the Washington Schools Public Relations Association on April 29 in Leavenworth, Wash.

David Beil, communications director for the Central Kitsap School District, provided specific before and after examples of e-letters, social media and the district’s website following a CFM-led communications audit. Beil said post-audit communications relied on stronger imagery, less text, a sharper audience focus and more links. 

The audit was invaluable, he said, in convincing school administrators why changes were needed and that additional resources were warranted.

Audits involve an inventory of print and digital communications, a battery of research and an analysis of actual communications, Eiland explained.

Results from a communications audit can shape a communications plan, clarify who manages communications, prioritize audiences and organize communications tools, he said. “You can make decisions based on data, not hunches,” Eiland indicated. “You can refresh or reboot websites, e-letters and intranets with greater confidence they will deliver more value for the people you need to reach. They also can help earn the resources you need for success." 

Beil and Eiland emphasized communications audits identify how “people communicate and where they get information,” as well as “what information people want and need.”

“This is a disciplined approach to decide what communications tools work or how they can be made to work better,” Eiland said. “It is also a way to measure actual results."

Chuck Frost, the Conscience of CFM, Passes

Chuck Frost, who died late last month, is remembered as a mentor to CFM's principals and the conscience of the firm.

Chuck Frost, who died late last month, is remembered as a mentor to CFM's principals and the conscience of the firm.

Chuck Frost, who was a mentor to CFM’s principals and the conscience to the firm, died in Portland January 26 at age 79. A Celebration of Life for Chuck will be held February 13 in Beaverton.

CFM started as a spinout of Tektronix when Chuck was vice president of administration. “When we first brought up the idea, which involved voluntarily taking pink slips, Chuck thought we had gone daft,” said CFM co-founder Gary Conkling. “He gradually warmed up to the idea. Much later, he told us forming CFM was a smart idea.”

When he retired from Tektronix, Chuck joined CFM. He worked as part of CFM client teams, but his greatest value came in asking tough questions about how we did our work – and for whom.

“Chuck was one of the most principled men I ever met,” Conkling said. “While I worked for Tektronix, Chuck insisted that we identify a public interest for anything that we lobbied. If we couldn’t make a credible case, we didn’t lobby the issue. He brought that same integrity inside our firm.”

That principled approach to public policy led the late Senator Mark Hatfield to hire Chuck as a Senior Fellow in Washington, D.C., where he finished his career before returning to Oregon to retire.

Below is Chuck’s obituary, which includes the time and location of his Celebration of Life.

Charles Henry Frost

April 4, 1936 – January 26, 2016

Charles “Chuck” Frost lived in a log cabin, worked as a fruit-picker, became a student body president, attended college, did a stint at the Pentagon, fell in love with a stewardess, worked for Tektronix in its heyday and served as a senior fellow for the late Senator Mark Hatfield. He loved life, cherished the outdoors and was a mentor, role model and friend to generations of policymakers and public affairs professionals.

Born April 4, 1936 to Wilfrid Tuttle Frost and Hazel Emma (Stephens) Frost in Berkeley, California, Chuck passed away January 26, 2016 in Portland. He was married 56 years to his best friend, Marilyn Jean (Heckman) Frost, and is survived by Marilyn, his son Charles Stephen Frost, daughter Laura Kathryn Frost, grandchildren Dane and Athena, brother Gordon and nieces and nephews.

He spent his first six years living in a log cabin in Crater Lake National Park, where his father was a park ranger. That ignited his lifelong love of nature, which he passed along to his children and grandchildren.

His family moved to Medford, where Chuck’s first job was picking fruit in nearby orchards. The family later moved to Portland. Chuck went to Grant High School and was elected student body president in 1954.

Chuck attended Willamette University before being drafted into the U.S. Army. He was on active duty in the Pentagon from 1958-1960. While in Washington, D.C., he met the love of his life, Marilyn, who worked for Capitol Airlines.

After they married, the Frosts moved to Portland and Chuck began his 34-year career with Tektronix, which included roles as director of public affairs and vice president of administration. He was often the public face of the company, which at its peak was Oregon’s largest private employer. Chuck earned a reputation for professionalism and principled advocacy. He had a knack for making complex subjects understandable.

When he retired, Chuck joined CFM Strategic Communications, which began as a spinout from Tektronix. He participated in client teams, but his greatest contribution was asking tough questions and serving as the firm’s conscience.

Chuck was active in the community, serving on the boards of the Oregon Symphony, Oregon Independent Colleges Association, Tuality Hospital and Associated Oregon Industries. He was a member of the Portland City Club and the Public Affairs Council.

Chuck and Marilyn moved back to Washington, D.C., in 1995 when he became a Senior Fellow for Senator Hatfield, a role he filled until Hatfield retired in 1997.

The Frosts returned to Portland to enjoy their retirement.

A Celebration of Chuck’s life will be held Saturday, February 13, from 2-4 p.m. at the Claremont Clubhouse, 15800 NW Country Club Dr., Portland, OR 97229. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Nature Conservancy of Oregon.

Runquist Joins CFM, Deepens Firm's Writer's Bench

Justin Runquist, who has worked as a reporter for The Columbian, The Oregonian and The Spokesman-Review, has joined CFM Strategic Communications as the firm’s communications counsel.

Justin Runquist

Justin Runquist

A graduate of the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University, Runquist deepens CFM's bench for storytelling, story pitching, content creation, presentations and social media.

"Justin brings a fresh eye and contemporary experience in the media to meet client needs," said Gary Conkling, CFM’s president and co-founder. "He knows how to tell a story, sniff out a good story angle and leverage digital resources.”

Runquist most recently worked for The Columbian, where he wrote about local government, business, education and the marijuana industry in Clark County. Prior to that, Runquist worked for The Oregonian, covering government, business, crime and education in Lake Oswego, Wilsonville, West Linn and other parts of the Portland metro area. 

Three years ago for The Oregonian, Runquist covered the Washington State Legislature during a historic session as gay marriage became legal in the Evergreen State.

Runquist joins the CFM communications team, but he will also provide support for the firm's state affairs and research practice areas.

"Working for CFM appealed to me because of its range of public affairs work for corporations, nonprofits and public agencies," Runquist said. "This will translate into more diverse experiences and challenging work."

Conkling said, "People with journalistic experience do well in the world of public affairs. They understand policy issues and political processes. They also know that timing is everything."

Runquist also will play a key role in CFM's content-forward marketing efforts. 

"This is a company that shows what it can do through its widely shared thought leadership and case studies,” he said. “Clients know what they get when they hire CFM."

Runquist's arrival coincides with the departure of Hannah Smith, who has worked at CFM for seven years after graduating from the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications. Smith and her husband are departing soon for a dream experience of an extended stay in Southeast Asia.

CFM Contributes to Filipino Relief

CFM made a contribution to Portland-based Mercy Corps to aid in the relief of The Philippines, which was devastated last Friday by what is being described as a 100-year typhoon.

In addition to as many as 10,000 casualties, many Filipinos in the hardest hit central part of the island nation are without shelter, food and water. Mercy Corps quickly rallied, along with other relief organizations and the U.S. military, to assist storm victims.

"Our $1,000 contribution is a small way to express our sympathy and demonstrate our commitment to people in need in The Philippines," says CFM Partner Dan Jarman. "We encourage other businesses to contribute as well."

Mercy Corps dispatched an emergency response team to coordinate with other relief efforts in The Philippines to provide food and water to stranded Filipinos, as well as supply medicine, blankets, tarps and hygiene kits.

Mercy Corps has two staff members based in Manila who work on economic development and social programs, which will play an important role in recovery efforts.

To contribute, go to or call (800) 292-3355.

At-Risk Youth Build a Boat

Seven to ten students will spend their summer polishing math skills and learning teamwork by building a 16-foot sailboat, the brainchild of CFM Partner Norm Eder and his wife, Sherry, who are advocates of hands-on learning.For most of us, boats are a source of recreation and relaxation. For seven to 10 local youngsters, building a 16-foot sailboat will be an opportunity to polish their math and work skills this summer.

CFM Partner Norm Eder and his wife, Sherry, were the spark plugs behind a partnership between Worksystems, Inc. and the Wind & Oar Boat School to create a hands-on learning opportunity for at-risk youth.

The young boat builders got to work this week after learning about shop safety, materials and tools. They were assigned to read the plans for the boat, which was designed by famous French naval architect Francois Vivier. It will take them 10 weeks from laying the keel to the final paint job, all under the watchful eyes of two master boat builders.

Eder, who worked at the Oregon Graduate Institute before joining CFM, has been a long-time advocate for hands-on learning and played a role in OGI's start-up of Saturday Academy. One of his current clients is the Manufacturing 21 Coalition, which has engaged in numerous efforts to link industry, university research and skilled worker training. Sherry has been a classroom teacher for 20 years and now guides an early childhood Head Start program for Neighborhood House in SW Portland.

The idea for the innovative summer program came last fall after Eder joined the Wind & Oar Boat School board. He lined up the partnership with the workforce board that covers Multnomah and Washington counties, which supplied the youngsters, and the nonprofit school, which will provide instructional training. Worksystems Inc. is funding the educational costs, as well as providing stipends for the student boat smiths.

The youngsters will work 3.5 hours per day, five days a week. In addition to polishing their math skills (nothing on a boat is built without mathematical calculation), program participants will learn the importance of teamwork, time management and construction planning. They also will learn different methods of traditional small craft construction and how small craft design and construction technologies evolved to meet the practical needs of those who venture onto rivers and oceans.

"I've built my own wooden boat that I sail and it gave me great satisfaction," Eder says. "It just seemed to me this could provide equal or greater value to students over a summer."

One of the first challenges the students faced was converting metric measurements to more familiar values as they began attaching the first bulkheads to the keel. They also will learn about sustainable practices, durable woods and sail-making.