Inland Empire public relations firm broadens its appeal
Long a conservative bastion, Desmond & Louis, Inc. is now reaching across the aisle to work with Democrats.
Late last year, Lou Desmond decided to change the direction of Desmond & Louis, Inc., the company he owns and operates with his wife Nicole.
“If you look back 10 years ago, the firm was mostly real estate related clients,” said Nicole Desmond, CEO. “We recognized that could be problematic, something we were correct on given the real estate downturn. So we started offering new practice areas like consumer PR, campaign management, and social media all of which we had background in, which allowed us to diversify our client base.”
The Yucaipa-based company, which Desmond started as LND Communications in 2002, handled real estate, political and governmental accounts based in the Inland Empire, but it pretty much worked the right side of the political aisle exclusively, a reflection of Desmond’s conservative politics.
After 25 years in public relations, he decided that approach was not a good business model, either short term or down the road.
“The Inland Empire is a Republican area, so if you want to get anything done here you have to talk to Republicans,” Desmond said. “On the federal level, right now you need the Republicans and maybe a few Democrats, depending on the issue. But if you want to get anything done in Sacramento, you have to talk to the Democrats.”
So Desmond, a President Trump supporter whose political beliefs align with Rush Limbaugh and Fox News, decided to make a change. He hired Georgine Trujillo, a veteran public relations and political consultant, to be the company’s vice president of government affairs.
That was a bold hire because Trujillo is a liberal with as much experience working with liberal Democrats as Desmond has with conservative Republicans.
Three or four years ago that move might have been unthinkable, but Desmond decided he wanted to position his agency as the only Inland Empire-based public relations firm that has ties to both political parties.
“It wasn’t any one thing that caused this, although the polarization of our politics had something to do with it,” Desmond said. “I’ve never understood why both sides can’t sit down and have a civil conversation, especially when they need to get something done. But most public relations agencies that handle political clients lean Republican or Democrat. Only a few of them are agnostic.”
“I decided I wanted us to be different.”
Trujillo, who has worked with Desmond on several projects over the years, brought something else to the table besides Democratic Party contacts: an ability to introduce Desmond & Louis, Inc. to clients in Los Angeles, and an expertise in water, a complicated issue that is becoming more and more a major part of California politics.
Right now, Trujillo is focusing much of her efforts on water issues.
“The drought has changed everything, and water has become one of the state’s biggest challenges,” Trujillo said. “It’s been that way for a few years now, and it’s only going to get more important.”
Water is a good fit with Desmond & Louis, Inc., which handles several specialties besides political campaigns, including media relations, social and new media, video and audio production and fundraising.
Every year, the agency manages the annual San Bernardino County Water Conference, during which county officials and outside experts take a fresh look at the county’s water management policies and the importance of water to the region.
“Because of that they already have some water expertise,” Trujillo said of the conference, which generally attracts more than 300 people each year. “That’s a good thing for us to build on. In the future, I don’t think there will be a more important issue in California.”
Trujillo has already had one water-related success while working for Desmond & Louis, Inc. She managed Juanita Salas’ successful campaign for a seat on the Imperial Irrigation District, which covers much of the Imperial Valley.
Salas won by more than 900 votes in a special election held June 6, giving her a vote on one of the largest and most influential water districts in California. Her win might also help establish Desmond & Louis, Inc., a mid-sized firm with ten employees, as a place where potential clients with water-related issues might go.
“Time will tell, but when I think of how much influence the Imperial Irrigation district has, I have to think that this will open some doors for us,” Trujillo said. “As far as becoming an agency known for water, I don’t think we could have asked for a better start.”
Besides hiring Trujillo, Desmond & Louis, Inc. made another addition to the firm, bringing in Pablo Cruz, a public relations specialist, to handle social media.
“Social media is only going to get more important, and most [businesses] can’t do it by themselves,” Desmond said. “They’re always going to need help.”
The firms’ shift in emphasis is apparently paying off. The owners estimate that Desmond & Louis’ revenues are up about 30 percent compared to one year ago, and they believe they could go up another 30 percent in the next 12 months, if the economy stays strong.
Neil Derry, the former San Bernardino County Supervisor who is now Desmond & Louis’ vice president of public affairs, agrees.
“The economy is growing in areas where we have some expertise, and I think that will help us,” Derry said. “I think we have some opportunities to expand pretty significantly, especially with government clients. But in public relations you’re a business that’s dependent on every other business, to some extent.”
Nicole sums up the changes best. “Our forward-planning has always enabled us to be ahead of the curve, now we are on both sides of the aisle too.”