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State Street: Lobbying firm extending brand by getting into public relations

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Princeton Public Affairs Group is expanding into public relations with its Princeton Strategic Communications business unit, which will be headed up by Norris Clark. From left, Clark, Karen Geisel and Jeff Coleman.
Princeton Public Affairs Group is expanding into public relations with its Princeton Strategic Communications business unit, which will be headed up by Norris Clark. From left, Clark, Karen Geisel and Jeff Coleman. - (courtesy princeton public affairs group)

Trenton's top lobbying firm is adding a strategic communications arm, State Street has learned.

Princeton Public Affairs Group this week will formally launch Princeton Strategic Communications, to be headed by managing partner Norris Clark, a longtime marketing and communications executive who most recently led the Family and Community Relations Office at the New Jersey Department of Education.

Princeton Public Affairs Group founder Dale Florio said the new venture is a natural outgrowth of the work the 26-year-old firm has been doing.

"As we continue to extend our brand with a functioning Washington office and some special education consulting and grassroots consulting, it just made sense that we would work to organically grow and create our own public relations unit," he said.

Florio said there are obvious synergies between public affairs work and strategic communications.

"Invariably what we do needs to either be led or supported by a good communications effort," he said.

Before the Department of Education, Clark founded his own, largely tourism-focused communications firm. Prior to that, he led a national advocacy organization formed by Ross Perot, and worked for Perot Systems and Magnet Communications, focusing on e-learning.

Clark said he's eager to continue working for causes such as education.

"I'm someone that really loves to advocate on behalf of good causes, things we believe in," he said. "We don't want to just do it for the sake of the job at this point."

Clark has been laying the groundwork for the new venture for about a year. Joining him are Karen Geisel, a longtime public relations executive, who will be executive communications director; Jeff Coleman, a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, who will be director of branding, Web development and graphic design; and Michael Caputo, whose résumé includes work on corporate and political campaigns, who will be director for crisis communications and issues management.

Aside from the nonprofit and education work, Clark said the new firm's portfolio likely will be similar to Princeton Public Affairs Group's, including work on energy and tourism. The group has already been doing communications work for some of PPAG's clients, including the New Jersey Restaurant Association, NiSource and PublicSchoolOptions.org, though this week marks the formal launch of the firm under the Princeton Strategic Communications name. Clark said he's eager to build that portfolio.

"We're hoping the phone will start ringing," he said.

Hard to read tea leaves
on incentives overhaul

The two chief backers of the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013 remain confident the bill will pass, but the timing of that passage remains in question.

The act is designed to revamp the state's portfolio of business and job-creation incentives, folding the five current programs into two. Two similar versions of the bill are awaiting hearings before the budget committees of each house.

State Street erroneously reported last week that the bill had been released by the Assembly Budget Committee. In fact, it was held at the last minute.

"I held the bill at the request of both the Senate leadership and the governor's administration so that they could have an opportunity to put a few more changes in it," said Assemblyman Albert Coutinho (D-Newark), the act's sponsor in the Assembly. "Speaking for myself, I'm still hopeful that we can still get this done in the month of April, and I'm working towards that."

Coutinho said he was asked to hold the bill in an attempt to ensure the Assembly and Senate versions proceed as harmonized and as close to final form as possible. But he said there are "no land mines," that would affect the bill's ultimate passage.

The bill's Senate sponsor, Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), agreed the bill is on solid ground, but his timetable for passage was much less specific than Coutinho's.

"There are still some issues to be ironed out, but nothing that's insurmountable nor would stand in the way of it certainly getting signed into law in the next couple of months," Lesniak said.

Asked if his comment implied the bill might not pass until June, Lesniak said he was hopeful it wouldn't take that long. However, he said, "the best I can guarantee is that prior to us breaking on June 30, we'll have an expanded job-creation bill signed into law."

As NJBIZ previously reported, officials in the development community are pushing for quick passage, arguing that a number of high-profile job-creation projects could be put in jeopardy if the Legislature doesn't officially endorse the law soon. They're pushing for a special session in April to pass the bill, something Coutinho would like to see happen.

Lesniak noted, however, that many who pushed for a special session cited the fear that the New Jersey Economic Development Authority would run out of incentive money to award by its April meeting. Had that happened, proponents said, it would send a bad signal to businesses looking to grow or expand here.

But the EDA held its April meeting last week, after which there was still nearly $200 million remaining in the fund for the Urban Transit Hub tax credit and Grow New Jersey programs.

Lesniak said that confirmed his prediction that there was no need to rush to judgment.

Coutinho noted there are still other projects in the EDA pipeline, and thus he said it's still important to act sooner than later.

"I believe it's imperative that we don't run dry and that we don't lose any of the momentum we've been building up," he said.

Lesniak again urged calm.

"There were a lot of people who were crying wolf unnecessarily," he said. "This proposal is in good hands. It's in my hands. It's in the hands of Assemblyman Coutinho. We've produced in the past and we will produce again."

Chamber punts its train ride
down the calendar

It's still many months away, but the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce already has made a major change for the 2014 Walk to Washington.

"We're going to be one of the many organizations doing everything we can to promote the Super Bowl," said Michael Egenton, senior vice president at the chamber. "With that in mind, since there are so many events that lead up to it, for the first time in history we are delaying the Walk to Washington into mid-February."

The annual train ride normally takes place on the last Thursday and Friday of January. But with Super Bowl XLVIII taking place in the Meadowlands on Feb. 2, that timing just wasn't feasible, Egenton said.

Instead, the Walk will take place Feb. 13 and 14.

It's not lost on Egenton, by the way, that that bumps up against another notable day.

"For those who are concerned that Friday Feb. 14 is Valentine's Day, we will be back in time for those who want to celebrate that and be with their loved ones," he said.

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