Chattanooga business leaders with contrasting political views Robin Smith and Albert Waterhouse are joining forces to create a new consulting agency that will focus on strategic thinking and public advocacy.
“I think having two people that are on opposite sides of the fence get together is probably a smart move,” Gerard Francis Corbett, CEO of the Public Relations Society of America, said about the new local partnership. “It’s going to make the organization better-skilled to deal with a lot of different situations.”
Smith is the founder and leader of Rivers Edge Alliance, which offers project management and consulting for clients in the health care, energy and nonprofit worlds.
She is also the former chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party.
She’s worked on local, state and national political campaigns, including presidential, gubernatorial, congressional and county elections, for more than 25 years. And she’s a certified in project management through Stanford University.
Waterhouse has similar experience in local, state and national politics. He and Smith have faced off, speaking for different sides of the political spectrum, on “Tennessee Insider.”
Waterhouse also has 30 years of experience in the communications industry. He founded marketing communications firm Waterhouse Public Relations in 1992.
“We became good colleagues, and not all things are political in the life of people who are partisan,” Smith said Wednesday.
The new business, SmithWaterhouse Strategies, won’t impact Rivers Edge Alliance or Waterhouse Public Relations. Instead, it’s an expansion of each business and a combination of resources.
The majority of their clients-about 80 percent-will likely be businesses, Waterhouse said. The other 20 percent will be political strategy and advocacy projects.
They already have about four clients and plan on making new hires for the firm in the new year. They aren’t sure how many people they will bring on, and the types of employees they need may vary depending on the project, they said.
They began thinking about the business model six or eight months ago, and they aim to fill a gap in services in the region, Waterhouse and Smith said.
The pair made it clear that they won’t be lobbying.
The business model is based on strategic planning, message development, media training, reputation management, integrated marketing, public advocacy initiatives, political consulting and field operations.
Advocacy is different from lobbying, Smith said.
“Lobbying is direct contact with an elected official in the intent to influence their position,” she said. “Issue advocacy is where you’re advocating a position in a public manner, and you’re not necessarily going one-on-one and doing it in a paid influence.”
A recent local example of public advocacy is the effort to change the development plan of a controversial Hixson development, she said.
Waterhouse said their work is mainly done quietly and often quickly. And marrying the resources and network that Waterhouse and Smith have will benefit clients, he said.
Now, more than ever, the services SmithWaterhouse will offer are important for businesses and public officials, Corbett said.
“In this time where information moves at the speed of light [and] everybody has a voice … I think it’s incumbent on any public figure, any organization, any company to really have people that are skilled at communication, skilled at messaging and able to think strategically and critically and think on their feet.”