Communicating the complex in a clear and relevant fashion

August 10, 2009
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Now that public and investor relations firm Lambert Edwards & Associates has lengthened its business reach with the acquisition of John Bailey & Associates, Don Hunt will see his duties expand as a partner and a managing director. And he couldn’t be more excited.

“This makes the depth of our health care bench that much stronger. We’ve got very strong people in Grand Rapids, with folks with backgrounds from Pfizer, Takeda Pharmaceuticals and others that we’ve been able to attract here. This gives us folks with even more experience in health care and health insurance on the other side of the state and nationally,” said Hunt, who heads the health care practice at LE&A and its emerging technology group.

“It doubles the size of our team and will give the health care group eight really experienced people who know all the facets from drug development to provider care to the insurance side.”

Although Hunt will likely find himself spending more time on I-96 going to and from the JB&A offices in Troy and Lansing to meet with his group members, he is looking forward to those trips.

“In terms of my travel, we’ll want to make sure that everyone is on the same page. But we’re not looking to fix something that clearly isn’t broken, as those guys do a great job. If I’m over there, it’ll be me asking them for ideas and hearing how they’re doing things versus us saying ‘you have to change’ — because we don’t think they need to,” he said.

Six years before he joined LE&A in 2000 and four years before it was founded in 1998, Hunt began working with the firm’s eventual creators, Jeff Lambert and Brian Edwards, at another agency. Prior to that, he held down multiple reporting and editorial duties at the Kalamazoo Gazette for four years.

DON HUNT
Company:
Lambert Edwards & Associates
Title: Partner/Managing Director
Age: 41
Birthplace: Chicago Heights
Residence: Cascade Township
Family: Wife, Mary; daughter, Cameron.
Business/community organization: West Michigan Make-a-Wish committee
Biggest career break: Meeting Jeff Lambert and Brian Edwards.

At the time he met up with Lambert and Edwards, Hunt was relatively new to the public-relations industry, having done a bit of freelance work for Whirlpool and Upjohn. He said working with them opened a career door for him that he might not have walked through otherwise.

“In connecting with Brian and Jeff, they were people who had great skills and were very supportive of showing someone from the newsroom side what this business was supposed to be about. Really without that, I don’t know if I would have stayed in it as long as I have. I don’t know if I really would have taken to it,” he said. “Without those guys, I’d probably be doing something else at this point.”

Hunt said he joined the company because of his respect and admiration for Lambert and Edwards, because he could own a piece of the firm and begin working for himself in a very real entrepreneurial sense, and because he was called on to make a difference.

“In coming over, Jeff and Brian said help us build this into a firm that can really stand on a national level and one that does highly ethical, high-quality work,” he said.

Both those goals seemingly have been met, as today LE&A has 110 clients in 20 states and five countries across its consumer and retail group, its financial communications group and the practices led by Hunt.

“We’re talking about things that are fairly complex and how we can communicate them in a clear and relevant fashion. That’s really what I think I have brought to the firm,” he said.

“I try to instill an intellectual curiosity for the work and an ability to communicate it effectively in everybody. I’m very proud of the people who work here because I think they do that every day. I bring a lot of the crisis-in-media training experience to it and I bring a lot of what Jeff calls the ‘geek’ side to the office.”

Being a bit geeky has been a nice plus for Hunt, as it allowed him to co-write a weekly technology column with Edwards that appeared in the business section of the Chicago Tribune from 1995 until 2005.

“When Brian and I were doing that, my grandmother still lived in Chicago. If I got a call from my grandmother and she would say she didn’t understand the column, I knew I didn’t do it right. So the same thing here applies. You can’t get arrogant about a topic; you have to be able to communicate it in a way that people get it,” said Hunt, who was born in Chicago Heights.

Hunt said what he likes best about his job is that each day is different and he learns something new about something important — such as stem-cell research and the most recent emergency-room efficiencies — almost daily. Then he gets to dissect the latest finding with others at the firm.

“I also like to argue. I tell the people who work around me that the day you stop arguing with me is the day I fire you. Some people take that a little too much to heart,” he said with a laugh.

“People ask me if I’m going to be in an agency environment forever. I say, if it gets boring, I’ll stop.” 

Hunt came to LE&A after a five-year stint as director of communications for DP Fox Ventures LLC, a management and investment company owned by Dan and Pamella DeVos with interests in real estate, transportation, sports and entertainment. He was there when the Grand Rapids Griffins and Rampage teams took to the ice and the field, respectively, and when the company bought its first local auto dealership.

“The firm was in its very early days. I actually joined, I think, six months before the first Griffins game,” he said.

During his stay with the company, DP Fox also owned the hockey team in Kansas City and was managing the business side of the indoor football franchise in Oklahoma City. That meant the firm had to juggle an advertising workload with agencies located here and in those two out-of-state markets, which sometimes became redundant and confusing.

To alleviate that situation, Hunt said then-DP Fox Executive Vice President David Green wanted to simplify things by starting the company’s own advertising and communications firm to serve all its interests.

“On a plane ride back from Kansas City, he said ‘Put something together.’ What we started — and we started it a little before I left — was the firm that eventually became Justice & Monroe Advertising, which was later purchased by Hanon McKendry,” he said.

“Justice & Monroe handled all the work for the Griffins, the Rampage and a lot of other DP Fox-related companies. As is always the case with DP Fox, you get the chance to run with something and you get whatever resources you need, which is what makes it a great company.”

Hunt lives in Cascade Township with Mary, his wife of 17 years, and their 12-year-old daughter, Cameron. Don and Mary met one summer while both were working at a restaurant in Kalamazoo. Mary was tending bar and Don was commuting to and from Ann Arbor, where he attended the University of Michigan en route to earning a degree in English and creative writing.

In his free time, Hunt likes to read and jog. He recently bought an Amazon Kindle and has finished the River Bank Run twice. He and Cameron began studying tae kwon do three months ago and both are enjoying it immensely.

“I can see us doing this for a very long time. She is as into it as I am and we kind of push each other to practice and make sure that we stay sharp.”

Hunt has been active in the community throughout his time here, having served on boards for Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park, glima West and the Griffins Youth Foundation. He also co-chaired the West Michigan Technology Council, which is part of The Right Place. He currently is on the West Michigan Make-a-Wish committee. As a youngster, he suffered from severe asthma and spent a lot of time in hospitals.

“I was around hospitals a lot, not just as a patient. My dad was in hospital finance. In my work, I’ve been around the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital a great deal and know all the amazing things they do there.

“Children who are sick are to me the bravest people in the world, and anything that you can do to help them is time well spent and energy well spent. So much of what we do is so trivial compared to what they’re going through every day. So to me, it’s a really important organization, both locally and nationally.”

With the acquisition of John Bailey & Associates, Hunt believes his professional outlook for the coming years has gotten a lot brighter.

“I think that our firm is in a unique position to continue to really do great work at a national level because of our statewide footprint and the talent that we have between the two firms. As our business and our fields continue to change quickly, and as the media changes along with both, there is greater transparency in health care and in life sciences, which is a great thing.

“I think that the people that we have really make the future kind of unlimited. The biggest challenge is going to be deciding what directions we want to go in.”

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