Dezenhall Resources, The Pitbull of Corporate PR (SourceWatch)
Dezenhall Resources, formerly known as Nichols-Dezenhall, is a PR company that specializes in “aggressive” campaigns to defend corporations from complaints by progressive groups. In 2006 the firm was dubbed “the pit bull of public relations” by Kevin McCauley, the editor of O’Dwyer’s PR Report. On its website the firm describes itself as a “high-stakes communication consultancy” which develops “both offensive and defensive strategies” to shape media coverage  and specializes in crisis management campaigns.
Background to the firm
In 1987 Nichols-Dezenhall was founded by Eric Dezenhall and Nick Nichols. In September 2003, Nick Nichols retired from the firm. The following year, Dezenhall and the firm’s other principal, John Weber, announced that “the firm that has been known for 17 years as Nichols-Dezenhall has become Dezenhall Resources.” In an accompanying manifesto, Dezenhall wrote that “we invite you to continue your adventure with a wizened but still merry band that now flies under the new banner of Dezenhall Resources.”
Until approximately early 2006 it had its own offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento but these have now been closed. (The Los Angeles office opened in late 2000 and the Sacramento office was opened in approximately September 2002)
Instead of having branch offices in Sacramento and Los Angeles, Dezenhall Resources has affiliates in the two cities with unnamed firms. It also currently has affiliate relationships with firms in London and Brussels. While the firm’s current website does not identify its affiliates by name, a version of the firm’s website from August 2007 stated that its London affiliate was Luther Pendragon and its Brussels affiliate was Cabinet Stewart.
In February 1998 Nick Nichols sent a memo to alert N-D clients and “industry colleagues” to a “Right to Know” campaign being planned by Fenton Communications. “We have confirmed that Fenton Communications and their non-profit affiliate, the Environmental Media Center, are planning a ‘Right to Know’ advertising campaign” for the third quarter of 1998, Nichols advised the Grocery Manufacturers Association amongst others.
“Focusing on public health, the campaign will involve chemicals and the chemical industry. As more information becomes available. we will forward it to you,” Nichols advised.
Dezenhall’s book, Nail ’em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses, published in 1999 claims that “despite its sexy sheen, the real power of animal rights remains in terror”. In PR Watch, Sheldon Rampton noted “in a section of the book titled “Victims Groups as Cultural Terrorists,” Dezenhall lashed out at ‘attackers … who use nonviolent terror to accomplish their goals.’ What is ‘nonviolent terror’? Dezenhall was referring to ‘organized ‘Multiple Chemical Sensitivity’ (MCS) activists’ who ‘intimidate doctors and research institutions that won’t diagnose MCS and other boutique disabilities.’
Dezenhall told Forbes magazine he disagreed with the usual PR company approach. “In past years, the rule of thumb was, ‘never piss off the media’. This is classic public relations b.s. It assumes you have a future with the media that is attacking you. You don’t … There won’t be any future if the TV show buries you,” he said.
“There’s a role for conventional PR in most, but not all, controversies,” he told O’Dwyer’s PR Daily. “We’re in the witch-hunt business, and I have yet to see a polite presentation-of-the-facts acquit a client who is an accused witch when the crowd is hell-bent on seeing someone burn,” he said. “When the Hell’s Angels show up, who do you want on your team, Woody Allen? When the Hell’s Angels come dressed as choirboys it only makes our cases more interesting,” he said.
Hyping the threat of ‘eco-terrorism’ in the U.S.
Several months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, Nick Nichols wrote an article for the online magazine, Tech Central Station that sought to blur the lines between underground groups that engaged in damage to property and more mainstream groups. “Like many foreign-based terrorist groups, many eco- and animal rights terrorist groups receive encouragement, support and funding from groups that are perceived to be legitimate charities. In the United States, charitable organizations classified as 501(c)(3) groups under the tax code benefit from taxpayer subsidies, government grants and foundation philanthropy. This classification can bring enormous financial benefit to extremist groups,” he wrote.
On March 7, 2002 Nichols-Dezenhall was listed as a co-sponsor – along with the Competitive Enterprise Institute – of “Stopping Eco-extremism: a conference on legislative, legal and communications strategies to protect free enterprise”. While the conference was advertised as open to the public, CLEAR – a group that monitored the anti-environment movement – was twice denied permission to attend.
In a report on the conference, the Executive Director of TomPaine.com, David Case, reported Nichols asking rhetorically about environmentalists, “What motivates them? Political power — and they are powerful. Money. This is a big business, the crisis creation business, lots of money involved. Notoriety. An attitude of anti-free enterprise. To the extent that they’re driven by so-called altruism it relates to a disgust over free enterprise. A distain [sic] in some cases for people and democracy,” he said answering his own question.
One of the people attending the conference was Kelly Stoner, billed as the executive director of “Stop Eco Violence” from Oregon. “Oddly enough, the Web site address on Stoner’s card (stopecoviolence.com) didn’t exist at the time of the conference, but it was registered to — you guessed it — Nichols Dezenhall,” Case reported. Two days after Case reported on this, the registration was changed from the name of Nichols-Dezenhall’s Los Angeles office staffer Ryan Knoll to Stoner.
Connection to Public Interest Watch and attacks on Greenpeace
Denzenhall Resources has been accused of founding Public Interest Watch, a non-profit front group funded by ExxonMobil, specifically to attack Greenpeace. Dezenhall and his former associates, who were founding board members of Public Interest Watch, declined to explain the connection between the two organizations. Public Interest watch has used various tactics to harass Greenpeace, including filing complaints to Internal Revenue Service with the purpose of revoking Greenpeace’s tax-exempt status.
Writing for the monthly review of the Institute of Public Affairs, Dezenhall characterized Greenpeace and other environmental groups as “radical attackers…motivated by a desire to make money, along with an ideological hostility to private enterprise.” Dezenhall also advised corporations to use public relations to discredit environmental groups rather than meet their demands.
Dezenhall argues clients need to “hit back” against activist groups
In an article for Jewish World Review on the PR problems confronting the Israeli military in their battles with Palestinians, Dezenhall explained that “whomever owns the visuals of victimhood wins the PR war.”
“Enormous, steel-plated tanks rumbling up residential streets. Uniformed soldiers surrounding plain-dressed snipers. Barbed-wire checkpoints. By military standards, that’s effective. In public relations, it’s a disaster. In the PR war, it is the symbols of victimhood that count and those being shot at – whatever they did to provoke it – are automatically victims in the eyes of the western press,” he continued.
“The large companies I represent as a media consultant have learned all these lessons, mostly the hard way. Big equals bad. Strength is always immoral. Accusation requires investigation. In their marketplace battles, environmental radicals, consumer activists and trial lawyers are the darlings of the press. But my clients have learned how to hit back, strike the attackers first and sometimes even position themselves as the victims in the media melodrama,” he explained.
In an October 1999 panel discussion organized by the Independent Women’s Forum on the “politics of personal destruction,” Dezenhall explained his approach of putting “the attackers themselves at risk”.
“In order to fight back, the target must be willing to be disliked, and be willing to be accused of being heavy-handed. You cannot always survive attack and be loved. When Cardinal Joe Bernardin was accused of molesting an altar boy, that attack did not stop until Bernardin decimated the altar boy. That’s what I do. I beat up on altar boys and it doesn’t look pretty. Nevertheless, it comes to that because the narrative sides with the altar boy,” he said.
“If you live by the sword, you may very well die by the sword. But the truth is, if you live by the olive branch, you can still die by the sword. You have to ask yourself: Is it worth the fight? Second, ask if doing what must be done is within your constitution. If it’s not, concede. If it is, fight back,” he concluded.
In an opinion column to the New York Post, Dezenhall railed against those within the PR industry that advocated corporations should accommodate some activist group demands. “Unfortunately, corporate surrender is growing more common. Too many corporations are heeding the advice of public relations capitulation counselors and are going to extraordinary lengths to please attackers who do not want to be pleased. In the end, appeasement usually fails to stop attacks. It simply encourages new ones,” Dezenhall wrote. (See Peter Sandman for the views of a crisis management consultant advocating ‘engagement’ with activist groups.)
Dealing with reporters
In an article by American Enterprise Institute adjunct fellow Jon Entine, Dezenhall outlined his approach to dealing with ‘hostile’ reporters: “Companies tend to grant reporters the power of Supreme Court justices and believe they’re under oath to answer whatever question is posed to them. … No such obligation exists.”
“When you’re dealing with a hostile reporter, good coverage isn’t your goal. Less bad coverage is your goal. Most corporations don’t get that; they’re looking for shamans and gurus that can spin them out of catastrophe, something that only works in the movies. Always remember that a good reporter is like a Hollywood producer – he knows how the story ends. The only way to turn a hostile story is if you can provide a better ending. Not all co-operation helps the cause,” he said.
In campaigns for clients, Dezenhall explained to an Associated Press journalist in June 2000, unconventional tactics were often used. “Corporate wars are just like real wars: They’re ugly, and they are won and lost in the details,” he said. “A company might not want to know how you got the information, but they still want the information,” Dezenhall said.
“To survive in a more competitive climate, corporations need to resort to unconventional resources, and some of those resources include using deceit to stop an attacker,” Dezenhall said. According to the article, Nichols-Dezenhall “hires private detectives, former CIA, FBI, Drug Enforcement and other law enforcement officers for corporate investigations.”
Opposing the Precautionary Principle
In November 2003, the Environmental Working Group released a leaked memo drafted by Tim Shestek, a lobbyist with the American Chemistry Council (ACC) in Sacramento. The memo outlined the key features of a campaign proposal from Nichols-Dezenhall to counter growing support for the precautionary principle (PP) in California, which it argued could create a national trend.
The ACC memo, which was created in late July 2003, stated, “California’s business community has done little to date to counter the PP, largely allowing PP proponents to control the debate and spread their messages unfettered. Should this trend continue, industry runs the risk of allowing the PP to gain additional momentum, with potentially much broader and more severe implications”.
“Moreover, California is a bellwether state, and any success enjoyed here could readily spill over to other parts of the country,” it argued.
“In order to help California industry build awareness and respond to legislative and regulatory attacks on an as-needed basis, the American Chemistry Council is supporting and recommends an aggressive awareness campaign as outlined in the following strategies and tactics”, the proposal – which was circulated to a broad range of industry groups seeking support – stated.
The ACC memo said that Nichols-Dezenhall estimated the campaign “would cost in the range of $12,500 – $15,000 per month (not including out-of-pocket expenses, e.g., travel costs, materials, printing, ally reimbursement, other costs listed below) during periods of intense activity, and $5,000 – $7,500 per month when the legislature is out of session. This estimate is subject to change if the proposal is trimmed or additional tactics added.”
According to the ACC memo the strategies that Nichols-Dezenhall would employ included:
- “Define the issues on our terms to stigmatize the PP, win control of the message war and build awareness of the negative consequences associated with its implementation”.
- “Generate support for our position by identifying, recruiting and mobilizing non-traditional allies in the scientific, academic and activist communities to call into action when needed to fight, or preempt unwelcome initiatives’.
- “Selectively challenge our adversaries and position their demands and political agenda as contrary to the best interests of Californians”.
Some of the tactics the ACC memo flagged would be used by Nichols-Dezenhall included:
- “Establish a computerized issue monitoring system to track all media, political, policy and regulatory information flow in California with regard to the PP”;
- “Conduct and publicize an economic-impact study to dramatize the potentially devastating impacts to industry and consumers should California broadly adapt PP-based legislation and regulation”;
- “Use satire and humor to demonstrate how, taken to its logical extreme, application of the PP would set Californians back to the stone ages”;
- “Media outreach – Provide a steady stream of information: studies, reports and other media products to advance the message and agenda of the coalition. Approach and educate conservative columnists and talk radio hosts on the issue to stimulate debate”;
- “Recruit and energize the business community by creating and publicizing a coalition-sponsored business roundtable or lecture series and/or conferences to educate potential allies about the PP and the consequences of its implementation. These could be held in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose and San Diego and done in conjunction with other business associations and/or California based think tanks“;
- “Conduct selective intelligence gathering about the plans, motivations and allies of opposition activists on an as needed basis. Focus on the PP “movement leadership” in the U.S., and in particular, California.
- “Recruit and energize non-conventional third party critics”;
- “Create an independent PP watchdog group to act as an information clearinghouse and criticize the PP in public and media forums. For too long the “common sense” appeal of the PP has gone unopposed”;
- “Mount protests timed with debate/discussion/votes on PP-related legislative proposals”;
- “Draft and sponsor ordinances/resolutions rooted in risk management and sound science”; and
- “Fund a documentary and associated media blitz that examines “shocking” negative past consequences of the PP, in the context of present-day CA situations if possible”.
Nichols-Dezenhall Vice president, Steven Schlein, confirmed the authenticity of the proposal described in the ACC memo. “It was designed by us because of the business climate in California …That’s the way to wage a long-term public affairs campaign. You get supporters,” he told the Oakland Tribune.
The ACC’s spokesman, Thomas Metzger, confirmed they had received a proposal from Nichols-Dezenhall but sought to downplay their response. “We are and were very concerned about the issue. We’re wanting to do something. … The proposal we got from Nichols-Dezenhall may have pushed tactics we weren’t comfortable with. … I don’t know that it was ever actively considered,” he told the Oakland Tribune. Metzger confirmed for the Oakland Tribune that ACC wanted an “aggressive awareness campaign.”
Dezenhall Resources’s proposal for the ACC followed a “special report” – titled The Precautionary Principle: throwing the science out with the bathwater – the company prepared in February 2000 with Wirthlin Worldwide.
Campaigns Run by Dezenhall Resources
Dezenhall Tells Publishers: Openness is Censorship
In July 2006, Dezenhall “spoke to employees from Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society at a meeting arranged last July  by the Association of American Publishers,” reported Jim Giles. The publishers were seeking to counter perceived economic threats from open-access journals and public databases. In an email leaked to Nature, Dezenhall suggested that the publishers “focus on simple messages, such as ‘Public access equals government censorship.’ He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and ‘paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles.'”
The Dezenhall Resources website lists only the names of its two principals on its website. These are:
- Eric Dezenhall, President, Founding Partner and Principal
- John Weber Executive Vice President and Principal
(as of November 2008)
In a 2005 listing on the website of the American Meat Institute, Dezenhall Resources was described as being “relatively small with 30 professionals, many of whom joined the agency from larger firms in town”.
- Steven Schlein Senior Vice President;
- Maya Shackley Senior Vice President Finance and Administration
- Sheila Hershow Senior Vice President;
- David A. Nichols Chairman
- David Egner
- Erin Donovan
- Nick Nichols (retired) – Nichols was Chairman and CEO of Nichols-Dezenhall until late July 2003.
- Dan Kramer former Vice-President & General Manager -Sacramento office
- Ryan Knoll former Vice President – Los Angeles office
On its website, Dezenhall Resources does not list any of its clients. However, it seeks to portray this secrecy as a virtue. It states that “we believe strongly that the counselor-client relationship, especially on sensitive issues, must be grounded in trust and uncompromised confidentiality. Therefore, unlike conventional PR firms and even other so-called crisis management agencies, we never have and never will disclose our client list, announce our new business wins, or publicly discuss client case histories.”
However it states that “our firm handles a diverse set of clients, ranging from issue coalitions and multi-national corporations, to entertainment figures and other prominent individuals. Over the years we have also advised numerous non-profit organizations, including colleges and universities, health voluntary organizations, research institutions and philanthropic groups. We have provided public relations services on a pro bono basis to charities, foundations, and other worthy causes.” On another part of its website, the firm states that “many of our clients are multi-national corporations”.
While the firm does not openly disclose past or present clients, some have been disclosed in news reports. Some are:
- lawyers working for Jeffrey Skilling – Former Enron CEO
- Mark J. Geragos – Los Angeles attorney for Michael Jackson and other celebrities. 
- Eli Lilly & Co – Pharmaceutical corporation;
- The Association of American Publishers 
- In 2005 the American Meat Institute listed the company on its website as one with a crisis management capability suitable for its members. “The agency’s client list is confidential,” the site stated.
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Articles and Resources
Related SourceWatch Articles
- precautionary principle
- third party technique
- front groups
- think tanks
- Eric Dezenhall
- Wirthlin Worldwide
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 “‘The Pit Bull Of Public Relations’: Eric Dezenhall serves clients such as ExxonMobil by going after their foes”, Businessweek, April 17, 2006.
- ↑ Dezenhall Resources, “Media Relations”, Dezenhall Resources website, accessed December 2008.
- ↑ Dezenhall Resources, “Crisis Management”, Dezenhall Resources website, accessed December 2008.
- ↑ Dezenhall Resources, “Media Training/Crisis Training”, Dezenhall Resources website, accessed December 2008.
- ↑ 5.0 5.1 5.2 “About the Firm”, Dezenhall Resources website, accessed November 2008.
- ↑ Eric Dezenhall and John Weber, “Dear Friends”, Dezenhall Resources, January 26, 2004.
- ↑ Eric Dezenhall, “It Is Not Immoral to Defend Yourself: A Brief Manifesto on Crisis Management”, Dezenhall Resources, January 2004.
- ↑ “Locations”, Dezenhall Resources website, archived page from January 2006.
- ↑ 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Aimee Grove, “Nichols opens in Los Angeles and beefs up DC staff”, PR Week, October 2, 2000.
- ↑ “Offices”, Nichols-Dezenhall website, archived from February 2001.
- ↑ Nichols-Dezenhall website, Nichols-Dezenhall website, archived from September 2002.
- ↑ “Locations”, Nichols-Dezenhall website, archived from August 2007.
- ↑ Nick Nichols, “Right to Know”, Nichols-Dezenhall Communications, February 3, 1998. Bates no 519434324.
- ↑ Sheldon Rampton, “Terrorism as Pretext”, PR Watch, Fourth Quarter 2001, Volume 8, No. 4.
- ↑ Seth Lubove, “Gotcha”, Forbes, November 15, 1999. Bates No 2085093776/3779.
- ↑ “Nuns With Guitars Aren’t All Innocent, Says Dezenhall”, ‘O’Dwyers PR Daily, July 1, 2002.(Sub req’d)
- ↑ Nick Nichols, “They’re Animals”, Tech Central Station, February 28, 2002. (This articles is archived in the Internet Archive).
- ↑ Competitive Enterprise Institute, “Stopping Eco-Extremism: A Conference On Legislative, Legal And Communications Strategies To Protect Free Enterprise”, February 24, 2002.
- ↑ “CLEAR denied access to “eco-terrorism” conference”, CLEAR Alert, March 4, 2002.
- ↑ 20.0 20.1 David Case, “You Too Might be a Terrorist!”, TomPaine.com, March 12, 2002.
- ↑ “Domain Registration For StopEcoViolence.com Before March 14, 2002”, Tom Paine.com, March 15, 2002.
- ↑ 22.0 22.1 22.2 Eric Dezenhall, “How Arafat Wags the Dog”, Jewish World Review June 18, 2002.
- ↑ 23.0 23.1 “The Politics of Personal Destruction: Discussed by Robert Bork, Eric Dezenhall and Gertrude Himmelfarb”, Independent Women’s Forum, October 14, 1999.
- ↑ Eric Dezenhall, “Appeasing Extremists Brings No Peace”, New York Post, March 30, 2001.
- ↑ Jon Entine, “Analysis: Dealing with the media”, Ethical Corporation, January 2003.
- ↑ “Corporate Spying And Espionage Costs Billions”, The Toronto Star, July 3, 2000. (This is an Associated Press story).
- ↑ Cliff Edwards, “High-Tech World Has Low-Tech Spying”, Associated Press, June 30, 2000.
- ↑ Nichols-Dezenhall, [[Image:DezACC.pdf “Precautionary Principle Campaign Proposal”], undated but from July 2003. The copy of the plan is a 30kb pdf file.
- ↑ 29.0 29.1 Douglas Fischer, Chemical industry may fight tests; Leaked memo proposes strategy to combat push for companies to prove safety”, Oakland Tribune, November 21, 2003.
- ↑ “The Precautionary Principle: Throwing the Baby Out With The Bath Water”, Issues Perspective: A Special Report Prepared in Cooperation with Nichols-Dezenhall, Wirthlin Worldwide, February 2000.
- ↑ 31.0 31.1 Jim Giles, “PR’s ‘pit bull’ takes on open access”, Nature, January 24, 2007. (Sub req’d).
- ↑ 32.0 32.1 “Public Relations Firms With Crisis Management Capabilities”, American Meat Institute website, November 2005. This page is now only available in the Internet Archive.
- ↑ “Senior Staff”, Nichols-Dezenhall website, archived in the Internet archive from July 21, 2003.
- ↑ “Senior Staff”, Nichols-Dezenhall website, archived in the Internet archive from July 21, 2003.
- ↑ 35.0 35.1 “About The Firm”, Dezenhall Resources website, accessed December 2008.
- ↑ Dezenhall Resources, “Issues Management/Public Affairs”, Dezenhall Resources website, accessed December 2008.
- Nick Nichols, “‘Right to Know’ Campaign“, February 3, 1998.
- Sheldon Rampton, “Terrorism as Pretext“, PR Watch, Volume 8, No. 4, 4th Quarter 2001.
- Cliff Edwards, “High-tech world is rife with low-tech spying“, Associated Press, June 30, 2000.
- Seth Lubove, “Gotcha“, Forbes, November 15, 1999, page 145.
- “Get tough with activists, says Nichol“, O’Dwyers PR Daily, March 28, 2001. (Sub required).
- Louis Jacobson, PR’s Brass-Knuckled Boys, National Journal, June 29, 2002
- “Nuns with Guitars aren’t all innocent, says Dezenhall“, O’Dwyers PR Daily, July 1, 2002. (Sub required).
- Nick Nichols, “They’re animals“, TechCentral Station, February 28, 2002.
- David Case, “The Fringe: You Too Might Be A Terrorist!: The War On The Greens“, Tom Paine.com, March 12, 2002.
- Eric Dezenhall, “How Arafat wags the dog“, Jewish World Review, June 18, 2002.
- Eric Dezenhall, “The Politics of Personal Destruction“, October 14, 1999.
- Eric Dezenhall, “Appeasing Extremists Brings No Peace“, New York Post, March 30, 2001.
- Jon Entine, “Analysis: Dealing with the media“, January 2003.
- Environmental Working Group, “Chemical Industry’s secret plan to attack California’s anti-toxics trend: Memo Calls for Phony Front Groups, Spying on Activists”, Media Release, November 20, 2003.
- Environmental Working Group, “Letter from EWG’s Bill Walker to ACC“, November 19, 2003.
- Environmental Working Group, “Microsoft Word Metadata“, November 19, 2003.
- Environmental Working Group, “Download leaked MSWord document“. (This document was originally created on July 31, 2003).
- Douglas Fischer, “Chemical industry may fight tests: Leaked memo proposes strategy to combat push for companies to prove safety“, Oakland Tribune, November 21, 2003.
- American Meat Institute, “Public Relations Firms With Crisis Management Capabilities“, accessed February 8, 2004.
- Wirthlin Worldwide, The Precautionary Principle: throwing the science out with the bathwater, February 2000. (This report is subtitled “a special report prepared in co-operation with Nichols-Dezenhall”).
- Eric Dezenhall, “It Is Not Immoral to Defend Yourself:A Brief Manifesto on Crisis Management“, undated, accessed October 2004.
- Eric Dezenhall, “Wishful Thinking vs. Real-World Effectiveness in High-Stakes Communications“, Legal Backgrounder, Volume 19 Number 25, Washington Legal Foundation, August 20, 2004.
- “The Pit Bull Of Public Relations“, Business Week, April 17, 2006.
- Jim Giles, “PR’s ‘pit bull’ takes on open access: Journal publishers lock horns with free-information movement,” Nature, 24 January 2007.