HOUSTON—Mark Palmer, head of corporate communications at Enron Corporation throughout the financial scandal that forced the company into Chapter 11 bankruptcy, is leaving to become head of a new media relations practice at Austin-based Public Strategies.
Karen Denne, a seven-year veteran of the company who most recently was vice president of public relations, will take Palmer’s place as head of corporate communications at Enron. Says Palmer, “She did most of the work anyway.” Denne started her career as a reporter in southern California and joined Enron after working in public relations for the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power.
While Palmer will head a Public Strategies practice officially known as media relations, he says the scope of the group is considerably broader, encompassing a range of corporate communications tools. “I’ve always believed that if media relations is the only bullet in your gun, sooner or later you’re going to lose the gunfight,” he says.
PSI, founded by Texas public affairs veteran and with a powerhouse line-up of senior counselors that includes Bush advisor Mark McKinnon, former Clinton White House aide Jeff Eller, and former Texas Governor Ann Richards, recently restructured, creating six new practice areas. In addition to the media relations group—which had been headed on an interim basis by Julia Sutherland—the firm has practices focused on political campaigns, government relations, research, marketing and creative services.
Palmer, who joined Enron in 1996, was head of communications throughout the scandals that engulfed the company in 2001. But while the company was excoriated in the media, Palmer generally earned high marks for honesty from the reporters who covered the crisis. In their book 24 Days, an account of their investigation into Enron, Wall Street Journal reporters Rebecca Smith and John Emshwiller said they “didn’t think Palmer had ever knowingly given them bad information.”
Palmer says he will be happy to leave the crisis-plagued company behind—Enron is currently in the process of spinning off viable operations into stand-alone units and expects to have its reorganization plan confirmed in April—but says he hopes he will have the opportunity to work on some crisis assignments at PSI.
Palmer will be working out of the firm’s Houston office.