DENVER—From a small firm in Denver, Colo., Mike Gaughan worked on several ground-breaking public relations campaigns and nurtured a disproportionate amount of industry talent. He died last week at age 77, following complications from surgery.
Gaughan founded MGA Communications in 1987 with friends and colleagues Jeff Julin and Cricket Smith, and while it rarely grew beyond 25 people it had an impact on the public relations profession far greater than its size would imply.
Gaughan came from an entertainment background, but made his name working on high-profile environmental issues, beginning with the Johns Manville asbestos crisis, which included bankruptcy, product liability lawsuits, and a remarkable effort to rebuild the company’s reputation. Later, he led his firm’s 20-year assignment on behalf of Shell, the US Army and the National Wildlife Agency, handling community outreach and communications for the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Superfund site—named one of our PR Campaigns of the Decade in 2010.
Throughout it all, Gaughan applied one simple rule of good communications: "Nothing works like the truth…. If you take the time to clearly and respectfully discuss tough issues, the public often arrives at reasonable conclusions. Be open to that possibility."
As a teenager, Mike's career began as a "marquee boy" in the of movie theatre business before becoming one of the most innovative film and theater promoters in America's heartland. He moved to Denver in the mid-70s, forming his own movie promotion company, honing his craft by talking with people standing in line, at the back of the theatre or at the snack bar, and inadvertently learning the lessons that would make him such a great PR professional.
He is survived by his longtime partner Jeff Julin, who continues to lead MGA as president and is also a past chairman of Public Relations Society of America.