Kearns & West distinguishes itself from its competition—which often includes much larger firms—by offering clients an approach that is research driven and by guaranteeing access to senior counselors, including principals Ken Kearns and Anna West and a handful of experts in public policy issues and conflict resolution. The firm has historically focused on a handful of key industry sectors, including energy, telecommunications, and land and water-use, but in the past 12 months has added an Internet practice, helping clients deal with increased legislative and regulatory scrutiny.
Following a long, hot summer in which the problems of a deregulated energy market were evident in several states, the firm’s energy practice was particularly busy. As utilities grappled were forced to respond to supply shortages and price increases, they also faced the prospect of re-regulation and the need to build new power supply projects. K&W was called in to mediate a complex hydroelectric permitting process for Southern California Edison, handling communication with multiple stakeholders, including state and federal agencies, the local community, Native Americans, and environmental groups. It was an assignment that played to the firm’s historic strengths.
At the same time, as the Internet grew to large to escape the attention of state and federal policy makers, Kearns & West found itself involved at the intersection of the Internet and telecommunications policy, a longtime Kearns & West practice area. New clients ranged from venture-backed start-ups to Internet associations who sought the firm’s help in resolving troublesome issues. On the environmental front, meanwhile, the firm was called in by the newly merged ExxonMobil to establish a worldwide issues and stakeholder outreach management system and by the Forest Service, to assess urban constituents’ views on its mission and directions and to create a communications plan.
The agency also expanded its portfolio of services, adding an online public affairs capability, quantitative research, and issues advertising, while continuing to be one of only a handful of public relations firms called in as a third-party mediator in conflict situations and expanding its partnership with the Consensus Building Institute, an affiliate of the MIT/Harvard Program on Negotiation.