Photography: David Banks/Bloomberg

Frank Maisano: Energy PR guru doesn’t shy away from rockin’ side

May 17, 2016 David Banks

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Frank Maisano is the public face of Bracewell’s Policy Resolution Group, where he represents clients as diverse as rural electric co-ops and Southern Co., refiner Valero and the Council of Industrial Boiler Owners.

Maisano is the first place many energy writers turn when news breaks; he often has a reaction in their inbox before they know about it. It’s a job he clearly loves.

“We help reporters do their job better. That’s something that industry has not done well over the years,” he says. “Everybody plays their role, and my role has been to try and influence media coverage of an issue that has traditionally been difficult for the industry.”

One way he promotes his message is with his weekly newsletter to more than 5,000 subscribers; it offers a recap of his kids weekend sporting events, a hard-rock pun or two and a full listing that weeks’ energy events — with a plug to call Bracewell’s lawyers or lobbyists for their take on any number of issues.

When he’s not roaming Capitol Hill, Maisano is usually listening to something heavy while he works — maybe some Incubus, a little Tool, Metallica. He’s a proud member of the Kiss Army, judging by the framed, signed poster on his wall. Bloomberg Government recently caught up with Maisano to chat about how being a hockey referee makes him better at his job and his advice for young people who want to work in Washington.

Bloomberg Government: You’re a longtime ice hockey player, and you’re also a referee. How does being a referee translate to how you do your day job?

Maisano: You have to have a pretty thick skin, and you have to focus on what’s in front of you. When you’re a player, you have a job, and that job is to stop the puck. When you’re a referee you have to have a wider perspective, and it relates really well to what I do.

When you’re an official in any game, your decision making has to be crisp. You get used to making snap decisions on the information you have in front of you, and learning and living with that call.

As a professional, it has helped me be a better decision maker — when to move, and when not to move. Snap decisions that drive the agenda forward are often times a better solution to getting progress, versus lingering and waiting it out.

Bloomberg Government: You often go head-to-head with environmental groups. What do you think of the competition?

Maisano: When you’re a hammer, you have a job: Hit the nail. And I think a lot of times environmentalists are hammers for their specific nails. I think environmentalists are emboldened by the successes they’ve had. I think that makes it more difficult for us to engage and do the things we want to succeed.

We help reporters do their job better. That’s something that industry has not done well over the years, especially when it comes to environmental issues. You look at the successes we’ve had over the years, and it’s often because we’ve worked hard.

Bloomberg Government: Why do you think so many journalists seek you out?

Maisano: I know just enough to be dangerous (laughs). I have a sense of when I need to pass a journalist on to a real expert who can really dig deep into background and substance that a reporter has to have.

That’s what I’ve been good at — being willing, and affable, and building relationships, and having a reputation of knowing what’s going on, and having access to really smart people.

I have a lot of great friends in the environmental field and many of those guys — especially the ones who have been around a while and are savvy — they know that industry is formidable and needs to be dealt with. And they know that we at Bracewell and the people we represent are always doing the job like they do.

Bloomberg Government: You also find time to teach — you’re an adjunct professor at George Washington University, and before that you taught at Johns Hopkins. What advice do you give to students who want to do what you do?

Maisano: I worked on Capitol Hill for 9½ years, and I always tell my students that if they want to get real, first-hand experience, they need to work on Capitol Hill. You will learn more in two years there than you will learn in four or five years working at a PR firm, or a consulting firm.

You’re thrown into the fire — you write, you meet with constituents, you work directly with the boss on media strategy. You don’t know anything and you make a lot of mistakes.

I worked mostly for members of the Appropriations Committee, back in the olden days when you really had to work with people on the other side. So I’ve always had the mentality of being able to work with Democrats, or whoever the other side may be, because that’s how you get things done. That’s always valuable in the sausage-making legislative process.

Bloomberg Government: You’ve been working in Washington for 30 years, and in that time, things have changed — not always for the better. What happened?

Maisano: It’s been a steady downward slide, in my opinion. In 1994, Newt Gingrich played a partisan game, and he won. That became a model of success that others have tried to emulate, by going more partisan, rather than less.

The other thing is the role technology has played. Texting, social media, all that wasn’t here when I was on Capitol Hill. We barely had computers. Nowadays with social media we have a situation where we only need to talk to Fox News or Huffington Post, or Inside Climate News. I worry that we’ve gotten to a point where advocacy journalism is starting to take hold more, on all issues.

Part of it is the business of the media, and it’s also the way people think nowadays. People watch and read what they want to hear. And people pitch stories to the Washington Beacon because they know they’re gonna hammer the Obama administration, or pitch Huffington Post because they know they’re gonna hammer ExxonMobil.

Bloomberg Government: What’s your strategy for working with journalists?

Maisano: I think you’re much better off being in the game than shouting at someone from outside the game. And that’s always been my philosophy when it comes to dealing with reporters, even the ones who are tough on you.

If you don’t get in there and be a resource for them, it’s only going to be bad for you. So if you can make it more of an even playing field by working with journalists, and make it harder for them to say, “Go stuff it.” If you can find a way to make it hard for them to ignore you.

I’ve got good information, I’ve got good resources; we’re willing to talk; and we’re willing to talk on their timeline. It’s hard for a real journalist to not talk to you. We add value. It’s really important to be available, to help the reporters do their jobs.

Bloomberg Government: What’s your favorite place in D.C.?

Maisano: When I first came to D.C., it used to be the Lincoln Memorial. I still love that spot, but now my current favorite place in D.C. is any road headed out toward Annapolis that doesn’t have traffic on it.