Tom Gable and team
The Nuffer, Smith, Tucker team of Mary Correia-Moreno (left), Tom Gable, Teresa Siles and Price Adams.

After five decades working in journalism and public relations, Tom Gable, 78, considered by many as a pioneer in the history of San Diego’s PR industry, has retired. He spent the past eight years working with Nuffer, Smith, Tucker, San Diego’s oldest operating PR agency.

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In 1976, Gable shocked many in the community when he resigned from the Evening Tribune, an afternoon daily newspaper, to open his own, solo PR consultancy called Gable PR.

The San Diego native had joined the Tribune in 1967, after graduating with a degree in journalism from San Diego State University. With the paper, he had advanced from a reporter’s role to business columnist and editor. He decided which San Diego companies had earned business and financial news coverage, and which had not.

Gable was one of the first high-profile journalists, at the height of their careers with San Diego’s largest news media outlets, who opted to switch careers and work in PR and marketing communications.

“I had job offers elsewhere,” Gable told Times of San Diego. “But rather than pursue a career in financial journalism, which would have required moving to other cities, I left the newspaper to enter PR so I could stay in San Diego and raise my family here.”

Gable’s move immediately raised the value of the San Diego PR profession in the mid-1970s.

“My timing in 1976 was fortuitous,” Gable said. “The PR landscape was a vast wasteland from a news orientation. My news background paid off as I started getting leads from local companies and organizations that wanted to bring their stories to life with fact-based, hype-free, credible media relations.”

Other journalists from both the Evening Tribune and The San Diego Union would follow Gable’s lead and move into PR.

Among the journalists moving into PR were Jerry Schultz, Tribune real estate editor, who joined Gable PR; Dick Daniels, Union real estate editor, who joined Jack Berkman; Otto Bos, Union political reporter, who became an advisor to Mayor and later Gov. Pete Wilson; Mike Walker, Tribune managing editor, who joined Pacific Telephone; Robin Maydeck and Alan Ziegaus, both left the Tribune to work at Stoorza, Ziegaus & Metzger, a prominent San Diego PR firm. Ziegaus later founded Southwest Strategies, which became one of the region’s largest public affairs firms.

Gable started Gable PR in 1976 with three small clients and $631 in first-month billings.

“At the time, the San Diego economy was evolving in many ways, with real estate development, technology, biotech and tourism starting to boom,” Gable said. “I knew the journalism background would help, since the small PR community was mostly populated by publicists linked to advertising agencies with little news background. They tended to stop by the news and TV assignment desks, pitching some sort of puff piece on their clients or a new product.”

One of his early breakthroughs was a PR crisis communications campaign for the American Tuna Boat Association. Gable said Greenpeace, an environmental activist group, was claiming that tuna fishermen were wanton porpoise killers.

“Greenpeace was lying, all in an attempt to raise money and shut down the tuna fishing industry,” he said. “They misled the news media with photos and film of dead dolphins caught in nets from Mexican fishing boats. We countered with a fact-based campaign, supported by outside experts in government agencies and universities. We were able to turn-around false perceptions and delay government actions that would have had horrific consequences for the San Diego fleet.”

In 1990, Gable PR became The Gable Group with the addition of research and advertising services. The firm grew to more than 30 employees.

“The industry evolved from simple media relations and publicity to offer integrated marketing communications,” he said. “There were PR needs everywhere, which gave us opportunities in politics, as well as traditional and emerging industries such as tourism, recreation, residential and commercial real estate, healthcare, biotech, medical technology and wireless and digital technologies.”

“We saw an amazing evolution of tactics and tools to support a strategic approach. Companies and organizations saw the growing value of building image and reputation as essential to long-term success and competitive advantage.”

In 2001, The Gable Group became known as GCS for five years with two partners, Rick Cook and Jon Schmid. When the partnership ended in 2006, the agency’s name returned to Gable PR. On April 1, 2015, Gable PR merged with NST.

During his nearly four decades at the helm of his own agency, Gable noted some of his proudest client success stories.

They included: nine years of community relations and media relations for the San Diego Trolley as it expanded through Mission Valley to La Mesa; PR to support government approval for the creation of the Carmel Valley and Carmel Highlands communities (once called North City West); a ballot proposition that enabled the construction of Highway 56 to connect with Interstates 5 and 15; a land swap for a new Naval Hospital in Balboa Park; and establishing the CONNECT brand for the UCSD Program in Technology and Entrepreneurship.

His agency also was early into biotech and the Internet. He worked with Lee Stein, serial San Diego entrepreneur, to launch First Virtual, the world’s first Internet payment system, in 1994, and added technology clients throughout California.

Gable also is proud of developing programs to promote the launch and promotion of Seaport Village for five years, and the opening of several new community banks. Also, Guild Mortgage, a client for the past 12 years, became an industry-wide success story with operations in 49 states and is now publicly traded.

“I’ve been very fortunate to have worked with some of the most intelligent, talented and dedicated PR professionals in the region,” Gable said. “They were instrumental in many successes with our clients and national awards for the agency. I feel blessed to have grown up in San Diego and have the opportunity to benefit from its ongoing evolution into a spectacular place to work and raise a family”

Gable thinks about artificial-intelligence tools, such as ChatGPT, in the same way he envisioned the Internet boosting the PR profession in its early days.

“AI can be an incredible resource for improving all aspects of our business,” Gable said. “When the Internet emerged from academia and tech industries with the launch of the Netscape browser in 1994, I thought it would be great for the PR profession because of the research capabilities and how we could create new ways of telling stories, such as with websites. With the Internet, we gained powerful new channels for enhancing our clients strategic programs. We could distribute news stories and media queries via email, rather than fax, personal or mail delivery — a breakthrough. It made us more responsive in following up with the media, too.”

“Now, with AI, it’s a more powerful boost to PR.  With AI, we have even greater access to research about industries, competitors and trends. What used to take weeks to research can now be accomplished in a few hours or less. AI gives PR professionals access to a world of information, facts and data to improve all that we do.”

What is Gable’s advice to young people just starting a PR career?

“The key to success in PR is to think like a journalist,” he said. “Do your research, check the facts and make sure you’ve sending the media a strong news story and filling all other channels with facts and compelling ideas.

“I’m optimistic about the future for anyone entering the profession. They are well-prepared coming out of the schools, are motivated and primed to learn more. Building on that foundation, they can find success by becoming avid readers with a focus on learning what they don’t know. This can include using AI and finding best practices from case histories, trends and winners of awards from PRSA (Public Relations Society of America, an industry trade group) and other organizations. Learn something new every day, be an active listener and dedicate yourself to continuous improvement.”

NST, opened on April 1, 1974, was founded by Dave Nuffer and Bob Smith, both deceased. In 2020, three long-time employees — Teresa Siles, president and Mary Correia-Moreno and Price Adams, both with the executive VP title — purchased the agency from Nola Trumpfheller, widow of the late Bill Trumpfheller, who passed away from cardiac arrest on Dec. 29, 2016. Trumpfheller joined NST as an intern in 1986 and became president in 2000. When he passed at age 53, he was NST’s president and CEO.

“Looking back, I can say one of my highlights of my time at NST has been the transition with the leadership of Teresa, Mary and Price,” Gable said. “They have invested in technology, systems, processes, procedures and standards that have improved every phrase of the business. Plus, they have built a fun team culture dedicated to getting involved in the community and achieving great results for their clients.”

Gable’s retirement plans include playing golf and tennis, some PR consulting, plus writing articles about wine and travel. He plans to spend more time on trips with wife,  Laura, who works in the travel industry (they’ve been married 56 years), as well as having fun with his three grown children (two daughters and a son) and his six grandchildren (five girls, one boy).

“I’m wrapping up a career that benefited from the growth of the local economy in many new industries and a wealth of professional PR talent who joined me along the way,” he said.

SD Direct Networking Group Dissolves, Ceases Operations

Members of SD Direct, formerly called the San Diego Direct Marketing Association, have approved a resolution to dissolve the California non-profit corporation and cease operations. The educational and networking group for digital and direct marketing professionals had been meeting since the mid-1970s.

“We almost had a 50-year run,” Karen Marchetti, SD Direct board president, told Times of San Diego. “At our height, we regularly attracted 60 marketers to our monthly luncheons and frequently 100 or more to our unique seminars.”

Current membership was about 25 people, Marchetti said. Members included direct response marketers, small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Marchetti said the COVID pandemic played a part in the demise of SD Direct. She said in-person meetings ceased from March 2020 to December 2021. Zoom meetings began in January 2022 and in-person meetings resumed in October 2022.

“We aren’t the only casualty among professional associations, and it’s not only due to the COVID break,” Marchetti said. “There are well-established online learning options for millennial and Gen Z marketers that don’t require being out of the office for two hours in the middle of the day.” 

“It’s also true that many bosses struggle to get their younger workers to want to continue to build new skills. So, the skill-building, learning from other marketers and networking that SD Direct and other professional associations were known for are not valued by younger marketers. When they do seek out learning opportunities, they look for them online.”

Gayle Falkenthal
Gayle Falkenthal covers a fight. Photo by Credit Jeffrey Gameway/Hot Boxing Minute

Gayle Falkenthal Mixes PR Consulting with Boxing Journalism

Gayle Lynn Falkenthal, who operates Falcon Valley Group, her own San Diego public relations firm, and writes news stories about boxing for several news media outlets, reports she has been admitted into the Boxing Writers Association of America .

The BWAA, established in 1926, is a professional media organization that votes for inductees into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Falkenthal said she is the only woman journalist among the 93 full-voting BWAA members.

“Writing about combat sports is my fun side journalism job,” Falkenthal told Times of San Diego.

Falkenthal began writing about boxing in 2011 and has written for the Times of San Diego, Communities Digital News and, where she currently serves as West Coast bureau chief.

She has won multiple awards for her sports columns, features and video coverage from the San Diego Press Club and Society of Professional Journalists, San Diego chapter.

“I compete for breaking-news stories against full-time sports journalists who work for credentialed news outlets,” she said. “I greatly enjoy winning awards for my boxing work. I admit it, I take delight in beating the boys at this game.”

San Diego County Water Authority Wins Communication Awards

The San Diego County Water Authority reports it was recently honored with two Awards of Distinction from the California Public Information Officers, a professional industry group. The awards for government outreach campaigns are named EPIC, an acronym for Excellence in Public Information and Communication.

One campaign featured a series of 18 consumer-oriented news articles written by Joni German, water resources specialist. The series, titled “Water Smart Living,” was published by the Times of San Diego between May 14 and Sept. 25, 2022.

The series was based on a 2020 e-publication called “A Homeowner’s Guide to a Water Smart Landscape” that was written by German. The award was presented in the writing category in the communication and marketing tools section of the competition.

“We work hard to find new and engaging ways to help inform San Diego County residents on ways they can contribute to water conservation,” said German. “We’re grateful to Times of San Diego for giving us a platform to reach their readers.”

The other campaign, titled “Faces of the Water Industry,” was created by Andrea Mora, public affairs representative. It featured profiles on water industry workers. The award was presented in a social media category. A combination of shared social media posts and videos published between Sept. 25 and Oct. 31, 2022, garnered 1,362 engagements and 2,321 video views on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube resulting in 26,539 total impressions.

The Water Authority said the social media campaign also improved job applicant diversity with increases of 4.5 percent in Black applicants, 4 percent in Asian-and-Pacific Islander applicants and 0.7 percent in Hispanic applicants between 2021 and 2022.

“There are so many exciting career opportunities in the water and wastewater industry,” said Mora. “I enjoyed putting my skills to work showcasing the featured professionals and encouraging people to learn more about these jobs.”

The Water Authority said it has won CAPIO awards annually since 2019.

Rick Griffin is a San Diego-based public relations and marketing consultant. His MarketInk column appears weekly on Mondays in Times of San Diego.