For-profit

Fenton Communications

Website:

fenton.com/

Location:

New York, NY

Formation:

1982

CEO:

Valarie De La Garza

Type:

Left-wing public relations

 Fenton Communications is a left-of-center public relations firm founded by David Fenton. The firm has represented governments, nonprofits, and for-profit companies, including the government of Nicaragua, the New Georgia Project, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, Color of Change, MoveOn, and Johnson and Johnson. In 2014, the company had 60 employees, $11 million in revenue, and offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.. That year, David Fenton sold the company and moved to a secondary role. [1]

Fenton Communications works closely with three nonprofit groups founded by David Fenton: the Death Penalty Information Center, New Economy Communications, and Environmental Media Services. [2]  Environmental Media Services has even shared office space with Fenton Communications. [3]

History

Fenton Communications was founded by David Fenton and Robert Pollock in 1982. Fenton was previously a photographer for Liberation News Service, a left-wing anti-war media group, and later worked in public relations at Rolling Stone. In 1979, Fenton co-produced the “No Nukes” concert headlined by Bruce Springsteen. Pollock was an anti-Vietnam War activist, worked at the Indochina Research Center, and directed Critical Mass, an anti-nuclear group associated with Ralph Nader. Three years later, Fenton and Pollock established Fenton Communications as a public interest communications firm. The two split the company in 1984, with Fenton retaining the New York office, and Pollock starting a new company with the Washington, D.C., office. [4] [5]

Fenton Communications had a wide variety of clients in its early years, including Runner’s World Magazine, the League of Women Voters, the governments of Greece and Nicaragua, and a group boycotting Nestle for selling infant formula in developing nations. In 1984, Fenton Communications worked for the National Lawyers Guild, a left-wing group, to promote the interests of the far-left rebels in El Salvador and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. By this point, the company had subsisted solely on client fees and had garnered no capital investments. [6]

In 2014, David Fenton sold Fenton Communications to Collegium, a holding company that owns similar public relations companies. Fenton stepped down as CEO to focus on Fenton Communications’ environmental priorities. [7]

Consumer Goods Campaigns

Fenton Communications has launched numerous campaigns warning about the dangers of consumer goods. The right-of-center Competitive Enterprise Institute has accused Fenton Communications of engaging in “health and environmental scare-mongering” for the purpose of “fundraising for environmental activists.” Fenton Communications’s targets have included “biotech foods, ‘toxic’ chemicals in breast milk, toys and medical equipment made with PVC plastic, chemicals in the environment alleged to mimic hormones and… rBST.” [8]

Alar

In 1989, Fenton Communications worked with the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on a campaign against Alar, a pesticide which was then used on apples, based on an NRDC-funded study which claimed that Alar consumption caused cancer, particularly in children. The campaign produced two segments on “60 Minutes,” multiple mentions on major news stations, articles in the New York Times, and advocacy by actress Meryl Streep. Fenton Communications and the NRDC successfully turned public opinion against the use of pesticides on food, and significantly reduced consumption of non-organic produce. Many considered the campaign to be the start of the anti-pesticide movement in the United States. [9]

Conservative critics claim that the “Alar scare” was unfounded. A report entitled, “Fear Profiteers” called Fenton’s work the “quintessential scare campaign.” [10] The NRDC’s study had not undergone peer review and was not based on human testing. A later study by the National Cancer Institute found that Alar’s carcinogenic properties were too weak to cause cancer in humans. The American Medical Association and former surgeon general C. Everett Koop publicly condemned the Alar scare. Estimates put losses to the apple industry at $250 million, [11] and other farmers also sustained losses despite not using Alar. [12]

At the time, Fenton’s clientele included organic food producers who benefited from the Alar scare. [13] The NRDC was also a major financial beneficiary; David Fenton said of the group: “A modest investment by the NRDC re-paid itself manyfold in tremendous and substantial revenue.” [14]

Give Swordfish a Break

In 1999, Fenton launched the “Give Swordfish a Break” campaign on the NRDC’s behalf to discourage the consumption of swordfish because it was supposedly an endangered species. Fenton claimed that 78 restaurants in Washington, D.C., had already stopped serving swordfish. Critics claimed that restaurant statistic was false and that the federal government had not actually listed swordfish as endangered. [15]

Silicone Breast Implants

In the 1990s, Fenton led a campaign to discourage the use of silicone breast implants on safety grounds. Fenton initially represented itself as working for Command Trust Network, a support group for women harmed by breast implants, but Fenton also signed a multi-million-dollar contract with John O’Quinn, a lawyer representing numerous women suing breast implant providers. [16]

Health Care Without Harm

In 1998, Fenton and Environmental Media Services, a nonprofit founded by David Fenton, launched Health Care Without Harm, a campaign on behalf of National Environmental Trust (NET) encouraging the ban of phthalates, a chemical used to make plastics flexible. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop investigated phthalates on the NET’s behest and found no evidence of health risks. [17]

Clients

Fenton Communication’s nonprofit clients have included GOTV in Los Angeles County, Stop AAPI Hate, WeCount LA, Color of Change, Color of Change PAC, Science Moms, RAICES: No Kids in Cages, Citizens’ Committee for Children, PwC CEO Action, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, New Georgia Project, the St. Louis County Department of Health, Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council, Divest-Invest 2021, Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Carton Council, First Place for Youth, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Divest Invest, My Brother’s Keeper, Partnership for Responsible Growth, Children’s Aid Society, California Community Foundation, Artists Against Fracking. Asphalt Green, [18] Demos, the Wallace Global Fund, the Black Voters Matter Fund, Center for Popular Democracy, [19] the Ford Foundation, the Sierra Club, the Wikimedia Foundation, [20] Greenpeace, the World Wild Life Fund, Public Citizen, and Citizen Action. [21]

Fenton’s corporate clients have included Johnson and Johnson, Under Armour, [22] and Unilever. In 2014, about 20% of Fenton’s clients were for-profit companies. [23]

Fenton has made campaigns to promote the Green New Deal for Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, and New Consensus. [24]

Fenton has worked with MoveOn since its founding in 1998 and has expanded its userbase from 500,000 to 8 million. [25]

Campaigns

Pardon Snowden Campaign

In 2016, Fenton Communications ran the “Pardon Snowden” Campaign, which attempted to secure a pardon for controversial leaker Edward Snowden from then-President Barack Obama. The campaign was supported by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). By January 2017, the campaign had collected 1 million signatures for a petition. [26] [27]

Imagine There’s No Fracking

In 2013, Fenton ran the “Imagine There’s No Fracking” campaign to counteract efforts to permit fracking in New York State. According to Fenton, Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) was expected to approve of fracking until Fenton’s campaign turned public opinion, resulting in a New York fracking ban. [28]

Abortion Access for the Military

In 2011, the ACLU hired Fenton to run a public service campaign to permit female servicemembers to have access to abortions. The campaign generated 50,000 letters to U.S. Congress and allegedly resulted in the passage of the Shaheen Amendment. [29]

Same-Sex Marriage

In 2004, Equality California hired Fenton to run a campaign to support same-sex marriage in California after then-San Fransisco Mayor Gavin Newsom (D-CA) began issuing same-sex marriage licenses. [30]

References

  1. Elliott, Stuart. “New Owners for an Agency That Markets a Cause.” The New York Times. December 16, 2014. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/business/media/new-owners-for-an-agency-that-markets-for-a-cause.html. ^
  2. “David Fenton.” Activist Facts. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.activistfacts.com/person/2807-david-fenton/. ^
  3. “The Fear Profiteers.” Hudson. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://cei.org/studies/fear-profiteers/. ^
  4. “David Fenton.” Activist Facts. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.activistfacts.com/person/2807-david-fenton/. ^
  5. Mohr, Charles. “Market-Hunting In Progressive P.R.” The New York Times. April 21, 1984. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/1984/04/21/us/market-hunting-in-progressive-pr.html. ^
  6. Mohr, Charles. “Market-Hunting In Progressive P.R.” The New York Times. April 21, 1984. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/1984/04/21/us/market-hunting-in-progressive-pr.html. ^
  7. Elliott, Stuart. “New Owners for an Agency That Markets a Cause.” The New York Times. December 16, 2014. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/business/media/new-owners-for-an-agency-that-markets-for-a-cause.html. ^
  8. Milloy, Steven J. “Junk Science: Climate Activists’ Credibility Gap.” Competitive Enterprise Institute. June 21, 2007. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://cei.org/opeds_articles/junk-science-climate-activists-credibility-gap/. ^
  9. [1] “How a PR Firm Executed the Alar Scare.” Wall Street Journal. March 10, 1989. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.influencewatch.org/non-profit/natural-resources-defense-council-nrdc/. ^
  10. “The Fear Profiteers.” Hudson. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://cei.org/studies/fear-profiteers/. ^
  11. “The Fear Profiteers.” Hudson. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://cei.org/studies/fear-profiteers/. ^
  12. “Behind the Scenes: The Lefty PR Group That Stokes Consumer Fear of BPA.” Media Research Center. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.mrc.org/behind-scenes-lefty-pr-group-stokes-consumer-fear-bpa. ^
  13. “David Fenton.” Activist Facts. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.activistfacts.com/person/2807-david-fenton/. ^
  14. “The Fear Profiteers.” Hudson. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://cei.org/studies/fear-profiteers/. ^
  15. “The Fear Profiteers.” Hudson. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://cei.org/studies/fear-profiteers/. ^
  16. “The Fear Profiteers.” Hudson. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://cei.org/studies/fear-profiteers/. ^
  17. “The Fear Profiteers.” Hudson. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://cei.org/studies/fear-profiteers/. ^
  18. “Our Work.” Fenton. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://fenton.com/work/. ^
  19. “Clients Issues.” Fenton. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://fenton.com/clientsissues/. ^
  20. Elliott, Stuart. “New Owners for an Agency That Markets a Cause.” The New York Times. December 16, 2014. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/business/media/new-owners-for-an-agency-that-markets-for-a-cause.html. ^
  21. “The Fear Profiteers.” Hudson. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://cei.org/studies/fear-profiteers/. ^
  22. “Clients Issues.” Fenton. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://fenton.com/clientsissues/. ^
  23.  [1] Elliott, Stuart. “New Owners for an Agency That Markets a Cause.” The New York Times. December 16, 2014. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/17/business/media/new-owners-for-an-agency-that-markets-for-a-cause.html. ^
  24. “Green New Deal.” Fenton. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://fenton.com/work-item/green-new-deal/. ^
  25. “A History of Change.” Fenton. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.influencewatch.org/person/hon-andrew-cuomo/. ^
  26. Morris, David Z. “Campaign to Pardon Edward Snowden Delivers 1 Million Signatures to President Obama.” Fortune. January 14, 2017. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://fortune.com/2017/01/14/pardon-snowden-campaign/. ^
  27. “A History of Change.” Fenton. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.influencewatch.org/person/hon-andrew-cuomo/. ^
  28. “A History of Change.” Fenton. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.influencewatch.org/person/hon-andrew-cuomo/. ^
  29. “A History of Change.” Fenton. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.influencewatch.org/person/hon-andrew-cuomo/. ^
  30. “A History of Change.” Fenton. Accessed March 29, 2022. https://www.influencewatch.org/person/hon-andrew-cuomo/. ^

Directors, Employees & Supporters

  1. Ben Wyskida
    Chief Executive Officer
  2. George Lakoff
    Former Strategic Consultant
  3. Lynn Fahselt
    Former Communications Consultant
  4. Blaine Rummel
    Former Account Executive
  5. Kristen Grimm
    Former Chief Operations Officer (1997-2001)
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Fenton Communications


New York, NY