Like medicine, public relations has many different fields: entertainment, food and travel, to name a few. Public affairs is that special discipline of public relations that focuses on public policy, legislation and regulatory issues. It is generally practiced by veterans of government and political campaigns who have seen the intricate workings up close and know how to translate complex policies into language anyone can relate to. One of those veterans is Katherine McLane, the lone Texan in the Schwarzenegger administration and alumni of the George W. Bush administration. She put decades of experience to work for clients when she started her successful public affairs shop, The Mach 1 Group.
As the Founder and CEO, Katherine leads a team of female communications experts and has been quoted extensively in the national niche and regional media. Her firm is known for its above-and-beyond service to clients whose brands are household names.
Katherine is an award-winning communicator, regarded by many as a “legend” for crisis management experience, who has also defined herself as a successful businesswoman. She cultivates a culture at Mach 1 that embraces cooperation, solidarity, innovative thinking and a ‘client first’ philosophy.
We at Insights Success caught up with Katherine in our endeavor to find “The 10 Most Disruptive Women Entrepreneurs to Watch in 2021.” We talked with her to know more about her journey and her vision for Mach 1’s future.
Below are the highlights of the interview.
Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at The Mach 1 Group. What challenges have you had to overcome to reach where you are today?
Early in my career, my most significant obstacle was one of my own making: I practiced a self-limiting way of thinking, focusing on scarcity rather than abundance and failing to realize that the world was my oyster, if I could just embrace my own potential. And then the universe handed me a great gift: a job at a leading national public affairs consulting firm, working for Mark McKinnon, one of the happiest, most accomplished, generous people on the planet. Long before he created Showtime’s The Circus, in 2001, he had just finished leading President George W. Bush’s first presidential election campaign and was returning to the firm in Austin he’d helped build. In him, I had the greatest example of the best ways to work and live right there in front of me every day. Never ruffled, always cool, invariably thinking the best of people, quick with a joke and a laugh, and unfailingly generous. Not only did I learn a great deal about communications, government, and politics from him, but he taught me – just by being himself – that outlook and attitude are everything. Thanks to his life lessons and support, I’m having the career of my dreams.
Tell us something more about Mach 1, its mission, and its vision.
We are a boutique public affairs firm and the best of the best in crisis communications. Our name comes from our crisis service philosophy – when the pressure is on, clients need excellent help immediately. That lesson was impressed upon me when I led crisis communications for the LIVESTRONG Foundation during its separation from founder Lance Armstrong. I hired big-name, high-dollar New York and D.C. firms to help navigate the global news spotlight. Some of them were outstanding. Some of them returned my urgent phone calls the next day, far too late to help with a reporter’s on-deadline questions.
Our goal is swift and excellent service to clients who require expert communications counsel to achieve their business goals, whether they’re facing a public crisis or a legislative hurdle. We are also a Historically Underutilized Business, being 100-percent female-founded and owned and with a 100 percent female client service team. Our company culture is immensely important to me, having worked in some serious pressure cookers during my career. We’ve created an atmosphere that’s supportive, open channel, collaborative and fun. And hailing from similar backgrounds, we all pull together to provide excellent service to our amazing clients.
Enlighten us on how you have made an impact in the Public Relations & Communications niche through your expertise in the market?
I purposely sought out tough jobs in campaigns and government that put me on the front lines, working with reporters every day of the week, promoting an administration’s achievements and mitigating bad news. Those are literally the hardest P.R. trenches there are. You handle crises on a daily basis and spin straw into gold, pitching favorable stories to reporters and creating content that allows your candidate to shine. Now we put that experience to work for the private sector and nonprofit clients whose goals depend on favorable legislation and regulation.
Today, Mach 1 stands out as one of the finest due to our experience, business development skills and outstanding client service team. Our boutique firm has served some of the best-known brands and organizations in the U.S. In the last decade, we’ve received local, national, and global recognition for our efforts and developed an excellent reputation among our peers. In 2020, we were among the first in our industry to overhaul communications goals with clients and recalibrate them to be responsive to the significant social upheaval we’ve faced as a nation. Our recalibration helped pave the way for an incredibly successful 2021. The 87th Texas Regular Legislative Session was one of the most unique and challenging Sessions in Texas history. In total, Mach 1 assisted clients in dozens of public testimonies in front of House and Senate Committees, gained more than 200 Session-related media hits for clients and generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in publicity value. Further, while three out of every ten small businesses in the U.S. faltered from the pandemic, Mach 1 was able to expand – adding three new team members over the year.
- Describe in detail the values and the work culture that drives your organization.
Our service team is all women, and our business is built around the principle of mentorship. Our team members invest in each other. We have a culture of mutual support within the firm that fosters a great work environment. We truly understand the demands of working in a fast-paced industry while striving for a work/life balance. We are also responding to the moment. The pandemic took its toll on women in the workforce. Given our firm’s background, we felt called to launch a new service helping businesses better adapt to the needs of women during the pandemic. As we grow, our firm will continue to provide innovative solutions to support and empower women in all sectors.
Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?
Due to the nature of our business and company culture, our employees worked remotely often before the pandemic, and using technology, we’ve fully embraced this working environment. Outside of client meetings, our business operations are almost 100 percent virtual – which has allowed us to be more efficient, productive, and innovative, and we’ve integrated technology into all aspects of our work, analyzing data to develop highly targeted earned and digital media campaigns and finding unique ways to leverage disrupting technology to further our client’s messages. Over the past year, we’ve experienced tremendous success by integrating traditional communication strategies with digital advancements – particularly in the public affairs space. As an example, we use data to measure public perception based on media tone and sentiment, reach influencers and decision-makers on policy-related issues; and then determine how our targeted messaging moves the needle on public perception.
If given a chance, what change would you like to bring in the Strategic Communications industry?
Communication must have compassion. The push to integrate data, technology, and A.I. into the industry is fantastic, but it must have a human element to be effective. As consumers are oversaturated with information and messages, the empathetic touch is essential to breaking through the noise. But it’s not just about reaching audiences. By incorporating a human element into strategic communications, we can help prevent burnout among industry professionals and empower those in this industry to lead with grace.
What, according to you, could be the next big change in the Crisis Management industry? How is Mach 1 preparing to be a part of that change?
The trend that we’re driving is crisis training and preparation. A crisis can happen to any organization at any time, and in the age of the 24-hour news cycle and dominance of social media, that crisis can spread globally in an instant. Organizations that fail to identify crisis scenarios in advance and prepare their game plans accordingly suffer tremendously. We specialize in helping organizations get ahead of a crisis – so they’re in a proactive position instead of a reactive position when and if an urgent situation arises. Our team of experts works hand-in-hand with organizational leadership – and importantly, their communications, government affairs and legal teams – to assess all potential vulnerabilities and create a constructive, meaningful path forward should a crisis arise.
Where do you envision yourself to be in the long run, and what are your future goals for Mach 1?
The Mach 1 Group is firmly on the path to becoming the top public affairs firm in Austin. Because we made a strategic decision not to lobby – a differentiator from our peers – our biggest source of referrals is the lobbyists whose clients we support with communications campaigns designed to achieve their regulatory, legislative and policy goals. I would love to see us continue to grow as a firm by taking on more clients in a wider variety of industries. We are developing new ways to provide services to sectors that have not traditionally thought of public affairs and crisis communication firms as a must-have but so often, they simply don’t know what they’re missing or what a tremendous return they could be achieving with an investment in the services we provide.
What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the Public Affairs sector?
First, get campaign and government experience, so you know how to advise clients with legislative and regulatory goals. And most importantly, be generous to yourself. I’ve noticed a tendency in myself and especially in my female friends over the years: We are usually harder on ourselves than anyone else, something our male colleagues seem far less prone to. Treat yourself like you treat your best friend. Don’t let your negative internal voice have even a second of airtime. Ask for help. It’s not an imposition; it’s a tribute to the person whose guidance you’re seeking. And above all, don’t be afraid.