While some may use tools well, great people redefine their use. Scott Foster is one of the most effective and progressive masters of communication technology and technique since the rise of the internet. He is the type of person I write software for — not the typical user, but the individual who deeply understands and fulfills the potential of communications technology. Scott routinely puts entire marketing departments to shame. — Kevin Hughes.
Honolulu-based research writer, political strategist and communications consultant Scott Foster has devised and executed winning strategies for dozens of high-profile public policy issues and electoral campaigns.
Scott has been called upon twice to assist the White House. In 1995, he was asked to perform advance communications in Hawai`i for President William J. Clinton to prepare for his official visit to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the end of World War II; “VJ Day.” Details HERE.
In August of 2014, Scott was contacted on behalf of the Obama Whitehouse by the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Ocean Legacy Project. The goal was to conduct a public education campaign to help the President gain the political and public support needed to expand the protected waters surrounding three of the five U.S. Pacific National Marine Monuments. Scott notes, “While I felt honored to be involved, the fact that we had only three weeks to pull this off kept me awake nights.” More HERE
NOTE: Scroll down to see “Creating America’s first National Marine Monuments” with the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Passage of The 2018 Hawai`i Death With Dignity Law
The 16-year effort to legalize medical aid in dying for terminally ill adults in Hawai`i ended on Thursday, April 5th, 2018, when Governor David Ige signed the Hawai`i Medical Aid In Dying bill, now Act 002. Scott became interested in the Death With Dignity issue in the mid-1980s during the AIDS Pandemic when he watched many of his friends in Hawai`i and on the Mainland die “long, painful deaths.” Scott notes: “When we later began to organize in earnest, our small local community group knew we were fighting an uphill battle but through the years, we were able to raise the issue to the point of acceptance.” Hawai`i is the eighth jurisdiction in the US to have the law. More HERE
Passing The Hawai`i Marriage Equality Law
In October 2013, Scott was retained by the American Civil Liberties Union to help pass Hawaii’s Marriage Equality legislation. Scott said, “Our first challenge was to convince the Governor to call a special session of the legislature with the hope that the issue could be passed before the next regular session. The thought was, the controversial issue would have the legislature’s undivided attention during a special session and they could better manage it then without disrupting the many other important issues they would face during the regular session. The deadline was approaching and the clock was running.” More HERE
Mentors of Note
Scott has said, “Public policy and electoral campaigns are both demanding and complicated propositions. If one wants to win in the political arena, one must know how to go about it and that’s what I teach. I had the great fortune to work directly with the best in the business during three Hawai`i gubernatorial campaigns. The late Joseph Napolitan was my friend and mentor for over 20 years.” Scott met Napolitan while serving as the Director of Communications for former Hawai`i Governor Ben Cayetano’s first gubernatorial campaign in 1994. Learn more about Joe Napolitan and Scott HERE.
Scott has been blessed with a series of remarkable mentors including Marion Harper Jr. Scott said, “I met Marion long after he had retired back to Oklahoma City, my own home town. Marion had been ‘the boy wonder’ of advertising giant McCann Erickson in the 1950s and the founder and former chairman of the huge Interpublic Group of international advertising agencies. “Marion Harper pioneered the concept of an agency holding company and paved the way for agencies to go public.”
Scott said, “Marion encouraged me to study and understand the psychological and sociological aspects of public relations, advertising and marketing. I later realized that he had in fact taught me many of his thought processes; how he mentally approached identifying and fulfilling a client’s core needs. The lessons learned have been invaluable and I’ve tried to emulate Marion when working with clients and especially with students; how I think about problem solving.” Read more about the legendary Marion Harper Jr. HERE.
Shortly after moving to Hawai`i from Los Angeles, Scott was befriended by the late Ah Quon “A.Q” McElrath. “I learned about everything I know about advocating for social justice issues from working with A.Q. including healthcare, affordable housing, aging and the highly-charged issue of Death With Dignity.
The most personally rewarding work with A.Q. was organizing the Hawai`i arts community in 2005 to successfully lobby the Hawai`i State Legislature to secure a total of $4,350,000 from the state to bolster the struggling Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Read more about the effort HERE
Saving Waimea Valley
Scott’s often revolutionary application of communications technology has not gone without notice. As the quote at the top of this page suggests, one of Scott’s fans is Hawaii’s young tech guru Kevin Hughes. In 1999, “Kev” created a foundation which engaged and funded Scott to successfully save Oahu’s sacred Waimea Valley, “the Valley of The Priests” from a developer’s bulldozers. The Valley is considered “a Hawaiian cultural resource of the highest possible order.”
The 1875-acre valley contains many historic cultural sites and a world-renown botanical garden which was being neglected to the point of ruin by the rapacious mainland developer. Enlisting Hawaiians and other supporters from literally around the globe, Scott created The Stewards of Waimea Valley. Learn more about the four-year campaign on the video of the first community organizing event with many kupuna sharing their knowledge HERE
Mentoring and Teaching Communications Best Practices
In 2000, Kevin Hughes’ Forward Foundation funded a multi-million dollar endowment for a physical facility with a curriculum dedicated to teaching Scott’s advanced technology-based communications and best practices to social-justice and environmental organizations and advocates. Photos of the 12th-floor penthouse in downtown Honolulu and the floor plan may be seen HERE. Sadly, the 2001 “dot-com meltdown” ended the ambitious undertaking midstream. Despite this great disappointment, Scott has continued to share his knowledge with advocates of all ages.
Passing Hawaii’s Needle Exchange Program
An early proponent of Harm Reduction, during the years of the American AIDS Pandemic, in 1990 Scott collaborated with a newly created Hawai`i state agency. The Governor’s Committee on AIDS to pass the law that created one of the nation’s first Syringe Exchange Program (SEP). Scott performed the state-wide community organizing and managed the media and communications to pass the once very-controversial issue. Hawaii’s model program has since been implemented in a majority of states, but not everywhere. Scott notes, “It’s a real tragedy that all of our states have not embraced needle exchange. One need only look to Hawaii’s statistics to prove the efficacy of SEPs but it’s still illegal in over 20 states and in many countries.” A recent national evaluation by the American Foundation For Aids Research (AMFAR) noted that because of Hawai’i’s early implementation, today “Only 18 percent of the AIDS cases reported in Hawai’i were related to drug injection. Hawaii’s statistics contrast with the rest of the U.S., where overall 33 percent of the AIDS cases are attributed to drug injection.” What else do people need to know” Scott lamented.
In 1994, Scott created Hawai`i Advocates For Consumer Rights in order to achieve the 1995-96 auto insurance reform which produced legislation that continues to save Hawai`i drivers millions of dollars in annual premiums. Confronted by the powerful State Farm Insurance Corporation’s $500,000 PR & lobbying campaign and their formidable corporate management team sent in from San Francisco, Scott’s state-wide community organizing, public opinion management and revealing research helped win the battle with a modest budget of $36,000. The contentious political battle at the Hawai`i State Legislature lasted for over two years, encompassing a state election cycle where the two arguably most-powerful state senators who were blocking reform were soundly defeated at the polls. The resulting law became the model for California and ultimately set the bar for car insurance regulation and reform across the nation. More HERE
P.S. Scott said, “We won this because we had several great assets going for us. In addition to Governor Ben Cayetano, Ralph Nader and the Hawai`i Consumer Lawyers, we had cartoonist John Pritchett (below) and the much lamented Honolulu Weekly. The Weekly was philosophically supportive and gave us a lot of coverage including several cover stories and at least a dozen excellent Pritchett cartoons.”
Passing the Hawai`i Medical Marijuana Law
In 2000, Scott was retained by the Drug Policy Forum of Hawai`i to help pass Hawaii’s Medical Marijuana program (MMJ) — the first state in the nation to achieve this via the arduous legislative process. Several of Scott’s MMJ media releases generated international news as did his media work to pass Governor Ben Cayetano’s landmark Gas Cap law. Hawai`i was the first state in the nation to actually get ChevronTexaco and Shell Oil’s books open to state scrutiny. Read The Washington Post story “Hawaii Gas Cap Running on Fumes” HERE
Governor Cayetano retained Foster’s services three times beginning as Communications Director for Cayetano’s successful 1994 gubernatorial campaign. In 1996, Scott was brought into the Governor’s Capitol office to help bolster his public perception and in 1998 when Scott’s research, writing, communications and community-organizing skills were again employed during the Governor’s difficult reelection campaign.
The Dick Cheney Halloween Party
In late October of 2003, Hawai`i was unexpectedly perceived to be a swing state during the heated national presidential campaign. With the international media watching, in only three days Scott was able to organize and promote The Dick Cheney Halloween Party which turned out over 1000 costumed revelers to protest the controversial Vice-President’s last-minute Hawai`i visit to bolster President George Bush’s failing Hawai`i Campaign. The assembled throng with their hand-made signs brought out the entire Honolulu Swat Team in reflective riot gear and a major Honolulu intersection was closed for the duration. The story was international.
Hawai`i Union Contract Negotiations
Scott Foster has been integral to the planning and execution of winning political strategies for dozens of Hawai`i union contract negotiations. In 2000, Scott was retained by the Hawai`i Nurses’ Association to manage their “Big Five” hospital contract negotiations. The talks soon deadlocked over patient safety and management’s desire to reduce the number of Registered Nurses at the bedside by replacing them with less-qualified “nursing assistants.”
Five simultaneous strike actions with 24-hour picket lines ensued. Over the course of the next three months, massive local, national and indeed international media coverage was generated. An entertaining 4-minute “old time movie” compilation of the more than 200 local and national TV news broadcasts was produced as a Christmas gift to the Hawai`i Nurses by Scott Foster & Associates and is viewable HERE.
And then came “The Hawai`i PR Story” — a full chapter devoted to Scott’s work for the nurses in “From Silence To Voice: What Nurses Know and Must Communicate to the Public” by Boston-based investigative journalist Suzanne Gordon and former Newsweek Bureau Chief Bernice Buresh. Read The Hawai`i PR Story HERE
In 2003, the Hawai`i Nurses Association (union) again retained Scott for their “Big Five” hospital contract negotiations which again resulted in five more contentious and long strikes. One of Foster’s no-nonsense media releases “… was published in three out of seven american newspapers.” The positive nursing story with national implications caught the attention of National Public Radio and was rebroadcast internationally. Listen HERE.
HNA Executive Director, Sue Scheider esq. later wrote, “There was not a single day during that three-month period when we did not have media coverage — in fact, we believe our strikes at three hospitals received just as much coverage (and not just local coverage) as any strike in the world in the last decade.” The full text of this rather extraordinary letter is HERE
In 2004, Hawaii’s Pacific Business News described Foster’s results for the Inland Boatmen’s Union (IBU) as, “… a surgical strike — in and out in four days.”
Scott’s long association with Local 677, the Hawai`i Musicians Association, culminated in 2006 during yet another crisis in management of the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra. Scott notes: “I was brought in rather late in the game by my long-time friend, then Local #677 President Michael Largarticha. The HSO management and marketing were in a real mess and dramatic changes were obviously needed.
Forced to accept a draconian 20% cut in wages and retirement benefits to save the orchestra, the HSO Musicians were understandably angry and dispirited.” “My first challenge was to convince the distraught Musicians that their initial media release should set a conciliatory tone that would be outwardly supportive of the truly-inept board of directors and management staff of the Honolulu Symphony Society and at least give management the opportunity to improve the organization’s dire circumstances — without compromising the Orchestra’s renowned ensemble sound.” The media release may be read HERE.
Among the many international stories that resulted, the musician’s positive message of unity, hope and sacrifice was picked up and broadcast to 90% of the world by the late Paul Harvey during his October 25, 2003, internationally-syndicated ABC radio news broadcast. Hear the archived MP3 story HERE. The union’s President, Michael Largarticha later wrote: “If you’re looking for an affordable, effective public relations and political resource, look no further. Hire Scott Foster.”
Creating America’s First National Marine Monuments
In early 2006, the venerable Pew Charitable Trusts retained Scott to help advise local political and media strategy to advance the goal of establishing a National Marine Sanctuary in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To everyone’s great surprise, on June 15th, 2006, employing the U.S. Antiquities Act, President George Bush instead declared the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands a National Marine Monument, now officially the Papahanaumokuakea National Marine Monument.
Scott recalls: “This was a really tricky political situation to negotiate. Hawai`i had a super majority Democratic House and Senate and a Republican Governor (Linda Lingle) and they didn’t agree on much of anything.
“President Bush was of course a Republican but the Democrats had captured both the U.S. House and Senate that year — and Hawaii’s powerful Democratic Senator, the late Dan Inouye was openly against the planned sanctuary designation because of his close association with the Hawai`i commercial fishing industry.”
Scott later said, “We did the grass roots and political organizing and then executed the challenging political strategy with our fingers crossed — right up until the very moment President Bush actually signed the official proclomation. In our wildest dreams we could never have imagined the “National Monument” designation.” In 2008, Scott was again retained by the Pew Charitable Trusts — this time to help achieve the National Monument designation for the Marianas Trench in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. After achieving the Monument status, Scott said, “This was a very exciting project which found us working literally across half the planet with one of the greatest natural wonders of the world.”
“I laid awake nights trying to envision a logo that would graphically represent the grandeur and majesty of ‘the deepest, darkest place on the planet’. Of the hundreds of logos I’ve designed during the last 40 years, this is my absolute favorite. Seeing it in the hands of the First Lady on TV after the ceremony was the cherry on the top!”
Supporting Hawaiian Cultural Events
In 1993, Scott performed the advance media pro bono which assisted in turning out an estimated 10,000 participants for the march & gathering to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the overthrow of the Kingdom of Hawai`i. Scott again assisted the Hawaiians in 1998 with another seminal event, seeing the Hawaiian flag raised over ‘Iolani Palace for the first time in 100 years. People of all races and cultures participated.
In 1997, Scott performed the pro bono media and in-store sales promotions for the republication of The Kumulipo, “An Account of the Creation of the World” by Queen Liliuokalani. This was the English translation of King David Kalakaua’s original Hawaiian language manuscript. The project was initiated by Scott’s hanai Auntie Sylvia Krewson-Reck and was funded by the late James Kimo Campbell. Amazingly, the original Boston publisher was still in business and was able to obtain more of the original paper and heavy binding cover.
Scott continues to teach his communications techniques and best practices to advocates and organizations working to achieve equality in social justice issues and those who are somehow challenging the corruption in local government that has placed our ecologically-fragile Islands squarely in an over-developed and under-enforced regulation crisis. To that end, Scott’s current pro bono project is to see the organization he helped create with Ralph Nader, Hawai`i Advocates For Consumer Rights, prosper and grow. Now in its 30th year, his goal is to hand it over to younger Hawai`i advocates and leadership.
Scott’s “greatest disappointment” to date is the failure to pass Clean Elections — publicly funded political campaigns in Hawai`i. He was one of the original founders of the Hawai`i Clean Elections Project, since merged with Common Cause Hawai`i. As a former board member of Common Cause Hawai`i, Scott believes, “the public funding of political campaigns is the one reform that would make all other political reforms possible.” Scott’s commissioned logo design (below) says it all.
In his working draft of Managing Public Opinion: Principles & Practice, Scott writes: “Good organizational communications is like good wine. If one’s never had it, one may be satisfied with what they’re drinking. Sadly, I see golden opportunities lost and scarce resources underutilized every day by business, by government, and by non-profit organizations both large and small when the need arises to influence public opinion to advance their goals.”
“The failure to effectively manage public opinion is particularly unfortunate when critical social issues or public policy initiatives are at stake. The failure of most organizations to actively engage the public in a meaningful way usually falls into one of two categories: They either engage communication staff with a traditional PR background but with little-or-no understanding of the current technology, or they hire people who may be proficient with the technology but with little-or-no traditional PR experience. A combination of the two is unique and, given the right circumstances, can greatly change the odds; sometimes the world.
P.S. “There is a third category; when organizations engage communications people with absolutely no real-world PR experience. I see that a lot in Hawai`i government and this sad fact, to me, explains the growing public angst and cry for major reforms.”
If you’re not playing the great game of politics, then you’re being used as a pawn by someone who is. – Scott Foster