The careers of Tucker Martin and former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell have been intertwined since the Republican occupied the Commonwealth’s attorney general’s office. When McDonnell ran for governor in 2009, Martin became his campaign spokesman. Afterward, Martin served in the same capacity in the governor’s office.
For the past year, McDonnell has been facing legal trouble. In January, 10 days after he left office, McDonnell and his wife were charged with taking $120,000 in undocumented loans and gifts from the owner of Star Scientific, a former cigarette manufacturer producing dietary supplements. Earlier this month, with McDonnell fighting for his reputation, and potentially his freedom, Martin launched his own communications firm.
Martin didn’t handle McDonnell’s dealings with the press regarding his legal troubles (that was done through the governor’s lawyers and an outside PR consultant). But he’s still inextricably linked to his former boss, warts and all. Martin tells C&E it won’t hinder his new firm’s development.
C&E: Is your McDonnell experience a plus or a minus when you’re pitching potential clients?
Martin: I’ve worked for [Virginia Rep.] Morgan Griffith, Jerry Kilgore and Bob McDonnell. I’ve been through multiple gubernatorial campaigns. I’ve worked in the attorney general’s office, the office of the governor, I feel like I’ve got a good body of work in a number of different situations.
I think when folks look at the McDonnell administration and the accomplishments of this governor, hopefully that will be a positive.
C&E: What kept you there until the end?
Martin: Loyalty. I came in when he was attorney general-elect and I wanted to do the entire four years in the [gubernatorial] administration. I’m from Virginia, I grew up here, it was an important part of my life. I’m very close to Bob McDonnell. I think he was a tremendous governor.
C&E: What did you learn from working for an office holder at the center of a corruption investigation?
Martin: We really did our best in the administration in the last year to focus on — we called it tunnel vision — the work of the state. I learned the importance of staying focused on what’s important to the voters, and finishing a job.
C&E: McDonnell was once a press darling, were you surprised how quickly the mood shifted?
Martin: The press corps is going to write about what’s in the news. We tried to be as open and as transparent and as responsive as possible. I think I’ve always enjoyed a good relationship with the working press. Obviously there were circumstances taking place that could make it a little more difficult.
C&E: What’s one thing you learned?
Martin: Perspective is everything. If you’re going to work in this business, you better have a really good radar and a good sense of perspective. Because you can waste a lot of time on a lot of things that aren’t important at all.
C&E: What’s next?
Martin: I’ve done the spokesman gig. I’ve learned a lot about messaging. I’ve learned a lot about crisis communications, I’ve learned a lot about the importance of developing a positive narrative and protecting that narrative. And so I want to be helpful where I can be with people that I like and agree with.
C&E: How did you decide to start your own firm?
Martin: In this career field, most of the opportunities, really, are in Washington, D.C. If you want to stay in Richmond, [Virginia] you have to be a little bit more creative with how you go forward so that was how the idea came to hang out my own shingle.
C&E: Does being outside the Beltway help or hurt?
Martin: In this day and age we live in, physical location means nothing. Your knowledge of the issue and your knowledge of the atmosphere, that’s what’s important.