MarketInk: 3-Month Project Lasted 25 Years for USS Midway’s Marketing Guru Scott McGaugh

Scott McGaugh on the Midway

For San Diego native Scott McGaugh, agreeing to volunteer for “no longer than three months” eventually became a 25-year stint at the USS Midway Museum.

In 1992, local business leaders launched an effort to bring a decommissioned U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to San Diego to become a floating tourist attraction. Four years later, McGaugh offered his public relations and media relations consulting expertise pro bono.

“Some people called it a crackpot idea, but I was attracted to help from a civic standpoint, anything to help my hometown,” McGaugh told Times of San Diego. “I had no idea that agreeing to a three-month tour of duty would turn into a quarter century that became the most rewarding experience of my career.”

When the museum opened in 2004, McGaugh was named the founding marketing director, a position he held until retiring in December 2020.

Later this month, the San Diego Press Club will honor McGaugh, 69, with the Andy Mace Award for career achievements in public relations.

The Press Club said about McGaugh: “Scott used years of experience from running his own public relations agency to creatively employing imaginative methods to embed the Midway in the San Diego tourism scene and cooperative community events. Now, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the San Diego bayfront without the Midway, and it’s become a landmark as entwined with San Diego’s identity just behind the San Diego Zoo. It’s not an exaggeration to credit Scott in large part for this.”

“I’m honored especially because the award recognizes fairness and integrity in PR,” McGaugh said. “The PR profession has undergone sea-like changes in the past 10 to 15 years, mostly because of fragmentation and the digital age. It’s also far more challenging today to communicate with key stakeholders and maintain professional relationships. There are many more marketing communications channels with online platforms where anybody can call themselves a journalist. The news media has turned into unregulated advocates with far less professionalism.”

McGaugh graduated in 1970 from Monte Vista High School in Spring Valley. “I was editor of the school newspaper and wrote high school sports stories for a weekly newspaper called the Spring Valley Bulletin,” he said. “I didn’t have a driver’s license yet, so my mom drove me to deliver my copy. My pay was a whopping 10 cents per column inch.”

After graduating from Arizona State University in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in political science, he served as an analyst for the Arizona Legislature before moving to Colorado to work as county manager for three years for La Plata County in Durango. He later purchased a weekly newspaper in Durango, which he operated for five years.

He returned to San Diego to work at PR and advertising agencies before opening a PR agency with Peter MacCracken (from 1996 to 2001) and then his own shop (from 2001 to 2004) prior to joining the USS Midway.

Over the past 17 years, McGaugh has written 11 nonfiction military history books. The titles include “The Military in San Diego,” “Battlefield Angels: Saving Lives Under Enemy Fire” and “Surgeon in Blue,” a New York Times bestseller about Jonathan Letterman, medical director of the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War, who made innovations in the battlefield evacuation and treatment of wounded men that changed the history of military medicine.

The movie rights to a previous book, “Honor Before Glory, have been optioned. Four of McGaugh’s books cover the history of the U.S. Midway.

McGaugh recently completed the manuscript for his latest book, titled “The Brotherhood of the Flying Coffin,” a historical nonfiction from World War II.  It’s the true story of combat glider pilots, some from family farms or towns the size of a single café, who volunteered to land behind enemy lines in what they called “flying box kites” and “Purple Heart boxes.”

“They were unsung heroes who flew these engineless, fabric-covered gliders ahead of the paratroopers to alert the allies about troop movement,” McGaugh said. “Upon landing, they were usually surrounded by the enemy. Their stories of survival and courage were fascinating to research.”

The book is scheduled for release on Veterans Day 2022. Until then, McGaugh is searching topics for his next book.

“I haven’t finalized anything yet, which is the first time in 20 years I don’t have a firm concept for my next book,” he said. “I can come up with a lot of ideas, but the difficult part is settling on a book idea that will sell.”

McGaugh’s recognition from the Press Club is one of three special awards the organization will present at its 48th annual Excellence in Journalism awards presentation to be held Oct. 26 over Zoom.

McGaugh’s award is named after Andy Mace, former public relations manager at Pacific Telephone in San Diego. In 1971, Mace is credited with helping to found the San Diego Press Club. He later started his own company, Andy Mace & Associates. He passed away in 2009 at age 88.

The two other honorees include investigative reporter Jeff McDonald of The San Diego Union-Tribune as recipient of the Harold Keen Award for Outstanding Contribution in Journalism, and community newspaper president and general manager Phyllis Pfeiffer of the U-T Community Press as recipient of the Jim Reiman Enlightened Media Management Award.

McDonald’s award is named after Harold Keen, who anchored San Diego’s first television news broadcast in 1949 and was described by colleagues as the dean of San Diego journalists. He passed away in 1981 at age 69.

Pfeiffer’s award is named after Jim Reiman, who served for many years as assistant news director at KGTV/Channel 10. The Reiman Award recognizes behind-the-scenes professionals who may not have a byline nor appear on camera.

Pfeiffer oversees 11 community newspapers and magazine, including the La Jolla Light, Del Mar Times, Rancho Santa Fe Review, Solana Beach Sun, Carmel Valley News, Poway News Chieftain, Rancho Bernardo News Journal, Ramona Sentinel, Encinitas Advocate, PB Monthly and Point Loma-OB Monthly.” 

This year’s Press Club awards competition drew more than 1,100 entries, making it one of the largest journalism competitions in the country. Judges included members of press clubs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Cleveland, Milwaukee, Tulsa, Orange County, Alaska and Florida.

El Latino’s Fanny Miller

El Latino’s Fanny Miller Creates Latina Publishers Trade Group

After 33 years of publishing El Latino, a Spanish-language, San Diego weekly newspaper, founder Fanny Miller has stepped away from day-to-day operations to focus on growing her newly formed nonprofit called Latina Publishers Association.

“If you want something done right, you do it yourself,” Miller told Times of San Diego. “I have a great team who will take care of the newspaper. There is no organization looking out for the benefit of Latina publishers. This is a new opportunity for me.”

Miller, who retains ownership of El Latino newspaper and its parent company, said her goal with the association is to seek and provide revenue and promotional opportunities for publishers of Hispanic news media outlets, both print and digital. “If we work together, then we can sell together,” she said.

Miller estimates Hispanic print publications in the U.S. number roughly 150 weeklies, 250 biweeklies and 300 monthlies and quarterlies.

“When I became a publisher at age 21, I was one of a few Hispanic women publishers. Now, I would estimate it’s about 60 percent who are women,” Miller said.

Miller’s acrostic for the association, she said, includes “loyalty” to fellow publishers and clients, “professionalism” rooted in sound and ethical business practices and “accountability” to all who place their trust in the organization.

With a weekly circulation of about 77,000, El Latino is considered the state’s largest Spanish-language newspaper owned by a Hispanic woman. Miller’s parent company also publishes Celebrando Latinas, a magazine published six times annually, now in its fourth year, and produces an annual convention, called Celebrando Latinas Conference, for the past 11 years. After COVID-19-related cancellations in 2020 and 2021, the next Celebrando Latinas Conference is scheduled for September 2022.

The company also operates Celebrando Latinas Boutique, a 2,500-square-foot retail storefront in Chula Vista where women can rent space and sell jewelry, art, hats, clothing and health products on consignment.

Civil Rights Activist Shane Harris Opens Communications Firm

Civil rights activist Rev. Shane Harris of San Diego has opened S. Harris Communications, a public strategy communications firm. Harris will serve as CEO and founder of the private business.

Shane Harris

In a statement, Harris said the firm will focus on assisting businesses, nonprofits and individuals in expressing their vision to the media, public and their preferred audiences.

Harris’ statement said he will take the skills he learned as a young activist in developing an unorthodox communications strategy into the private sector to train creators, nonprofits and businesses who have struggled to build their communications strategies and are historically left out of being covered in the media.

The statement also said his firm will provide affordable training to organizations, companies and individual at a decent rate on how to develop a press release and how to engage media in both traumatic and friendly events and how to engage the proper government bodies for advocacy efforts being pushed.

“As an activist and nonprofit leader I have spent more than a decade building a communications platform through my work in the nonprofit sector, not just in San Diego but across the country,” Harris said. “When I started, I made lots of mistakes and was unaware of media etiquette. Never did I think that I would one day launch a communications firm to teach but because of the skills I have picked up and the good people I have met in the media along the way now a new moment is on the horizon.

“A moment to pay it forward, I recognize that there are still communities that don’t get covered for positive stories and there are so many people out there who have a voice but need the skills necessary to amplify the ideas and issues they care about. We want to provide that platform to them at an affordable rate. Now I move into the private sector to train those who are closest to the issues and communities they come from to become the voices people hear when they turn on the TV or look in the newspaper.”

Harris also serves as president of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, a national civil rights nonprofit organization.

Congressional Report: Hispanics Underrepresented in Media

A recently released congressional report found Hispanics make up 12% of the media workforce compared to 18% of workers in the rest of the U.S. workforce.

As reported by Insider Radio, an industry trade publication, the 2019 data released by the Government Accountability Office shows whites represent 68% of media industry workers, while Blacks make up 9% and Asians account for 7%. The numbers are based on U.S. Labor Department employment information.

The Accountability Office also said Equal Employment Opportunity Commission data submitted by companies with 100 or more employees showed Hispanic representation in the media workforce remained at 10% from 2014 to 2018, the most recent years for EEOC data.

The report also showed Hispanic representation varied across different media industry subsectors. In 2019, the estimated percentage of Hispanic workers ranged from 8% for newspaper, book and directory publishers to 16% for the motion picture and video industry. The report also said the radio, TV and cable subsector showed 14% for Hispanics.

The report said 53% of Hispanics in the media industry identified themselves as Mexican or Mexican-American when asked about their Hispanic origin, while 11% identified as Puerto Rican and 6% as Cuban.

The report came at the request of members of Congress who were reportedly looking to shine a light on the underrepresentation of Hispanics in media.

Rep. Tony Cardenas, a California Democratic congressman representing portions of the San Fernando Valley, said in a statement, “As we have seen time and again, seeing yourself represented in media can be transformational for Americans and has the power to bring people together. Unfortunately, the GAO reports that the media industry has a long way to go, having increased Hispanic representation by just one percent from 2014-2019, and with Hispanics making up just four percent at the executive level.”

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


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