You’ve almost certainly seen the ads.
But you probably had no idea that Pacific University alumni were behind the scenes.
Paul Phillips ’78 and his wife Nancy (Knop) Phillips ’77, MAT ’82 are owners of Pac/West Communications, one of the leading political public relations and communications firms in the Northwest.
“Most people have no idea what we do, and that’s all right, as we are busy,” Paul said.
With a staff of 30, spread across two offices in Portland and Denver, Pac/West has been involved in some of the most notable local and regional political and social marketing campaigns in the last 20 years.
You know that ad, where the “Marlboro Man” sits horseback in the sunset and confesses, “I miss my lung, Bob” — that was how Pac/West addressed tobacco reduction in Oregon.
The company has lobbied and consulted for Nike, Intel, Washington County, and the Electrical Contractors and Oregon Building Trades.
It’s also run many of the transportation, healthcare and forestry campaigns that have succeeded in Oregon.
“In the last 20 years, we’ve been in most of the political and policy debates in the state,” Paul said. “We’re probably the biggest lobbying firm in the state, if not the Northwest. We’ve been around.”
But before they were helping to shape public policy, Paul and Nancy Phillips were studying at Pacific. Both went to high school in Washington County, and Pacific’s Forest Grove Campus offered an opportunity to get a college education close to home.
“I knew I wanted to go to college, but I wasn’t quite ready to venture out,” Nancy said. She had a neighbor who applied to Pacific with her though, and both were accepted.
“I was going to transfer to OSU, but I met this guy.”
That guy, of course, was Paul — a football player and economics/political science major putting himself through school by installing metal fireplaces and considering a career as a veterinarian.
“Some older woman attracted my interest,” he taunted. “We met at a Halloween party, Oct. 31, 1974.”
“We’ve been together ever since,” Nancy said.
At Pacific, the couple remembers small classes and professors who took a personal interest in their lives. One in particular helped Paul get his start in public policy, offering him an opportunity to intern with the Oregon Legislature with then-Sen. Victor Atiyeh.
“It was that or work outside,” Paul said.
When Paul got to Salem, though, there had been a mix-up and he wasn’t expected.
“I said, ‘Why don’t I stay for two weeks and see how it goes,’” Paul said. “I had my $99 JCPenney gray suit and a nice tie. I was decked out, so I might as well stay.”
He ended up completing the internship, and a year later, when Atiyeh was running for governor, Paul got a phone call.
“I got a call that I was coming back to work for him,” Paul said.
“No option,” Nancy added. “Just, ‘You’re coming.’”
Through the general campaign, Paul drove 90,000 miles and flew another 60,000, all in Oregon. Atiyeh won, and Paul went to work for him.
“I never went back to vet school,” Paul said.
“But that’s the advantage of a small school: You’re not a number. Some offhanded comment by a professor while working at graduation can lead to an opportunity.”
For the next five years, Paul served in several positions, including state ombudsman under Gov. Atiyeh.
He and Nancy had married, and she returned to Pacific to earn her master’s in teaching. She went on to teach in Hillsboro for the next 15 years, while they also started a family.
In the meantime, Paul also worked for Nike, then helped form the Tualatin Valley Economic Development Corporation, working to turn Washington County into the Silicon Forest.
“People don’t remember how long that took … to effect long-term change,” Paul said.
Eventually, he started his own political career, serving 14 years in the Oregon Legislature — a time Nancy remembers with mixed feelings.
“The thing that changed everything for me was when he called and asked where the dogs and kids were,” she said. “He was the swing vote for the motorcycle helmet law, and some motorcycle groups were not happy.
“I took off and went to a friend’s and stayed there all day. After that, I thought, ‘This is no fun anymore.’”
In 1995, when the state implemented term limits, Paul opted not to run for another term.
“I’d promised Nancy I would be out by the time I was 40, or by the time the kids could read about what I was doing,” he laughed.
“I was never so happy to throw out those campaign signs,” she said.
Retiring from public office gave Paul more time to focus on business. He spent some time consulting and traveling for work, but in 1997, Paul and Nancy bought Pacific West North Division and turned it into Pac/West.
She ran the office for a while, while he put his political expertise to work.
With a campaign win-rate of about 90 percent, the business has never had to advertise.
“Your best advocates are the people you win for, politically or in policy debates,” he said.
They work hard to stay ahead of the game, hiring strategically.
“You’ve got to know what the next big thing is,” Nancy said.
“I use people who beat us,” added Paul. “It’s good to balance viewpoints.”
They also hire local — and often from Pacific.
“I look for people who play team sports, and who went to small schools or schools I know,” Paul said.
They have continued to be deeply involved at Pacific, as well. Paul is an emeritus trustee, and Nancy currently serves on the Board of Trustees. Pac/West has sponsored Legends, the former signature fundraising event for the university’s athletics programs, as well as the video scoreboard in Hanson Stadium. They’re members of the President’s Circle and Boxer Club, and Nancy is an active member of the Friends of Speech and the College of Education Advisory Board.
Supporting the university, they say, is good for Pacific and good for them.
“The better the university is, the more weight your degree has,” Nancy said. “If we can help make Pacific better through serving and participating, or help to recruit exceptional, dedicated people to the university, it’s our duty. Pacific helped us become who we are.”
“When one door closes, another door opens. In my life, several have opened,” Paul said. “Were they all because of Pacific? Certainly the first was.”