Answering a Call: TWC’s MacKinnon Became a Cable Policy Maven

Gail MacKinnon
Executive Vice President and Chief Government Relations Officer
Time Warner Cable

Gail MacKinnon was “burned out” after working her way through Georgetown University on her way to getting a marketing degree in 1985, she said, so she decided to take a year off and do something different.

After moving around a lot as the daughter of an IBM executive, she said, she felt Washington, D.C., was her home. She got a job answering phones for Republican Rep. Jack Fields of Texas.

That one year became nine, as she rose through the ranks of Fields’ office to become legislative director for the then-ranking Republican on the powerful Energy & Commerce Committee, which oversees telecommunications as part of its charter.

That, in turn, led MacKinnon — now executive vice president and chief government relations officer for Time Warner Cable in Washington, reporting directly to chairman and CEO Glenn Britt — to a series of lobbying posts with a veritable Who’s Who of media companies.

She left Fields’ office in 1994 to join Turner Broadcasting as director of government relations. She held similar top government relations posts at TCI, Viacom, CBS, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and Time Warner Inc. before she was named to her current position at the spun-off Time Warner Cable in 2008.

The way MacKinnon sees it, she got that marketing job after all.

“I do think there is a comparison to be made between what I was studying at Georgetown and what I am doing now in the lobbying profession,” she said. “It is a sales pitch, but it is not just about whether you are likeable, but whether you are making an effective case.

“I have always found that when you are going in and meeting and trying to sell a position, in the spirit of full disclosure you lay out for policy-makers what the flip side is, as well,” MacKinnon added.

Marketing policy is all about being effective in selling officials on why a position is or isn’t in the public’s interest, MacKinnon said.

These days, MacKinnon is doing more strategizing than selling. “My role now of being in a management position and having 10 professionals report to me is that I do more strategic thinking,” she said.

There was a lot of that strategizing going on in the weeks leading up to the end of the year as some pretty powerful Washingtonians — FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to name a couple — helped put a spotlight on Time Warner Cable’s retrans tussle with Fox.

MacKinnon said she spent a lot of time with the FCC, third-party groups and the Hill to “set the stage” for the negotiations.

“You have to have a lot of patience and persistence,” she said, “because most of what happens in Washington is more of a marathon than a sprint.”

MacKinnon now heads up a 10-person staff and, rather than answering phones, answers only to Britt. But before she got to a plum post atop the nation’s number two cable MSO, she had to make the jump from the Hill to K Street (F Street, actually). What attracted MacKinnon to communications lobbying? The money or the marketing?

“It was more that those were the issues that I focused on,” she said.

And lobbyists were drawn to MacKinnon. “I was actually approached by Bert Carp, who was handling the Turner government-relations department,” she said.

Carp, now vice chairman of Williams & Jensen in Washington, said what he saw in MacKinnon was a “smart, tough, strategic legislative operative. … You want to have Gail on your side and you never want to see her in the opposition.”

MacKinnon is still attracted by the issues and the challenge of making her case. “The industry is constantly evolving and developing and I have just been very lucky in being offered a number of really great opportunities, so my experience has become very broad-based,” she said.

Mirroring her childhood, MacKinnon has been moving around a lot in her professional life as well. She has held lobbying posts with Turner, Time Warner, TCI, Viacom, CBS and the NCTA, collecting a range of perspectives along the way. “I think seeing all sides has helped me in my professional development,” she said.

“Gail has worked for cable programmers, a broadcast television network, and for the folks that own the wires,” said Marty Franks, her former boss at CBS and still the network’s top man in Washington. “Who is going to know the issues better?”

Added Britt, her present boss: “She brings unique insight and credibility to the task of educating lawmakers and regulators on complex and ever-changing communications issues.”

MacKinnon says working on the 1992 Cable Act was a highlight of her career to date, as well as helping get regulatory approval of the mergers of Turner and Time Warner and Viacom/CBS, and more recently working on the Time Warner Cable spin-off.

Asked about her work-life balance — she is a mother of two small children — she says: “I have always told my two daughters that I feel that I am a better mother as a working parent, but I am also proud to say that I have never let my career stand in the way of being a good parent.”

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.