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Ellen East

If Ellen East's life were a film, it might play out something like Woody Allen's Zelig. Like Allen's hero, the 12-year public-affairs veteran at Cox Communications Inc. seems to have been at the center of almost every important industry public-affairs initiative.

But East's work as vice president of communications and public affairs goes beyond the education-oriented Cable in the Classroom effort and the Take Charge of Your TV program that championed responsible family viewing.

Colleagues recall East's leadership helping shepherd Cox through the tumult of the last decade when competition took root and operators had to learn to speak with a strong and coherent voice in public.

“She recognized very early that things needed to be run differently, and that as we were facing more competition we had to do a better job educating and communicating,” says Cox senior director of public relations Anthony Surratt.

That led to East's aggressive “product PR” strategy, where public affairs played a central role in shaping Cox's brand identity. East fought to keep her department in the loop on important issues, arguing that only a strong public response would reverse the MSO's poor image.

Internally, East's bosses appreciated how she kept an eye on the bottom line when pushing pet projects. “I would give her political savvy very high marks,” says Jill Campbell, Cox's vice president of operations.

Co-workers applaud East for her inclusive management style that expects excellence but offers direction while letting employees figure out answers for themselves, Surratt says.

What is East most proud of? “The best thing I ever did was hire great people. I have always said if I have one talent, it's that I hire well.”