A bouncy cheerleader, Carol Trumbauer grew up in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and met Gerald Reed, 12 years her senior, while out celebrating her 20th birthday. An ex-jock, Gerald was on a business trip for IBM. Four months later she dropped out of California Lutheran University, said “I do,” and moved with Gerald to Tyler, Texas.
Their daughters were born nine months apart in 1968. When the Reeds moved to Dallas three years later, Carol kept volunteering and getting involved in Republican causes, attending political functions, schmoozing, and making friends.
In no time, she had won over some strong allies. The Tower job offer was a surprise, but she vaulted from there into increasing prominence. When her marriage ended in divorce in 1998, she “celebrated” with a party at Beau Nash. She was not looking back; it was full speed ahead.
Not all of it has been smooth. She has lost a few elections along the way. And in 2004 she gambled big, went broke, and had to start all over. When the budget for a Fourth of July celebration dubbed Trinity Fest came up light, she ran up her personal credit cards to pay for it and lost a quarter of a million dollars.
So she re-evaluated her career and scaled back. One of her daughters, Angela Reed Shellene, was already working with her. She called Angela and said, “We’re going to bring a dumpster into this place and start cleaning.” Then they brought aboard Carol’s other daughter, Laura Reed Martin, who had been with the agency briefly before becoming a lobbyist in Austin. They became equal partners and in 2004 named the company The Reeds Public Relations Corp. Carol is CEO of the company, which boasts about $1.5 million in annual billings.
“Laura came back in and saved us, and we had our best year ever two years ago,” Reed says. “We have many more dimensions now. Probably for the first time in my life I don’t do much that isn’t my skill set. I don’t worry about the bills or about whether the company is solvent. I’ll come out of a meeting with three things I’ve got to do, or to come up with a strategy that no one would have thought of. If it’s three phone calls, they’re the ones nobody else can make, or I’m not making them.”
When virtual unknown Tom Leppert decided to run for mayor, he paid Reed’s agency $30,000 a month—more than three times what she made for Kirk’s first run. Leppert also ponied up $20,000 a month to Reed’s toughest competitor, Rob Allyn; $7,000 a month for radio personality Willis Johnson to get out the black vote; and, $6,000 a month to former Hispanic Chamber president Brenda Reyes.
“We [the Leppert campaign] got in really late,” Reed says, “and went purely for name identification. We sent out mailers in December and were on TV by January. We kept telling people who he is. I knew we had a shot because everyone running was in about the same place, around 15 percent.”
Now she says, “I probably have more direct influence with Tom than I had with Ron. But Ron was a political animal. Tom is a businessman, and so a lot of stuff is kind of new to him. He’s one of the smartest people I know, and he never stops working.”
Together they narrowly won what Reed calls her nastiest campaign, last year’s vote for a publicly owned Dallas Convention Center hotel.
“We were 33 points down on the convention hotel,” she says. “On the Trinity, we were about 26 points down. I think probably what I do best is get the interest groups to kind of cool their jets. When we got up in those campaigns, we stayed up.
“Harlan Crow outspent us probably 5 to 1, but I felt the firm they hired overstepped when they started attacking the mayor—that kind of stuff works in Chicago and San Francisco and anywhere else—but there’s something about here. People have this sense of ‘That’s not fair,’ and I think a lot of people who were neutral came off the bench because they were not impressed. And that made a big difference, along with the fact that we had good messages.”
These days, Reed’s as much a friend and confidante to Leppert as she is a paid political advisor. They speak often in formal and informal settings. The trust level is strong enough that much gets covered with a couple of quick questions, often just over the phone.
In these ever-changing social media times, she loathes Twitter and is reluctant to use Facebook (“Only because I have to,” she grumbles).
“I mean, I clean up my e-mails every day, but I’m not sitting on my BlackBerry,” she says. “If I’m running a meeting, you get rid of your phones and your BlackBerrys.” The notion that a 30-something professional adept at all of today’s communications outlets might rival her prompts a hearty laugh. “If you’re any good,” she adds, “that’s like a cat swatting a mouse around.”
Men, and the art of dating them, are a slightly different story. She’s been single for a dozen years and says that living together is “the Jack Kevorkian of romance”. She explains: “There’s only three reasons to get married. It’s kind of like my press philosophy: There’s usually three things you should do. One is that your biological clock is ticking and you want some kids. Two is he or she has a huge net worth and you can get your hands on it. The third reason, and my all-time favorite, is you’re getting ready to go into a criminal trial and they can testify against you.
“I have none of those three working for me,” she says. “And I’m not just going to live with somebody.”
What she is going to do is keep plugging away, and stay on the lookout for issues that require a scorecard. If Leppert decides to run for re-election or for the U.S. Senate, she says, “I’ll be with him.” Meantime, her PR firm is more than busy with corporate clients such as Veolia Water, Pfizer, Harris Corp., and Yellow Cab.
“I still think the best of what I do is ahead of me,” Reed says. “I have no idea what it will be. I know what I’ve done, so it’ll have to be pretty cool.”