Interview Segments on Topic: Selecting a PR Career
Bolton, senior counselor to APCO Worldwide, a leading global public affairs and corporate communications consultancy, began his career as a journalist before serving as a press secretary for a member of Congress. Bolton became director of speechwriting for the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign, and was eventually confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be assistant secretary of the Treasury for public affairs and public liaison under President Bush in 1989.
As senior vice president of communications for Aetna, Bolton led a group of senior Aetna executives to think about culture and organizational effectiveness, which resulted in the creation of the Aetna Way, with integrity as its first fundamental value. Roger Bolton is past president of the Arthur W. Page Society and current chair of the Arthur W. Page Center Advisory Board.
Interviewer: Roger thank you very much for agreeing to participate in this oral history interview for the Page Center at Penn State University. You graduated from Ohio State with a degree in journalism and started your career as a reporter I believe in Marion, Ohio. What led you to choose ultimately public relations as a career field?
Bolton: It was an accident. I thought I wanted to be a journalist. I did want to be a journalist but it was all I really wanted to do. And frankly I had trouble finding my next job after Marion. And I loved the work. But the next job just wasn’t forthcoming so I quit my job. Moved to Washington because I had a friend there and I figured I’d find something. Went to talk to the Congressman who I had been covering as a reporter just to let him know I was in town looking for a job. If you know anybody, make any introductions for me. He said how would you like to be my press secretary. And I said I’m going to have to think about that because I knew it probably meant the end of my journalism career. But at 25 years old the chance to be a press secretary of a U.S. Congressman was too good to pass up. Took the job and immediately discovered that I loved being on the inside as opposed to being on the outside looking in. And I used the same skills and the same focus on facts and truth and telling a story but on behalf of as opposed to covering.
Interviewer: And did you have any interest in politics before that point in time or was that the introduction?
Bolton: No I was hooked on politics from ten years old. That’s why I got interested in journalism because it was only to be involved in politics.
Interviewer: How did you transition from the Congressman’s office to the White House experience. What happened in that?
Bolton: That was a long path. I worked for the Congressman for eight years. I was his chief of staff ultimately. And after he left the Congress I bounced around in a couple of little jobs. Ended up working for the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign in 1984 which was just an incredible experience. And from there went into the Reagan administration. Served in the White House for a brief period and also served in the Bush administration.
Interviewer: What talent did you have at that point in time in your career that was desired by the political people that you worked with?
Bolton: That's a great question. I’m not sure I know. The fundamental skill that I feel that of which I base my whole career is writing but I think it’s more than that. I think it’s the ability to think clearly. To understand complex issues. And to really understand how constituencies react to the actions of major institutions. And that’s really what politics is all about. And it’s what public relations is all about.
Interviewer: I don’t imagine working in the Reagan White House was pretty much of a heavy atmosphere experience itself. At one time I think you wrote speeches and what were some of the other specific activities that you were involved with while you were there?
Bolton: I wrote speeches for the Reagan/Bush re-election campaign and my title was director of speech writing. Not writing for the President but really for a surrogate so when Senator Dole for example went out on behalf of the campaign or a cabinet member so and so went out on behalf of the campaign. They were provided with speeches by my office as well as talking points, issue backgrounders, we were a small group of writers who wrote basically all of the substantiate material that the candidates used during the campaign. When I was in the administration, I was assistant U.S. trade representatives for public affairs and public liaison. In essence the press secretary to the U.S. trade representative. Also ran an extensive group of advisory committees. We used the private sector and [inaudible] government trade making policy.
Interviewer: Did you have a specific interest in business or in trade before that happened or was that just something that evolved while you were there?
Bolton: Well what evolved Jack was when I was back on the Hill, the Congressman that I worked for was ranking on the Energy Committee during the energy crisis, the first energy crisis if you will. In the Carter years and was also ranking on the joint economic committee. So I found myself really drawn to economic issues and my first job in the administration was the treasury and then I moved to U.S. PR. And then to the White House where I was special assistant to the President with responsibility for economic policy issues. Public liaison on economic policy issues. And then back to treasury again. So my whole government career was really focused on economic policy issues.
Interviewer: I understand that you have been appointed by the President for the assistant treasury job or Secretary of the Treasury. Was that something that you had to be confirmed at. You go through. How was that experience.
Bolton: It was it was quite an honor actually to be nominated by the President of the United States to serve the country and my nomination required confirmation by the Senate. So I prepared brief remarks. I was introduced by a senator, and was asked a series of questions by a number of senators and then subsequent to that there was a vote in the Senate to confirm me as the President’s nominee for that role.
Interviewer: If you hadn’t had the career that you already had, what would you have liked to have done? Being a cowboy or [inaudible]
Bolton: No you know what. I started out to be a journalist. And my career went this direction and I don’t regret it for one second. But if I could have seen my journalism career through and seen where it would have lead, I that would be interesting to me.