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Gable Cook Schmid Public Relations, the local firm that led the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority’s controversial $3.8 million site-selection public outreach campaign, is splitting up, the company announced Monday.

Co-founder Tom Gable will form his own company, Gable PR, while co-founders Rick Cook and Jon Schmid will continue working together as Cook & Schmid.

Cook said he and Schmid wanted to pursue different projects than Gable did. The two want to focus on broader marketing and advertising projects, Cook said, while Gable wanted to focus on media relations and crisis communications.

“While I think we all respect each other, the partnership had its tensions,” Cook said. “There were some different directions Jon and I wanted to go in.”

GCS PR was criticized from both sides of the airport debate, which culminated Nov. 7 in the defeat of Proposition A, which proposed moving the region’s international airport to Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.

Miramar opponents criticized it for excluding viewpoints contrary to the authority’s – that Lindbergh won’t work in the long term. Miramar proponents now criticize it for its role in the failed ballot initiative.

“I think they were very ineffective in the public outreach and educational campaign,” said John Chalker, president of ASAP21, a pro-new-airport group that endorsed the Miramar proposition. “It was a very expensive effort that produced very little results.”

Cook said he counts the outreach program as a success. Its ultimate measure, he said, was the community’s awareness and involvement with the issue – not whether the ballot measure passed.

“Groups like ASAP21 were able to do more campaign-oriented things to spur a particular action,” Cook said. “Both our firm and the airport authority itself were cautious about erring on the side of education and not advocacy.”

Unlike Denver’s successful early 1990s push to build a new airport, where the mayor was a vocal proponent, San Diego’s effort had no public champion, Cook said.

“The education effort was solely run by the airport authority,” he said. “The advocacy groups were not terribly successful at raising funds. And in any community where an effort like this has been successful, they have had very public, vibrant, charismatic champions. I think that was completely missing in this effort.”

We took a deeper look at the GCS campaign and its tactics in this story, which detailed the company’s practice of ghostwriting opinion articles for prominent supporters – including a July 2004 letter to the editor on Chalker’s behalf – during the three-and-a-half-year site-selection process.

ROB DAVIS

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