Diana Banister is on the line with a client – the spokesman for a group hoping to keep the Boy Scouts of America from welcoming openly gay troop leaders. The spokesman has been quoted in more than 100 news stories.
He absolutely doesnt want to talk to any more media in his lifetime – ever again, Banister says after hanging up. Hes like, Im over the media.
She wont hear of it.
Im like, But you have to, because youre a very, very good spokesperson, she says. When you find people like that, you encourage them.
Banister and her colleagues are very good at encouraging, advising, cajoling and marketing their clients. With partner Craig Shirley, she heads Shirley & Banister Public Affairs, a 10-person shop based in Alexandria, Va. The firm is one of the few in the business that take on only conservative causes. Moderate GOP-compromise types are not welcome.
Since 1984, Shirley & Banister has represented many of the people and groups forming the cornerstone of the modern conservative movement – from well-established outfits such as the National Rifle Association and the Club for Growth to insurgent groups including the Tea Party Patriots. The firm has flacked for commentator Ann Coulter, the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, Newt Gingrichs 2012 presidential campaign and the filmmakers responsible for 2016: Obamas America, which took off in conservative circles for its scrutiny of the president.
Political strategists of both parties have denounced extremism on the right and laid the blame on more than a few Shirley & Banister clients for the Republican Partys difficulty connecting with moderates. But Shirley and Banister say they are determined to keep the anti-establishment message churning, especially after two consecutive GOP presidential losses and eight years of George W. Bushs budget-busting and compassionate conservatism.
Everything we do is designed to move numbers, shape opinion, advance legislation, put people on book best-seller lists, stop legislation, whatever, says Shirley, sitting next to Banister in the firms conference room. Its all designed to advance some type of philosophical goal.
The firm has been a Washington institution among conservatives for 29 years.
The office is filled with maroon leather chairs, forest-green carpeting and the requisite D.C. ego wall. There are photos with Reagan, former Vice President Dick Cheney and Hardballs Chris Matthews, an MSNBC and Washington personality.
The shelves are lined with the works of Andrew Breitbart, William F. Buckley, John Bolton, Sarah Palin and Rick Perry – all one-time clients. Shirley & Banister and friendly Alexandria-based rival CRC Public Relations are the firms that very conservative figures use to pitch their messages to the media.
When conservative author Dinesh DSouza had the idea for a film about what life would be like in 2016 if President Obama were re-elected, the co-director and co-writer John Sullivan sat down with Banister to discuss how to promote 2016: Obamas America. .
When 2016 was previewed last July on a single screen in Houston, Banister and her team had interviews set up with the citys talk-radio hosts. The house was packed.
After the Houston opening, the Hollywood Reporter ran an exclusive on 2016s surprisingly strong box-office haul ($31,750) there.
There have been more than 2,000 mentions of the anti-Obama documentary in the news media. It became the second-highest grossing political documentary in recent history – earning $33.5 million on a production budget of $2.5 million, behind Michael Moores record-breaking Fahrenheit 9/11.
Yet some of the most effective work by Shirley & Banister has been for clients angered by the Republican establishment. The firm worked with groups opposing Bushs nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court, deeming her too moderate and not qualified. Miers name was withdrawn amid backlash.
And when the upstart tea party emerged in 2010 as a political force, it was a natural fit.
We needed to hire a firm to help us get onto TV shows and not just do TV shows, but to do press releases, says Tea Party Patriots founder Jenny Beth Martin, who lives in Georgia and knew no one in national politics 2 1/2 years ago.
Shes a consummate networker, Martin says of Banister. I trust her to keep things in confidence and give me advice when I need it.
In April, Shirley & Banister helped craft a press release that read, Tea Party Patriots to Stage Intervention at Senators State Offices, referring to a protest against the efforts of Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to forge a compromise on immigration reform.