Cable Operators

Gail MacKinnon: D.C. Connector

5/21/2012 12:01 AM Eastern

One of the things that makes Gail Mac-Kinnon so effective as Time Warner Cable’s executive
vice president and chief government relations officer is
her ability to understand all sides of an issue. That’s because
she has worked for politicians, broadcasters, programmers
and operators in her 25-year career.

MacKinnon is being honored this year with the NCTA’s Vanguard
Award for Government and Community Relations. This
award recognizes individuals who have had a significant impact
on promoting a positive public image and advocating
public policy positions for the cable industry at the national,
state and/or local levels. MacKinnon has been instrumental
in helping craft the industry’s
public policy and strategy at
several levels.

After nine years on Capitol
Hill serving as top legislative
aide to Rep. Jack Fields
(R-Texas), MacKinnon was
itching to do something new.
So when Turner Broadcasting
System’s top lobbyist, Bert
Carp, asked MacKinnon to
come work with him in 1994, she jumped at the chance.

“Working for Bert was great, but it was a bit of an adjustment,”
MacKinnon said. “I was the top person in Jack’s office. In that position, you’re in high demand and the center
of power in your little universe. You leave and suddenly all
that changes.”

RUNNING START

She dove in with both feet. Just about the time she joined
Turner, Congress began rewriting the Telecommunications
Act. And her old boss, Fields, was chairman of the powerful
House Commerce and Energy Committee, which oversaw the
rewrite. It didn’t take long for MacKinnon to adjust to working
on the other side of the negotiating table and she eventually become
one of the most well-respected lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

She went on to hold senior public-policy positions with
Tele-Communications Inc., CBS, Viacom, the NCTA and
Time Warner Inc. before joining Time Warner Cable when
it was spun off in 2008. Having a first-hand look and understanding
of the issues affecting all those companies helped
make MacKinnon one of the most effective lobbyists on the
Hill, said TWC chairman and CEO Glenn Britt, who was eager
to lure MacKinnon to the MSO.

“Gail has worked essentially her entire career in and
around [Capitol] Hill,” Britt said. “She is highly respected for
her intelligence and political acumen. But perhaps less obvious
is the fact that she is a fabulous manager. She knows
how to pick people and motivate them. She is also very good
at cultivating relationships. That is necessary for every office
in Washington, D.C., but she goes beyond the norm. She is
highly respected by regulators and legislators and she is not
afraid to say what she thinks is right and wrong.”

Women in Cable & Telecommunications president Maria
Brennan agreed. She works closely with MacKinnon, who is
a WICT board member, and Brennan considers her a good
friend. “One thing I admire the most is watching Gail in action.
She works D.C. like no other. Everyone likes her as much as
they respect her. Time Warner Cable and the industry at large
are well served with Gail in their corner. … Since our daughters
are in elementary school together, I get to see Gail integrate
an extremely important and demanding career with the challenges
of raising her family. She does it with the grace and fortitude
we’ve become accustomed to from Gail.”

Working for Time Warner Cable intrigued MacKinnon right
from the start. “I knew Glenn when I worked at the NCTA.
When Time Warner was spinning off the cable unit, Glenn
called and asked me to join him,” MacKinnon said. “It was the
most heavily regulated business
Time Warner owned.
I could’ve stayed at Time
Warner, but there weren’t as
many legal issues to grapple
with and I felt the people
at Time Warner Cable were
the people I really wanted to
work with.”

A big perk of the job was
the ability to hire her entire
public-policy team. She currently oversees an office of 10
staffers in Washington, D.C.

“I believe it’s the strongest team in D.C. and they do most
of the day-to-day heavy lifting,” MacKinnon said. “They are
well-respected pros who are all experts in what they do. I learn
something from them every day. I spend a lot of time on strategy
these days and I work closely with Michael Powell [NCTA’s
president] in crafting how we want to position the industry.”

EDUCATION PROCESS

MacKinnon currently spends much of her time and many of
her resources educating legislators and regulators on how the
industry has transformed itself with its innovations and investments.
She admits it can be frustrating to see cable not get
some of the credit it deserves. “It takes time,” MacKinnon said.
“Everything in Washington is a marathon, not a sprint.”

Part of that marathon has been the creation of the American
Television Alliance. Because of the makeup of the NCTA
board, issues like retransmission consent are difficult to address,
MacKinnon said. The ATA — made up of large and
small operators, telcos and public-interest groups — was
created to educate and talk about how retransmission costs
affect rates and consumers. “The group has had some impact,”
MacKinnon said. “The FCC is conducting a proceeding
on the issue and there was legislation introduced that
would repeal retransmission consent. We’re not taking on
the programmers on this issue. We’re really saying the real
victim in all this is the customer.”

MacKinnon loves what she does and couldn’t imagine doing
anything else. “I feel very lucky to be in an industry that
is constantly changing, evolving and transitioning,” she said.
“It’s a fun time to be in the business. There is always something
new to focus on.”

September