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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

He’s more than just a PR guy

 (The Spokesman-Review)
Bert Caldwell The Spokesman-Review

Jim Desautel marvels at the professional travels of his associates at Desautel Hege Communications.

Partner Michelle Hege was in Paris last year. Senior account executive Andre Mylroie just returned from Taipei, Taiwan.

His own travels take him along Washington’s country byways to Nespelem, Omak, Usk — the places he has known all his life, serving many of the same people he has served during a 30-year career in journalism and public relations.

It’s been a winding road, Desautel says.

Desautel, 56, was born in Nespelem, and remains an enrolled member of the Colville Confederated Tribes. His parents packed him and his siblings off to St. Mary’s School in Omak, which boarded 60 boys and 60 girls in grades one through eight. The education standards were high, the nuns were nice, if rigid, but there was little nurturing for students as young as six who were away from home nine months out of the year.

“I don’t think it hurt me,” says Desautel, who finished his high school education at Gonzaga Prep and Omak High School.

He moved on to Eastern Washington University, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. His first media job was with KREM-TV.

He envisioned bright lights and air time, but the job initially involved little more than sorting tapes, and paid all of $500 per month. He paid attention, however, learned how to edit, and one day then-news director Wes Lynch suggested he take a camera out and shoot anything of interest.”It just sort of fell into place from there,” Desautel says. After two years, he moved on to KING-TV in Seattle, which sponsored an internship application to the Columbia School of Journalism. During six months of study in New York City, he was exposed to industry giants like Fred Friendly, former head of CBS News, CBS anchorman Dan Rather, and then-NBC anchor John Chancellor.

Desautel returned to Spokane to anchor the first weekend news program, 15 minutes long, on KREM. “I’m sure nobody was watching because nobody knew it was on,” he says.

The exposure got him back to the Seattle market, this time at KOMO-TV, but his enthusiasm for television news was flagging.

“We were doing some really fluffy stuff,” he says, a point driven home when a nothing story about a minor fire led the 5 o’clock news.

That disenchantment coincided with an effort by the Colville Tribe to open a mine on the reservation near Keller. He left Seattle to become a consultant helping the tribe with public relations, but in 1983 the project collapsed. Because the tribe was one of only two major clients, Desautel dedicated the next six months to raising the first of two daughters he had with Cher Desautel, a co-worker in that first consulting venture whom he married in 1982.

That respite behind him, he moved on to the U.S. Soil Conservation Service, where he was the public relations manager in the state of Washington for 11 years. He says the time to focus on one subject while dealing with a variety of people and other agencies made the job a great one, but when another opportunity came along in 1996 — a buyout — he took it.

“After you’ve worked for the government for 10 years, it gets kind of old,” says Desautel, who nonetheless adds that the expertise and contacts he accumulated at the SCS were valuable to Desautel Communications.

The Colville Tribe became one of his first two clients. Avista Corp. was the other. Pat Lynch, Avista’s head of corporate communications, says the company has turned to Desautel Hege for help with several public planning processes, as well as guidance on handling communications in emergency situations.

“He’s really good at what he does,” says Lynch, who has also worked with Desautel on the Greater Spokane Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, which earlier this month awarded Desautel the 2004 Degerness Award for Excellence in Public Relations.

Desautel says he has turned daily operations at Desautel Hege over to Cher and Michelle, both former spokeswomen for MSC of Eastern Washington, now part of Premera.

He focuses on maintaining old contacts and working with area tribes to assure the casinos that have revived tribal fortunes do not become the source of their identity. In promoting gaming, he says, the tribes must speak too of the contributions the new source of revenue makes to education, employment and health care.

He serves on the board of the Camas Institute, which provides training and education to tribal members, and on the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture.

Cher and Michelle, he says, have been the dynamos behind the growth of a public relations business he launched nine years ago in the basement of his Five-Mile area home.

Desautel Hege now employs 12 in 3,000 square feet of space in the Rock Point Center.

Desautel downplays his contribution, saying “If I’ve done anything right, it’s getting out of the way.”