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DAN ABRAMS_TRUMP_WINTER         12/10/08      2:09 PM     Page 76               INSIDE MAN           Amid skepticism and i...
DAN ABRAMS_TRUMP_WINTER    12/10/08     2:10 PM       Page 77               Dan Abrams, veteran TV newsman,               ...
DAN ABRAMS_TRUMP_WINTER        12/10/08      2:10 PM     Page 78       DAN ABRAMS                                         ...
DAN ABRAMS_TRUMP_WINTER   12/10/08   2:10 PM   Page 79                                                                    ...
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December Trump Magazine


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December Trump Magazine

  1. 1. DAN ABRAMS_TRUMP_WINTER 12/10/08 2:09 PM Page 76 INSIDE MAN Amid skepticism and interest, MSNBC vet Dan Abrams launches a new kind of media consulting firm BY KIRK NIELSEN PORTRAITS BY CAMERON KRONE I t was only a week into his new venture and NBC’s Dan Abrams was in do it. And that’s going to be the vast majority of those journalists who are with the office of his two-floor townhouse in New York’s West Village, major media outlets.” already feeling a little besieged by the media. Some of his journalistic Those lucky full-timers aside, competition for gigs with Abrams Research is coevals were scratching their heads over whether Dan Abrams the TV fierce. A week after the first burst of publicity, led by articles in The Wall Street Jour- newsman might have a conflict of interest with Dan Abrams founder and nal and The New York Times, about 800 people had submitted applications offering CEO of Abrams Research, his brand new consulting firm. their services to the new venture. As usual, people who knew people had a leg up. “We are a global community of media professionals. That global Prior to the launch, Abrams and former Huffington Post blogger Rachel Sklar com- community is going to be available for consulting on a whole range of piled an initial list of media professionals with whom they were acquainted, and then issues,” Abrams tells me over the phone. “But I guess what makes us different is that asked them to recommend others. our community is all current, or recently former, media professionals who are avail- “This is really a startup in some ways, and in some ways it’s pretty amazing how able for consulting. And also the other difference is we’re calling it a transactional many people are involved,” Abrams said. “On one level it’s a small team of people, model, which means you don’t have to put up a retainer to hire us.” According to and on the other hand we have thousands of people already around the world who the company’s website, Abrams Research will offer “insights, data and personnel are ready, willing and able to work with us.” never before available to businesses for image enhancement, branding, investigative Abrams’ career has been pretty storybook. His father, Floyd Abrams, who is a reporting and the execution of the best media plan.” celebrated First Amendment lawyer, helped inspire in Dan and his sister a somewhat His skeptics were probably confused by Abrams’ recent identity as a hardcore precocious interest is the legal world. “When we were kids, the way we would con- TV journalist. He was a Court TV reporter who covered the O.J. Simpson trial and vince our dad to stay in our rooms and not make us go to sleep was to make him tell the International War Crimes Tribunal back in the 1990s; an NBC News and us about his cases,” Abrams recalled. “So we were indoctrinated young in the law.” MSNBC correspondent who reported on such major stories as the Oklahoma City (His sister Ronnie Abrams recently returned to private practice after years as a pros- bombing trials, President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, Gore v. Bush and the debate ecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan.) over the U.S. military’s treatment of detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo; and host of Thinking he might be a lawyer when he grew up, the young Dan also imagined MSNBC’s The Abrams Report and Verdict with Dan Abrams. himself on television. While attending Duke University, he anchored newscasts on Verdict, however, was recently replaced by The Rachel Maddow Show. As a the school’s TV station. After graduating in 1988, NBC Sports hired him to haul “If my firm is representing someone who ends up in the news, I’ll be like any other analyst for any other network.” result, the 42-year-old single Manhattan native is now forging a new identity, as camera cables and perform other chores at Wimbledon and the Summer Olympics chief legal analyst for NBC News and MSNBC, substitute anchor for The Today in Seoul. That fall, wondering if a career in television was really his cup of tea, Show and CEO of Abrams Research. Abrams entered Columbia University’s law school. During his third year, Steven It could also be that the skeptics were just picking on him because he’s a TV Brill, the founder of The American Lawyer magazine, launched Court TV. “I celebrity and a fresh target in this brave new corporate media world. In that spirit, I thought, ‘Hey, there’s a place that does a combination of things I’m interested in: TV came up with this scenario: What if, say, Abrams Research acquired Donald Rums- and law.’ And so I came in as an associate producer,” he recalled. feld as a client, and then MSNBC called in Abrams for some analysis on whether a He started cutting and writing video pieces—and putting together demo tapes. special nonpartisan commission should investigate whether the former Defense Sec- “I used to go in at 2:30 in the morning when the whole network was basically shut retary might be prosecuted for condoning the use of torture in the war on terror? down,” he reminisced. “I got a guy who used to do our news breaks to show me how Abrams was already responding before I had finished my question. “If my firm to turn on the camera and turn up the audio. So I’d go in, put on a microphone, and is representing someone who ends up being in the news for some reason, I’ll be like I’d practice in the middle of the night. I used to record myself and watch it and try to any other analyst, any other contributor for any other network,” he said tersely. improve.” “Which is to say that there are legal analysts out there who have for years been paid After a year and a half, Brill gave him a shot to be on the air and he started by networks to come in and offer legal analysis. If it regards one of their clients, they reporting. Five months later, he was assigned to cover the O.J. Simpson trial. While disclose it. And they either don’t talk about it, or they talk about it as somebody who that was going on, he had a side gig as an analyst for The Today Show. is representing them. This is really important. But it’s not nearly as hard as some His decade as a full-timer with NBC News and MSNBC culminated in mid- people are trying to make it out to be.” He added, “We are not seeking to employ a 2007 with his 9 p.m. slot as anchor of The Verdict. But in September, his show was full-time journalist with a standards and practices manual that says that they can’t replaced. “I’m very proud of the show that we did. The ratings were great. It just 76 TRUMP WINTER 2008/09
  2. 2. DAN ABRAMS_TRUMP_WINTER 12/10/08 2:10 PM Page 77 Dan Abrams, veteran TV newsman, forges a new path as founder and CEO of Abrams Research. WINTER 2008/09 TRUMP 77
  3. 3. DAN ABRAMS_TRUMP_WINTER 12/10/08 2:10 PM Page 78 DAN ABRAMS PHOTO AT LEFT BY STEPHEN LOVEKIN/GETTY IMAGES. Abrams was heavily influenced by his father (right), renowned First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams. wasn’t the right show for the network at that particular time,” he explained. “As the network became more political, I probably wasn’t the right person for that show. I couldn’t do what needed to be done to make that show work. I think that now, from 8 to 11 p.m., MSNBC has a prime time that is intellectually consistent. And I think that that is very important in cable news.” It was more important for Abrams, however, to pursue another dream. “The problem is, I always had this idea and this desire to start my own business. And this is my time,” he said. “This is the right time for this business, both for me and for the business model.” For example, if a company was planning to relocate to St. Louis and wanted to know about media in that city, Abrams Research could assemble a panel of experts who really know St. Louis media. Or Abrams might hire a former inves- tigative journalist from the The Houston Chronicle to prepare a report on an oil and gas company for a firm considering buying that oil and gas company. Abrams thinks his new firm will be especially useful in advising companies interested in buying media businesses. The most radical component of his model has to do with co-opting members of a media subculture not known for their desire to help the corporate world: bloggers. “I think that a lot of businesses are intimidated by bloggers and by new media,” Abrams submitted. “What we’re thinking to do is bring together some of those bloggers with businesses, to advise them on how to refine their message on why it is that certain things resonate or don’t.” No one knows how much and how far Abrams Research will resonate. But shortly after opening shop, he and Sklar were already in discussion with about 15 prospective clients. They had also formed strategic partnerships with two PR firms in the U.S.—Dan Klores Communications and The Abernathy MacGregor Group—and had been on the phone with others in Croatia and Vietnam. Of course, with a lot of evidence related to worldwide economic downturn still uncovered, the verdict on Abrams Research won’t likely be read for a long time. T Abrams hosted MSNBC shows The Abrams Report and Verdict with Dan Abrams. 78 TRUMP WINTER 2008/09
  4. 4. DAN ABRAMS_TRUMP_WINTER 12/10/08 2:10 PM Page 79 Abrams stays connected, pictured here in the office of his Manhattan home. “This is the right time for this business, both for me and for the business model.” WINTER 2008/09 TRUMP 79