Business & Tech

Boston political power duo Larry Rasky and Joe Baerlein part ways

Shawn Thew/European Pressphoto Agency

Joe Baerlein (left) and Larry Rasky appeared together in 2014.

They came together 20 years ago: two friendly rivals who would build one of the city’s most powerful public relations and lobbying firms.

Two decades later, Larry Rasky and Joe Baerlein have parted ways.

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Rasky has bought out Baerlein’s stake in Rasky Baerlein Strategic Communications. The firm has been renamed Rasky Partners, and Baerlein will go out on his own, launching Baerlein & Partners. Rasky simultaneously bought out another partner, former Rasky Baerlein CEO Ann Carter, who is also leaving to start her own business.

“We all wanted to do different things,” Rasky said. “This seemed like the best way to preserve what we had built and to allow people to have the freedom to pursue their own endeavors.”

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The three former partners described the separation as an amicable one, and they declined to disclose the financial terms of the buyout. They said the other nearly 50 employees at Rasky Baerlein will remain at Rasky Partners; Rasky likewise plans to hold onto the firm’s entire client base.

“I’m thrilled we were able to do this in a way that preserves the firm [as an independent agency] and the culture we built,” Rasky said.

Baerlein and Rasky launched Rasky Baerlein in 1997, essentially combining Baerlein’s public affairs unit at Boston law firm Choate Hall & Stewart with Rasky’s PR firm.

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Along the way, the firm played influential roles in some of Boston’s biggest business events: Think the sale of the Red Sox to its current ownership, or the Market Basket saga in which two Demoulas cousins went to war with each other. (The firm represented Arthur T., whose side of the family now controls the supermarket chain.)

The firm became one of the city’s go-to advisers in times of crisis, such as when the failed IndyCar race proposed for Boston was under fire.

Baerlein and Rasky differ in their styles and approaches; they’re a bit of an odd couple, rarely seen together in public. But observers say they complemented each other.

“It was a formula that worked,” said Doug Bailey, a former Rasky Baerlein employee who now runs his own business, DBMedia Strategies. “Like the play and the TV show, they had a long run.”

Rasky is known for his political work with former vice president Joe Biden, and he also has been focused on building the firm’s Washington business in recent years; Carter took over as CEO in 2007 around the time Rasky took a leave of absence to work on Biden’s campaign and remained the chief executive through 2012. (Rasky, the chairman, resumed the CEO’s role.)

Meanwhile, Baerlein, who had been the firm’s president, has built a reputation for his winning track record with ballot campaigns, such as the one in 2010 that repealed the sales tax on alcohol. The shop suffered a rare loss in 2014 when voters went against the business community by repealing a 2013 law that would have allowed the state’s gas tax to increase with inflation.

Carter said her new venture, ACcommunication Partners, will focus on leadership and communications advice for corporate clients and nonprofits, while Baerlein said he plans to work on reputation advice and advocacy. Baerlein added that his new business will not include a lobbying component, although he hopes to work on more ballot questions in the future.

“It’s been a hell of a ride,” Baerlein said. “To the extent that one continues to be curious, to want to reinvent themselves and seek out things that are new, that’s what’s driving me at this stage in my life.”

Larry Weber, chief executive of Boston PR firm Racepoint Global, said he expects there should be more than enough business to go around for the former partners, as the number of significant companies based in the area continues to grow: “With the [business environment strong], I think everyone will get their share.”

Carol Churchill, manager of communications for French energy giant Engie’s North American operations, said she’s not worried about the changes at Rasky’s firm. Engie, which operates the Distrigas liquefied natural gas terminal in Everett, is a longtime client of the firm’s and is planning to stick around.

“They know our business because they’ve been with us for so long,” Churchill said. “They take their work seriously but did not take themselves too seriously.”

So what’s next for Rasky’s shop? Geri Denterlein, who runs a rival PR agency in Boston, had a few suggestions.

“Larry needs to reassure clients he’s firmly engaged,” Denterlein said. “And I would suggest that he gives voice and rise to some of his key lieutenants who have done a lot of work and have not been visible. No agency is one person alone.”

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.
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