They are often tagged as the two “titans” of Boston’s public relations world — a bit of an exaggeration, but it does play nicely into the decades-old feud that the city’s political and media insiders love to chronicle.
They are George Regan, the unrelenting head of Regan Communications who can make major Boston movers-and-shakers quiver with his practice of reaching into newsrooms and planting juicy stories; and the man he loves to taunt, Thomas P. O’Neill III, whose firm, O’Neill and Associates, touts its list of blue-chip clientele seeking help for publicity and government relations. It is also one of the first destinations for local politicians and business people looking for advice to advance careers or tamp down scandals.
The most recent flare-up centers around the University of Massachusetts’s president’s office, which recently decided not to renew a nearly $100,000-a-year public relations consulting contract with O’Neill’s outfit.
That contract severance was followed by a Boston Herald story claiming to find scandal in the already well-publicized fact that the office — along with the UMass Club — was moving into “posh” new headquarters at One Beacon Street.
The two O’Neill associates on the contract were two former newsman, Cosmo Macero, a former Herald business editor, and Jeremy Crockford. There is no evidence of any connection, but some folks sympathetic to the university are nonetheless convinced this was payback for the contract cancelation. The O’Neill folks scoff at the notion, but decline to comment.
What is bothering some O’Neill allies is that, while the firm is getting booted, Regan is still hanging onto a $120,000 a year contract with the UMass Building Authority (UMBA). That five-year no-bid deal is expiring in June. If the chair of UMBA board, university trustee and former state Democratic Party chairman Phil Johnston (an O’Neill ally), has his way, it will be history and plans will be in place for a competitive bid for the work.
The idea that he is getting targeted has set off Regan, who loves nothing more than to try to provoke O’Neill. He openly brags about tipping the media to potential stories that he hopes will put ONeill up to public ridicule. He once offered to give free public relations advice to O’Neill’s former wife during their divorce proceedings. In 2010, he sent out rolls of toilet paper with photos of O’Neill on every piece.
O’Neill, who is mystified that he is the persistent target of Regan’s antics, tries to stay above the fray and to appear unfazed. But he is also known to tell new hires at his firm that one of their main jobs is to protect him from Regan’s onslaughts.
Frank Phillips can be reached at email@example.com.