You may not recognize the name Richard Berman, but he's famous in the world of industry advocacy. The founder of Arlington, Va.-based communications firm Berman and Co. has been on 60 Minutes and CNN and profiled in USA Today and The New York Times.
He's pro-business, anti-regulation, and proud of it. Critics call him "Dr. Evil," and the top of the bio on his own website has an all-caps quote from 60 Minutes calling him "The industry's weapon of mass destruction."
Berman's taken on Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and the Humane Society of the United States, and he's represented the fast-food industry and other clients that you'd assume wouldn't win many popularity contests.
Berman's slogan: "Win ugly or lose pretty."
Plastics industry readers may be reading this and thinking to themselves, "That's exactly what this industry needs." And in fact, someone in plastics must agree, because Berman has quietly — until now — carved a niche defending at least a part of the plastics industry.
I first noticed Berman's fingerprints on plastics issues in early 2021, when I saw a surge in letters to the editor and perspective columns in local newspapers all over the country in response to stories about single-use plastic bans. All were written by Will Coggin, who was identified as the managing director of the Essential Plastics Coalition.
It turned out that the Essential Plastics Coalition was "a project" of the Center for Organizational Research and Education, a nonprofit founded by Berman, and that Coggin had been a senior research analyst at Berman and Co.
Writing letters to newspapers, creating advocacy websites and YouTube videos is pretty low-key in the world of PR. But Berman stepped it up on Nov. 17, taking out a full-page ad in USA Today slamming Aquaman actor Jason Momoa for "demonizing plastic water bottles."
I've been speculating for more than a year now who in the plastics industry is paying Berman — he doesn't do this stuff for free. It must be someone unhappy with the messaging from established plastics advocacy organizations.
This may be the best clue: It's someone who has no problem with throwing some plastics industry sectors under the bus, in the name of defending "essential" plastics like PET water bottles.
One of Coggins' columns, for example, argued that "Low-value plastics, such as polystyrene takeout containers, are not recyclable and should be replaced with better options. Plastic bags and straws can also be eliminated without inducing a crisis."
I've asked around and no one has claimed responsibility. So I'm asking readers today in Kickstart: Who is paying Richard Berman to defend plastics?