Cathie Anderson

After 30 years, communications strategist opens her own Sacramento firm

Cassandra Pye had wanted to start her own communications firm for years, but she and her husband, Kelvin Pye, felt they both needed steady incomes to successfully launch their four young sons into adulthood.

After the youngest son graduated from high school last year, Pye began mulling the idea of leaving the security of APCO Worldwide, where she’d worked for nearly 10 years.

It was Pye’s adult sons – Richard, William, Eric and Steven Pye – who gave her the greatest encouragement to fly, she said.

“Richard sends me a note every day,” Pye said. “He looked at my logo design and gave me some feedback. ... He’s still doing some modeling on the side, and he was in Big Sur taking pictures the other day. I emailed him and said, ‘I want to be you.’ He said, ‘No, you don’t. You want to get some clients, so leave me alone and get back to work.’”

Pye launched her new firm in early January. She named it 3.14 Communications LLC, a play on her last name and pi, the mathematical constant that has been used to solve problems in numerous branches of math and science. Pye’s firm will assist clients with strategic planning, media relations and political advocacy.

Without her 30-plus years in the communications field, Pye said she might have gone for a more scattershot approach to what her firm offers. Instead, she pared down the list after considering the key priorities of her past employers and clients, who include the Food Marketing Institute, the California Grocers Association, CalChamber and the administration of former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“My career went into three pots – lobbying and regulatory in D.C. and here in Sacramento, political advocacy for CalChamber, the two years as deputy chief of staff with Schwarzenegger and about 10 years in communications,” she said. “Two-thirds of my career has been with trade groups.”

As one of Pye’s past employers, CalChamber CEO Allan Zaremberg said his organization benefited from the enthusiasm, innovation and entrepreneurial spirit that Pye brings to her work.

“Cassandra helped put together a (political action) committee that would allow us to go into the campaign business and actually go out and raise money from our members and put it into races that were competitive,” Zaremberg said.

Pye, 55, spent much of her career working with food-related trade associations. As a senior vice president in the Sacramento office of APCO Worldwide, she helped British grocer Tesco introduce its Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Markets to the U.S. marketplace in 2006. Back then, Pye said, companies were just beginning to identify influential bloggers and social media users who could do viral marketing for their brands, and Tesco decided to make that a key part of its marketing strategy.

“That company didn’t do any advertising for the first three years as they opened stores,” Pye said. “All of their marketing, all of their branding was word of mouth and through the media.”

Pye developed some very close relationships with the Tesco team, she said, but there came a time, as Fresh & Easy faltered, when she had to be fearless in conversations with Tesco leadership. In 2013, Tesco lent Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa Cos. $125 million to buy its Fresh & Easy stores.

“Sometimes you have to tell clients things they don’t want to hear,” Pye said, “and sometimes, you have to tell them more than once because either they don’t want to believe you or they don’t want to listen.”

She takes a methodical approach with clients: “If this is the outcome we want, and these are the people we need to be a part of the outcome, then how are we going to talk to them and what are we going to say?”

Attorney Mary Montiel Kasper, senior vice president, general counsel and secretary at Fresh & Easy, described Pye as a trusted counselor and powerful communicator. Pye was instrumental in helping Tesco develop a stakeholder network and a government relations program, Kasper said, and also helped expand the company’s brand recognition. Yucaipa operates 167 Fresh & Easy stores in three states.

“Cassandra has a natural curiosity about people and about businesses,” Kasper said. “She is always asking questions and trying to learn as much as she can about a business in order to be able to advise it in the most powerful sort of way.”

Warren Smith, president of the Sacramento Republic FC, echoed Kasper’s observation, noting that Pye helped Republic FC leaders think about how their message would be received by fans, Major League Soccer, media, local politicians and other groups.

“She gets you to share your thoughts,” Smith said, “and then asks a lot of open-ended questions: How are you doing this? Why would you do that? What do you perceive the impact to be to this audience? Have you thought about this? Would you be open to a different strategy?”

Pye said she already has several clients for her new firm but declined to name them. Discretion, she said, is a big deal in her field.

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.