Board of Directors
Chairman, Burson Cohn & Wolfe | Chairman, PBS Board
Don Baer is Chairman of the strategic communications firm Burson Cohn & Wolfe, which is owned by WPP, a leading holding company in advertising, marketing and communications services. From 2012 - 18, he was Worldwide Chair and CEO of the predecessor firm Burson-Marsteller and, starting in 2008, was Vice Chair and a member of the firm’s senior leadership. He has led client engagements in every sector and part of the world, especially for top technology, communications, media, consulting and financial services businesses.
Don’s career has spanned management roles as a media and communications executive for a wide range of business, government and non-profit organizations. He has had extensive strategic, creative and operational experience in corporate and media roles as well as in the U.S. Government and politics.
During Don’s decade in leadership roles at Burson, the firm’s business has grown significantly, notably in corporate reputation, issues and crisis and public affairs engagements. In particular, Don has managed for clients many innovative integrated content, thought-leadership and event marketing partnerships with the world’s major media companies, including the leading newspaper, television and online enterprises. He has built the firm’s data-driven capabilities, especially related to influencer outreach. Don developed a major partnership in 2014 with CNBC to create the Burson-Marsteller/CNBC Corporate Perception Indicator, an award-winning, 26-country public and influencer opinion study about the role of corporations in society and the economy.
Don’s media business experience includes his role as Chair of the Board of Directors of PBS, the U.S. Public Broadcasting Service; he has served on the Board since 2010. Since 2014, he has been a member of the Board of Directors of the publicly traded Meredith Corporation. He is a member of the Advisory Board of NewsGuard, a journalism start-up building consumer tools to assess so-called fake news.
Since 2008, Don has been a regular participant at major global executive gatherings, including the World Economic Forum, the Aspen Ideas Festival, Fortune’s Global Forum and the Code Conference.
From 1998 to 2007, Don was on the executive leadership team at media company Discovery Communications. As Senior Executive Vice President for Strategy and Development and an executive committee member, Don was a principal deputy to the CEO, leading new ventures and acquisitions; corporate communications, research and public policy, and digital media strategy and operations. He drove significant growth in Discovery’s online offerings, including acquisitions and integration of digital businesses, including the assets that became Discovery Education, and the launch of the company’s first mobile video services. From 2002 – 06, he oversaw the Discovery/New York Times Company joint venture in the Discovery Times Channel. Among his roles, he also led Discovery’s public affairs productions, including the 2004 Emmy Award-winning series Decisions That Shook the World, the feature-length documentary With All Deliberate Speed about the Brown vs. Board Education decision, and a documentary series with Thomas Friedman of The New York Times. He managed Discovery’s partnership with the American Film Institute to create the annual documentary festival Silverdocs (now AFIDocs).
From 1994-98, Don was a senior adviser to President Bill Clinton, as Assistant to the President and White House Director of Strategic Planning and Communications and, before, as Chief Speechwriter/Director of Speechwriting and Research. Don played key roles in the Clinton Presidency, including the historic 1996 re-election, helping drive integrated communications strategy across domestic and foreign policy, and developing major Presidential speeches and policy initiatives. The speeches he played a role in included the State of the Union Addresses from 1995 – 2000, the Second Inaugural Address, the 1996 Democratic Convention Nomination Acceptance Speech and the 1994 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the Normandy Invasion.
From 1985-94, Don was a journalist. For seven years, at U.S. News & World Report, he first covered politics and the White House and, as an assistant managing editor, oversaw national and international coverage. He also worked at The American Lawyer, has written for publications including The New York Times and was a CBS News on-air analyst. From 2000 – 15, he was a writer for the annual Kennedy Center Honors TV production, winning two Writers Guild of America awards.
In the early 1980s, Don was a lawyer at New York’s Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, as a litigation associate. His work focused on representation of media companies. On a pro bono basis, he worked on a major death penalty case that went to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Don serves on several non-profit boards including for the Urban Institute, the News Literacy Project, Planet Word, the Better Angels Society, the Arthur F. Burns Fellowship and the Edward R. Murrow Center for a Digital World at The Fletcher School at Tufts University. He served on The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Board of Visitors and is a member of the North Carolina Media and Journalism Hall of Fame. The University of North Carolina is honoring him with its 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award. He was a 1996 Fellow at the Institute of Politics of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.
Don received a B.A. from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Phi Beta Kappa), a Master’s in International Relations from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a J.D. from The University of Virginia School of Law. He and his wife, Nancy Bard, have two sons and live in Washington, D.C.
In addition to chairing the PBS Board, Don serves as Chair of the PBS Executive Committee and serves on the Finance, Nominating and Corporate Governance, National Policy Advisory, and Diversity Advisory committees. He also serves on the PBS Foundation Board and as a member of its Endowment Fund Committee.