Q: How did you land at Precision?
CL: My senior year of college, John Edwards had headquartered his presidential campaign in Chapel Hill, home of the Tar Heels. I had interned for some other campaigns before and knew a lot of the Edwards staff, so I was the first John Edwards for President intern in 2008, working in headquarters while I was finishing college.
After I graduated, I was sent out to Iowa to work for Jen and her team as the Iowa press assistant, which was awesome. Over the years I kept in touch with Jen while I went and worked on a bunch of senate races. After 2012 I got back in touch with Jen, and it turned out that Precision was hiring, and the rest is history.
Q: You worked on some really awesome senate campaigns — whose senate campaign most recently did you work on?
CL: The one that people really like to talk about is Claire McCaskill against Todd Akin.
Q: What did you do for the Claire McCaskill campaign?
CL: I was Claire McCaskill’s Communications Director on her 2012 senate campaign, which is best known for her opponent’s comment that if a woman is “legitimately raped,” her body has a way of shutting the pregnancy down.
And it became a huge, national turning point in the 2012 election. It really exemplified the War on Women because it forced every single Republican to answer for Todd Akin and get tied to his positions. When you look back at it, Joe Donnelly’s opponent was asked about it, and Richard Mourdock said that rape is a blessing from God because Todd Akin had already said what he did.
We spent about $2 million dollars to make sure that Todd Akin was our opponent in the Republican primary because we knew that he would say something like that, so you know, a lot of folks think we got lucky, but a lot of hard work and strategy went into that luck, and it was kind of crazy to see how much it paid off.
Q: What are some of the primary skills that somebody might need in your position, and working in communications more generally?
CL: You have to understand perspectives of other people. You have to understand where they’re coming from and how they think. It’s easy to take a look at somebody’s stump speech or somebody’s positions and anticipate what they’re going to say, but it’s really important when you understand the way they think and the reasons why they believe the things they do, because that’s when you have an opportunity to either maximize the work you’re doing or exploit an opponent’s weakness.
When you understand the way that people think and the way they connect their arguments, you’re much more effective at building a proactive case for the things that you’re working on or the things that you believe in, and that will resonate with people who may not necessarily agree with you at first blush.
Q: Are there any skills or tools you’ve needed to learn or things you didn’t expect to have to learn over the course of your career so far?
CL: I think the most important thing was just having strong fundamentals in terms of writing, because being a good writer helps you construct a coherent thought and a coherent argument in a way that you might otherwise struggle. But when you think through, “how am I going to write this out, what is the flow of the argument, what does it circle back to?” that’s been critical.
When you have strong fundamentals like grammar, spelling, punctuation and usage, you eliminate a lot of opportunities for people to underestimate your abilities. At UNC in the journalism school, we actually had a test called the spelling and grammar test that could prevent you from graduating if you didn’t get a 70 on it. Other people think is funny, but it’s extraordinarily technical, and it really drills into you a respect for those really small details that have been hugely beneficial throughout my career.
Q: How do you see communications and the field you’re in now, which is a foot in corporate work and a foot in politics, changing over the next 3-5 years?
CL: One, the internet has changed the way you operate tactically: it’s no longer earned media and social media and paid media, it’s all living in the same place. When you see a Washington Post tweet that links to a story that has a piece of native content living right next to it, you have to look at these things very comprehensively and understand how they all work together in a way that you didn’t have to previously.
But I also believe, more broadly, the internet has really forced brands and corporations and elected officials to be much more authentic and honest about who they are and what their values are in a way that they didn’t have to previously.
Generally, that’s a very good thing, but it is something that a lot of companies are coming to terms with and understanding how to adapt to this new reality. Especially as millennials come into power, when that’s extraordinarily important for millennials — it’s less about whether they think a company can do something well, but whether they think a company is doing it for the right reasons. So that’s a challenge that I think a lot of companies are struggling with, but it’s a really interesting challenge, and it gives us the opportunity to encourage the companies we work for to do really good things that they’re proud of and to tell their story more effectively.
Q: Do you see that need for authenticity evolving into something else, or do you think authenticity is going to be the major thing to communicate across the board?
CL: It’s authenticity and a larger sense of purpose. You look at the companies that are really breaking through today, and they’re not respected so much for what they do, but why they do it and how they use their platform as a force for good. For example, Facebook is a really great social platform and every one knows them for that. But Sheryl Sandberg has created this whole other lens through which we view Facebook in her work on Lean In and Facebook’s support of that work. To really set yourself apart and define your values, you almost have to do it on issues that are not in your immediate self-interest or are not within your normal bailiwick.
If you’re looking at a health insurance company, it’s not just are you paying your claims it’s, what are you actually doing to keep people healthy? Or with banks, it’s not just about keeping people’s money safe, which is very important, but it’s about how are you contributing to the economy and growing the economy in a way that is good for society? Those are the really interesting challenges, but it’s dealing with those issues that are a little less obvious that have the greatest impact.
Q: Can you walk me through a typical day in your role at Precision?
CL: There is no typical day, which should be the name of this blog because I’ve seen that in every one of these interviews.
It varies, there are lot of meetings and conference calls with clients to talk about how we’re going to tackle these really big issues. It’s a lot of strategic thinking and writing and trying to come up with creative solutions. Then, it’s a lot of execution and actually putting those great ideas into action.
Q: Do you have a career highlight from Precision or previous work?
CL: The best day of my career was January 3, 2013 at Claire McCaskill’s swearing in. I’ve been very lucky to work for three amazing US Senators: Kay Hagan, Jeanne Shaheen and Claire McCaskill. Working to get more women elected has been such an important focus of my career, and I’ve been able to learn so much from watching up close how they work, how they build relationships with each other and how their three very different styles are all equally effective.
We had just come off the McCaskill campaign, which was really an adult portion as far as campaigns go, and we’d gathered to celebrate Claire’s second term. It’s common for the sitting Senators to stop by and visit these various parties and congratulate each other. Kay, Claire and Sen. Shaheen were all close, but I never had actually gotten any photos with them. At one point, Sen. Shaheen was at the party and I contemplated getting a photo with her and Claire. Suddenly, I turned around and Kay had just shown up, but Sen. Shaheen had just left, so her Chief of Staff went running down the hall to bring her back so I could get a photo with all three of them.
There are a lot of people who have photo walls in their houses with dozens of photos of all the elected officials they’ve ever met and worked for. I have one photo, and it’s the photo from that day, which is really one of my most prized possessions.
Q: What is your favorite thing about working at Precision?
CL: There are so many really fun memories here. One thing that made me so excited to come and work at Precision was that I had a chance to come in really early when there were five of us sitting in an office space that we were renting from another firm, and we’ve had an amazing opportunity to build a company together from the very start.
Obviously the partners have a bigger role in that than anyone else, but the things I always loved about campaigns is that you would go to some random place with a bunch of random people, some of whom you’ve worked together previously, some of whom are complete strangers, and you create this organization literally out of nothing. When I was interviewing at Precision, that was something that really excited me because when you do that, you have the opportunity to play a role in shaping the culture–what kind of work are you doing, who are you hiring, what kind of people are you surrounding yourself with–in a way that you don’t get at some of the bigger firms or some of the firms that have been around a lot longer. There, you come in and plug into a role. At Precision, there have been great opportunities for so many people to come in and bring all of their unique and impressive and crazy skills to make this place what it is.
On top of that, Stephanie and Jen and Teddy are literally the best in the business (I’m not just sucking up) and having an opportunity to work for and learn directly from them is such a great opportunity. More than anything else, it’s clear they are very patient people for putting up with me as long as they have.
- Favorite social platform: Twitter for work, Facebook for pleasure.
- Favorite tweeter: @DaggumRoy
- Article everyone should read: Tom Brokaw on his dogs.
- Favorite outlet/blog in general: Garden and Gun, hands down. They’ve got the best leads on new music, southern food and overall killer style.
- App you couldn’t live without: Twitter
- What was your first IM screen name: TheGackster12