Growing up, I knew I had to be involved in politics. From the time my mom took me to a presidential rally when I was only five years old, her political enthusiasm rubbed off on me. I helped knock on doors to get out the vote in high school and registered to vote the day I turned 18. There’s nothing like the thrill of election night, when all the hard work pays off and the candidate you believe in is allowed the privilege to work on behalf of the people.
Working on campaigns, Capitol Hill and in the executive branch has given me a unique perspective on how the political world works. Political PR is not for the faint of heart – expect long hours, unexpected demands and job uncertainty because of elections. However, it’s incredibly rewarding when you see major legislation, which you helped guide through, passed and signed into law.
As I knew the natural progression of working in political communications leads to Washington, D.C., or a state capital, I have learned a few things throughout my journey that can help tremendously if you’re looking to break into political PR:
1) Always network. In an extremely competitive environment like politics, it may seem tough to break into the industry. Not having many political connections myself, I worked hard to connect with anyone and everyone who would meet with me. Make the most of your friends, classmates and their connections. Once you identify someone whose work and experience interests you, ask for an informational meeting and always be thankful for their time. Even if a position isn’t open at the moment, there might be one down the line, and that person can help you land it.
2) No position or task is beneath you. Although you may have graduated from college, politics is all about working your way up the totem pole. Many young professionals make the mistake of thinking they are qualified to be a press secretary without any experience. It’s important to find solid internships, perhaps on the Hill, which will help you gain skills applicable to a legislative office to be considered for entry-level jobs. If you want to do communications, ask to help the press secretary or communications director with drafting press releases or coordinating social media.
3) Join a campaign. Often, some of the best hands-on experience you can gain is to join a campaign and work on the trail. A lot of people begin their political PR careers on campaigns, which always need extra help. If you join a race at a more local level, you are more likely to earn more responsibility.
These are just a few takeaways from my time spent in Washington, D.C. One of the most important rules is to have fun. I’ve had made some of my best friends through working in politics. Also, pay it forward – someday, when you’re a big shot, remember there will be people looking for their start and how you have been in their shoes. Happy politicking!
Kate Enos is currently an account executive at GYMR Public Relations. Previously, she served as deputy press secretary for the federal agency, the Corporation for National and Community Service. She also has several years of varied legislative and political experience, working on Capitol Hill and on several state and nationwide political campaigns. Enos is the PRSA New Professionals Section mentorship co-chair.