We at Rasky Baerlein are proud of our talented public relations and public affairs experts across the firm’s practice areas. In our new Meet the Expert series, we sit down with a different agency leader every Monday to get their thoughts on several important and timely questions and gain a greater sense of their industry expertise and experiences. This week we sit down with RBSC vice president in our public affairs practice, Zach Stanley.
What interests you most about public affairs?
Although everyone seems to have a different definition of public affairs, what excites me the most is how we can bring together various strategic approaches on behalf of our clients to help achieve their goals. In the best public affairs campaigns, we are providing our clients message development, legislative advocacy, media relations, organizing, digital and advertising. This type of client work shows the true power of public affairs and the skills of our team.
You’ve been working in public affairs for more than a decade now. In what ways has the rise of digital impacted the industry during this time?
When we created, launched, and ran a digital national advocacy campaign for a Fortune 100 company in 2010 we were on the leading edge of digital advocacy for a major corporation – using online tools to organize and mobilize allies nationally in support of various health care related issues. Candidate campaigns drove innovation in this space since 2004, but to businesses in 2010 it was very new.
What we learned with that campaign, and what we still apply to our public affairs clients now, is that digital is not going to solve all of your problems on its own, but as a component of a public affairs campaign it is a critical tool. It will help you reach your audience, deliver your messages and identify and recruit new voices to join your cause. Plus, the data now shows that legislators and other decision makers are reading email, Twitter and Facebook to see what their constituents think about issues. So in many ways, digital is now mandatory.
As we look to the future, I think the interesting opportunity is how to apply digital tools to small-scale campaigns such as state lobbying efforts. This demands extremely cost effective tools, but could pay off handsomely if it means more people reach out to their legislators as part of a coordinated effort.
With public affairs being such a constantly evolving field, where do you see it headed and what can professionals do to keep up?
As this industry evolves I think the best public affairs professionals will have the most diverse skill sets. Those who know how to lobby, know how to run a digital campaign, know how to do PR and know how to integrate online advertising will be the best positioned to be successful. If I had to give any advice, it’d be to diversify your skill-set and keep learning new things.
You served as a field organizer for the Florida Democratic Party during the 2004 Kerry/Edwards Presidential Campaign and the assistant to the Deputy CEO for external affairs of the 2004 Democratic National Convention in Boston. How did these experiences help shape your work today?
When I started working at the Democratic Convention in Boston I was fresh out of college and didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. That job opened my eyes to what the national political world looked like and gave me a clearer picture of the various stakeholders and how they all interact between campaigns, advocacy and politics. After about a month, I knew I had to work in that world one way or another. At the time, I was convinced that would be in DC after Sen. Kerry was elected President…
My time in Florida taught me what a real political campaign looked like and how much work it entailed. I also learned that eating donuts and burgers every day is not a healthy way to live.
Both jobs taught me invaluable skills that I carry with me today. My boss at the Convention triple checked every blast email to ensure there were no typos or errors. To this day, I still double-check my emails before sending them out. My time in Florida taught me the value of field work to campaigns and gave me the tools that I still use now at Rasky Baerlein in our various organizing campaigns for clients.
Your state and local public affairs experience at Rasky Baerlein includes working with clients from a variety of different industries. How do you remain nimble so you can quickly learn and represent the interests of each of your clients?
It’s a little bit of a personal badge of honor for me when I tell people that I’m working on 10-15 different clients during the course of a month. For me, the best way to keep up with the workload and ensure our clients all receive high level attention is to dive deep into the subject matter, learn the arguments on both sides, and really buy into our client’s vision. When I feel like I’m part of their team, it’s easy to give them my best work no matter how much is going on.
Rasky Baerlein has a tremendous record when it comes to ballot measure campaigns and other lobbying and policy efforts. What in your mind sets the firm apart from the rest when it comes to its approach to public affairs?
There are many things we do at Rasky Baerlein that make us so successful in our public affairs work, but I think we win so often because of two things:
- We recognize that great messaging is king, and if we do not develop and implement the best set of messages all other strategies are pointless.
- We take our work personally and we hate to lose. Whether it’s a ballot question campaign or legislative advocacy, our work is personal and losing is not an option.
If you could offer clients one piece of advice, what would it be?
Our work together will be most successful if we work together as a team.
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