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A career as a political media strategist is not for the faint of heart. If the media ignores your candidate, your agency or your cause, you aren’t doing your job -- but there may be times you wish you weren’t under the media microscope. You will be responsible for navigating through a maze of position choices on issues, criticisms and media requests. Despite the risks of things going awry in a heartbeat – one misquote can take weeks to overcome, for example -- you can also influence public policy and work for something meaningful.
You can get a good start on your career as a political media strategist if you major in government, political science, journalism, communication or public relations. A political communications degree is ideal if your university offers it. If you have the time and money, consider a double major in political science and one of the communication areas, such as PR or journalism. Regardless of your course work, both verbal and written communication skills are vital; so if you are deficient in either or both of those areas, take courses to strengthen them. A graduate degree can make you a stronger candidate but it is not a requirement.
If you get an opportunity to intern during your college career, take it. If you are unsure of what is available, ask your college adviser or career center. Many political careers start with having solid contacts, and an internship is a great way to develop those contacts. Look for internship opportunities with trade associations, lobbyist groups, public relations firms or media outlets. College intern programs will either give you course credit, a stipend or both.
Volunteer as much as your schedule allows. It’s easy to volunteer for a political campaign, and in that environment you get the opportunity to educate yourself on current issues and how the media cover them -- in addition to more mundane but necessary work. You will also learn which reporters cover certain topics and can make valuable political and media contacts. If your interests lean more toward nonprofits, they can also exercise considerable political clout, so ask about volunteer opportunities with your favorite organization.
If you have volunteer and interning experience it will boost your chances of snagging that first job -- but don’t worry if it’s not exactly in the area that interests you the most. If you crave environmental work, snagging a job with a state transportation agency can increase your chances of getting a job later with another agency. You have the added benefit of the media already knowing who you are by your previous agency work.
Trade associations exist for virtually every industry, and they typically employ lobbyists to promote their positions. Starting in an entry-level position writing press releases or even as an executive assistant can give you the experience and confidence you need to progress further along in your political media strategist career.
Based in Central Texas, Karen S. Johnson is a marketing professional with more than 30 years' experience and specializes in business and equestrian topics. Her articles have appeared in several trade and business publications such as the Houston Chronicle. Johnson also co-authored a series of communications publications for the U.S. Agency for International Development. She holds a Bachelor of Science in speech from UT-Austin.