Making the Shift: A Campaign Veteran Finds a New Home in B2B Tech

Coming to SHIFT from a campaign background, I was excited to see which tricks and tools of the trade I had picked up over years of campaigning would be effective in the world of B2B. I quickly found that while we may all be distant cousins in the professional family tree of public relations and strategic communications operatives, political and tech PR pros operate in landscapes.

Observation 1: “They’re moving in herds, they do move in herds”

SHIFT organizes their staff and accounts by teams, which provides each client a half dozen or so “SHIFTers” working on their behalf. Coming from the nomadic, eat-what-you-kill world of campaigns, this was refreshing. While quite a bit of teamwork goes into the end result of a successful campaign (winning on Election Day), a majority of the communications and media planning falls to one person, the campaign’s communications director. SHIFT’s team approach allows for the work, expertise and energy to be spread evenly across all clients, allowing more room for creativity and putting the emphasis on collaboration over confrontation.

Observation 2: “Facts actually matter”

Campaigns and politicians don’t necessarily ignore facts, but have you checked in on Washington over the past few years? One of the reasons the situation on the Potomac is so dire is that our political process has devolved to the point where scoring political points – while ignoring good data – is far too often the first and only play in the political PR playbook. When the system rewards the most off the wall statements with legitimate media attention and campaign donations, something is not working.

In my first month at SHIFT I have been impressed by how strategically and methodically my team worked through dense sets of data, carefully combing through each piece of information to ensure we were getting the best possible story out for our clients. In a campaign, you often don’t have the luxury of time (not that SHIFT is slow!) to take that deep dive and come up with the best pearl to share with the world. The new reality is that I can work with my team teasing out complex information and developing an impactful narrative, free of political “messaging” and with more time than the 30-second campaign shot clock ever allowed.

Observation 3: Good ideas not dead on arrival…..but they can still struggle to take off

If you have spent any time around government, whether in line at the RMV or maybe you have run for local office yourself, you already know that the easy and sensible ideas are those most frequently deterred by some unforeseen force (usually entrenched special interest or multiple layers of bureaucracy are to blame).

At SHIFT, I immediately noticed a culture of turning problems into solutions, mistakes into triumphs and walls into bridges – traits I subconsciously sought out in my own political heroes, past and present. And that is one of the things that attracted me to SHIFT. I could sense that same energy just below the surface. We aren’t reckless, but we certainly don’t give in when the easier path disappears. The work may be tough, but we are going to do it together and probably laugh along the way.

Observation 4: House of Cards:Politics::Mad Men:PR

No? At my last job, when asked, “how much of House of Cards is true?”  I usually offered that the show is very watchable, but I don’t necessarily agree with Bill Clinton that it is 99 percent realistic. I often pointed out that there are several more layers to both the show and the profession – most of it not nearly as interesting as the opening credits (that time lapse video!).

When I first found my way to politics the West Wing was still on TV.  I probably definitely thought I was Josh Lyman when I started as a lowly field organizer working out of a print shop in Syracuse, NY. But I quickly learned that the reward in any pursuit is not the preconceived notions we draw from TV, a movie or a book, but the journey.  A journey full of those special surprises we call life; new friends, mistakes (make great teachers!) and mastering new skills you could never have imagined for yourself.

SHIFT has a fun, smart, savvy, culturally aware and committed team and I while am sure that most of us deeply enjoyed Mad Men, I still haven’t found Bert Cooper’s office.

Sean Shortell
Senior Account Executive


Keep in Touch

Want fresh perspective on communications trends & strategy? Sign up for the SHIFT/ahead newsletter.

Ready to shift ahead?

Let's talk