By Noah Wolfgang
I interned this spring with the Indiana Senate Democratic Caucus, and it was an exciting experience. It was unpaid, but the ISDC was flexible with my schedule, and I felt deeply involved in our work. Many of the tasks I performed were done to raise donations and earn votes for Democratic candidates running for re-election. The primary election was May 3, and all my efforts went into helping incumbents and challengers.
My main responsibilities included managing ISDC social media, writing email newsletters, attending fundraisers and doing donor research. I learned a lot about how political PR works, and I have a few takeaways about what I learned.
1. Political PR is a different kind of animal.
One of the goals of PR is to get an audience to do something that benefits both parties. This holds up in political PR, but the way success is measured is not in things like revenue and downloads. Instead, all efforts are meant to bring in donations and voters.
Everything that I produced needed to draw in donations and voters. Without those two things, candidates lose elections, and the caucus fails to do its job. This meant that I had to be as persuasive as possible in everything I did.
When developing social media content, I had to convince people that a candidate was worth voting for because they can make things better. In all honesty, this was easier than I thought it would be. It’s widely known that politicians are well-spoken, and therefore a lot of content could be shares and retweets of their posts. Figuring out which posts would reach the most people was the challenging part.
Writing email newsletters was where the need to be persuasive was most evident. These newsletters were sent to people on an email list, and many of them were already politically engaged. However, getting them to donate or go vote required some next-level wording. It took a few tries to find which words and phrases excite people enough to act but doing so was vital. I achieved this by either giving a worst-case scenario of what the other side could do or by giving an ultra-sunny account of the potential of our side.
I also met many people, which was simultaneously exciting and intimidating. I met most of the Democratic senators, a few dozen lobbyists and other people working to elect Democrats.
2. I had the tools to be successful going into the internship.
I wasn’t sure I’d know what to do once my internship began. I was positive I’d show up and immediately be exposed as some kind of imposter. This was, thankfully, not the case, and it was due to the things I’ve learned in my classes.
Political PR may require that I uniquely use my skillset, but following best practices made me successful. The social media content I produced and the email newsletters I wrote required that I convince my audience why they should care about a given candidate or issue. Failing to do this meant we would receive neither the donations nor the votes to reach our goal in the primaries. I needed an audience-centric mindset, which has been talked about in all my classes at IUPUI. Writing for the audience was the most important part of my internship, and I came in with the skills to do it.
We talk a lot about the importance of research in our PR classes, and for good reason. Research is 100% at the heart of PR, and my classes taught me how to do it well. Compiling donor lists is a vital but tedious task, and I spent countless hours researching government records to find who may donate to Democrats in this year’s election cycle. I also used NGPVan extensively throughout my internship. It is a voter database that makes research much easier, and I got a lot of experience using it.
3. The pandemic prepared me for adversity in ways I didn’t realize.
I wasn’t aware of the variety of things I would work on for the ISDC, nor was I aware that the entire senate caucus consisted of myself and my boss. Every day meant a different task, and most days required work on several things. The pacing was fast and getting my mind to flow from one mode to another was challenging.
Sometimes we’d plan things for weeks and then I’d come in on Monday to find that we were scrapping the plans because something more urgent had come up. It was almost like I was always working during a crisis, but political PR is really just hectic, twofold with an election on the horizon.
But get this — the pandemic made life hectic for half my time in college, and the crazy days at my internship seemed ordinary. I found that I’m more adaptable than I previously believed. Constantly alternating tasks felt natural. I was able to lower my head and power through things when I wasn’t sure how to proceed. All this came from navigating a pandemic while also in college, working, changing majors and moving to a city 45 minutes from campus.
This experience isn’t exclusive to me, either. Every one of us went through it, and although we didn’t ask for it and hated enduring it, it will help us in the future. Our generation is now primed to be extremely adaptable to constant change and uncertainty. We were educated at a time when those things were the norm, and we can now use that to our advantage.
Noah Wolfgang is a senior studying journalism with a concentration in public relations. You can connect with him on Twitter and Facebook.