By Tyler Orchard
Political communications is a very unique industry – one that many don’t set out to pursue. My experiences allow me to attest to its remarkable ability to shape professional skills and provide any individual a deep foundation in which to build a career on.
After graduating from the University of Guelph and McMaster University where I completed my Masters of Public Policy and Administration, political communications was a clear and calculated next step. Throughout my academic career I spent time building a relationship with a local MP candidate. We worked closely together in a very informal setting – creating a strategy, building a campaign and waiting for an election to be called. Luck played a big part in my career trajectory. An election was called and I assumed the role of Director of Communications throughout the federal campaign. I call this luck because if an election weren’t called at that specific time, my political career may never have existed.
In hindsight, the campaign was an incubator for my professional development. We were a small team and I assumed responsibility for all communication strategy – leading me to be “tossed in the deep end” to learn as I went. This environment forced me to learn skills I didn’t possess before, very quickly. I was also fortunate because this particular candidate was running for a seat in one of the most hotly-contested and controversial ridings in Canada (it was in the top three targeted ridings in the country). This lead to experiences that may not have been afforded to me if I were in another part of the country. The national media attention, coupled with the rise of attack-style politics and controversy, created an environment that was remarkably fast-paced, high-stakes and strategic.
In four weeks I was able to experience things that many may not be privy to in their entire political careers, including national crisis communications, national media relations, attack-style political tactics, national PR campaigns, and strategic communications. It is something I attribute much of my professional growth to.
We won the campaign by a large margin and I joined the newly minted MP as his Director of Communications – a position I held for nearly two years. Over that time I continued to learn, grow and expand my knowledge of communications, social media and PR. Although I appreciate and value my experiences within the political world, my true ambition and interest lied within the private sector. Politics shaped my entire professional career path. It allowed me to quickly become experienced and mature. However, my true passion for business led me to make the decision to leave politics.
Political communications and politics as a whole is a great career choice – over the short and long-term. I would recommend to anyone who wanted to pursue a career in communications or PR to explore the opportunities that politics can offer. Although you may see yourself in an agency or a company’s in-house department, politics can provide the necessary foundation to be successful in that environment.
Here are three tips for those who may want to pursue a career in politics:
- Network: Politicians don’t normally use job boards to search for candidates. Reach out to your local politician or nominated candidate, ask if you can volunteer and build a relationship with them. It comes down to who you know so start building a network that you can leverage. Also, build relationships with present and past political staffers who can help you along the way (Linkedin is a great start).
- Become Invaluable: There are hundreds, if not thousands of people who are seeking jobs, and political positions are few and far between. If you are volunteering or get to help out on a political campaign, make yourself invaluable so they have to keep you onboard.
- Get Involved: Whether it is with municipal, provincial or federal political campaigns, school elections or anything else, get involved and build your experience now.
Tyler is the Manager of Strategy and Social Media at Zync. in Toronto, an award winning strategic marketing communications and branding firm. He also is the founder of Back Rank, a startup that transforms brands into seamless social entities through “humanization” techniques. After finishing his Masters degree from the University of Guelph, he spent time in political PR. Tyler believes that our growth as professionals is dependent on our ability to challenge assumptions and create ongoing debate. Connect with him on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, his Blog or the Zync blog.