Job: Founding Partner, Be Clear
Location: Denver, Colorado
Marie and I were connected by Olivia August, my interviewee from last month, and an old neighbor of Marie's from Rhode Island. Hearing about Marie’s wild (and nearly) ten-year journey to get to where she is today really got me thinking about what my ten-year journey will look like. After speaking with Marie, I am more comfortable not knowing what that path may look like because, as she says, we shouldn't try and guess what our perfect career is ten years from now. She never thought she would have started her own business, but when you hear the story from beginning to now, it makes sense. Read on to learn about Marie.
Give us a brief background on yourself and how you ended up in Colorado.
So I am from Rhode Island and went to college at Duke University in North Carolina. In college, I was a Public Policy major and was really interested in politics. While in college, Barack Obama was elected president and I just knew I wanted to go to Washington, D.C. after graduation and be a part of that change. The summer after junior year, I applied to be in the first class of white house interns for Obama and somehow managed to get an internship, which was pretty crazy. I got to spend my summer working as an intern for Joe Biden in his press office and kept in touch with everyone I worked with once it was over. However, I never thought I’d step in the White House again. My senior year came around and a lot of my peers had their job offers locked in early on if they were going into finance or business. It doesn’t work that way in politics; you kind of apply and start the next day, so I just kept waiting. One month before graduation, I got a call from Biden’s office saying that they needed to hire someone for a three-month stint while someone was on maternity leave, so of course, I said yes. I ended up having to leave school a few weeks early, flew back one day for graduation with my blackberry in hand, and then flew right back to Washington. Again, I thought I would work there for three months and was just grateful for the opportunity, but then I ended up working there for four years.
What happened after those first three months?
I spent about a year working for Vice President Biden, doing both press and correspondence. Then my boss became White House Press Secretary and I was lucky to move over to the West Wing there with him, so I worked in Obama’s press office. There is a pool of reporters that go with the president everywhere he goes. From taking his daughters for ice cream to attending a global summit in Asia, they would go with him, and it was my job to manage those reporters. For two and half years, I traveled everywhere Obama went. I got to see the country, the entire 2012 campaign, and so many countries I never thought I’d see. I didn’t sleep and didn’t see family, but I would never trade the opportunity just to be a part of that change.
When did you realize you needed to move on from that role?
After about a year into the second term, I was a little burned out, so I decided to move and try something new. I really wanted to get some experience in the private sector, so I moved to California and worked for Airbnb, where I was about employee number 400 during their really crazy period of growth. I was there for 18 months and managed the crisis communications and regulatory communications for the company all over the globe, with the help of another team member from the White House. I got to stay in politics and work with local governments all over the world on how to make sharing your home legal. So it was cool that I got to take the political part that I loved, but try it out in a different setting. I still had pretty crazy hours and crazy travel, but again, the idea of being in a startup and taking on these opportunities you’d never have in a larger operation was appealing to me.
I was planning to go to business school from there and had already applied and accepted, but then my home state of Rhode Island elected our first woman governor, Gina Raimondo. I was asked to do a call with her, so I got on the phone with her and was completely blown away. She was exactly the kind of change my home state needed and the type of candidate I believed in, so I ended up moving from California back to Rhode Island within two weeks. I worked for Gina for two years in communications and learned so much from being around a strong female leader. Two years into this job, my husband got a job in Colorado, so we decided to take off and move to Colorado. We are now based in Denver, where I ended up starting my own firm with three other Obama press office alumni who are dear friends. The firm is called Be Clear and we do communications for progressive organizations or people. We’ve been doing it for about a year now and I love working with my good friends again. It’s really scary but I am learning a ton and we also get to be picky and choosy about who we work with, so we made a commitment that we are only going to work for progressive clients who we believe do really good work that we believe in. It has allowed me to be a part of the progressive work that I care so much about.
Out of all of your careers, what has been the biggest challenge for you and how have you grown from it?
I think the biggest challenge has been that I have constantly worked in an “always-on” environment where there are a lot of crazy emergencies. In the press, you have to be ready to go all the time, but you also have to learn to step away and make time for family and friends. I am still working on that, but I am getting better. That’s why I encourage people to work on campaigns and in politics early in their career because you’re at a point in your life where you can just drop things when necessary. If there was a natural disaster, we would drop everything and get on a plane and go. I can see how it would be harder to do that later in life. We would say we could never have pets, plants, or produce because you just never knew when you were going to be home again. I’m so thankful I did it when I did.
How did you manage to find time to get married?
My husband worked with me at the White House, otherwise, I don’t know where I would have found time to date!
Tell us more about your day-to-day now and how it is different from your previous jobs?
Well, I work from home, so that is a huge difference, and I work for myself. I feel incredibly empowered that I get to say, look what we built. It’s extremely different every day, which I love. There might be a day where I’ll fly out to D.C. to do a media training for future educational leaders and totally focus on media training and education all day. Then I might have a day here when I focus on clean energy work. For me, it fits really well to be able to do a lot of different things that are all things I am really passionate about.
What would you say to someone looking to get into the political communications field? Join a campaign. I can’t emphasize that enough. They are the best experience. With so much momentum going into 2020, there will be so many opportunities and so much need for staff. You just really have the opportunity to grow if you are willing to work hard. Even if you don’t have time to work full-time, at least volunteer on a campaign and door-knock. If you can go up to 100 strangers doors and make a pitch for why they should support your candidate, you can do anything. When I interview people, I often ask them if they’ve door-knocked, because if they can make a passionate pitch for something to a complete stranger, I want them to work for me. Make sure it is a campaign you believe in because it is low pay and long hours, so you want to make sure you are really fired up about the low pay and the long hours because it is for someone you believe in.
Can you talk about a mistake you’ve made and how you bounced back from it?
In a press job, everything you do is in the spotlight, so you just have to know that you’re sometimes going to wish you said something better. Everything you do, everyone can see, so when I have a bad day on the job, people know. When your work is literally in the public eye, everyone knows. I have learned to love the support from that and it is definitely something hard to get used to. Figuring out how to move from each issue to issue and how to prioritize opportunities is big. One of my biggest challenges was learning to get our main priorities done and how to focus on them right then and there. With limited budgets, limited time, and bandwidth, being okay prioritizing was crucial for me to learn.
What is the best and worst advice you have ever received?
I think my best and worst advice is around networking. My best advice around networking is that networking is not a job. It is truly building relationships; you learn from them, you stay in touch with these people; you are not networking for a connection; you’re networking to build a relationship. The worst advice is to go network to make a connection just because you will gain something in return. If it is just about who you know and not really getting to know the person you are networking with, then that is not networking. I really value the people who taught me that networking is one of the most enjoyable and fun parts of your life, because it is why I have been able to meet so many incredible people. I always tell recent college graduates that networking is not your job. I would also say some other good advice is to always pay it forward. The people who mentored me are still the same people I call every step of the way now. I am so fortunate to have become that person for other people too. It is really cool to see how the world just builds, so I love what you’re doing with this blog because you are getting to talk to people, but you’re also paying it forward to other people.
Any last words of advice?
Get to work for a woman leader at some point whether that is a woman in business, a woman in politics, or so on. It changed my life to go into a meeting where a woman sat at the head of the table. And value that. It taught me so much about how there is no one image or bucket I have to fit into. The more women leaders I have talked to, the more I have understood that. Being a woman running a business, I’ve realized that I don’t have to act like a man. I should be me running a business and I wouldn’t have known that if I hadn’t surrounded myself with so many female leaders. Another thing I think is very important to remember is don’t try and guess what your perfect career is ten years from now. Take each step to build and grow and learn what you want to do next. I never thought I would have started my own business, but when you hear the story from beginning to now, it makes sense. I just would have never said this is what I’d be doing ten years ago.
The YoPro Know's Takeaways:
– Don’t try and guess what your perfect career is ten years from now
– Work on campaigns and in politics early on in your career when you have the capacity to do so
– In a press job, everything you do is in the spotlight
– Networking is not a job
– Always pay it forward
Check it out: Be Clear, White House Internship Program, Denver, Colorado, Airbnb, Gina M. Raimondo
You can also follow Marie on Twitter!