Liz Payne is the Communications Director in the Office of U.S. Congressman Scott Tipton, who represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District.
CSIC: Thanks for sitting down to talk to us, Liz. First – please describe your career path and your current position.
LP: After graduating Gettysburg College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Management and a minor in Writing, I received a Master’s degree from American University’s School of Communication in Public Communication. From 2012-2014, I worked as an Assistant Account Executive on Waggener Edstrom’s Public Affairs and Social Innovation teams. I left the private sector and began work on Capitol Hill as a Staff/Press Assistant for Congressman Markwayne Mullin (OK-02) in April 2014. I had the opportunity to transition to policy work in December 2014. As a Legislative Assistant, I took on a policy portfolio that included education, housing, social security, and health care policy, and I staffed Congressman Mullin on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. In April 2015, I took over as Communications Director for Congressman Mullin, and retained the dual role of Legislative Assistant and Communications Director until I accepted the position of Communications Director in Congressman Scott Tipton’s (CO-03) office in June 2016. I now direct all external communications for Mr. Tipton.
CSIC: Our students are all at the graduate level, working on master’s degrees in communications, marketing and journalism. What is your best piece of career advice for them?
LP: Be open to opportunities that may not precisely align with the career plan you have set for yourself. And, don’t be afraid to change course. It’s never too late to try something new.
CSIC: Great tip! What career accomplishment are you most proud of and why?
LP: Social media was a big priority for Congressman Mullin, and when I took over as Communications Director, my goal was to grow his social media following by at least 15 percent over the next four months. Using the knowledge I had gained working for clients in the private sector, I developed and implemented a combined paid and organic growth strategy and grew the Congressman’s social media following by 50 percent in the first four months and nearly 100 percent over the entire year. I am still very proud of that accomplishment.
CSIC: That’s an incredible success. What can someone do early in his/her social impact career to secure a position similar to yours?
LP: Follow federal policy, build your network on Capitol Hill, and take any opportunity that comes your way. Getting your foot in the door on Capitol Hill is really difficult. Sometimes it requires starting at the bottom – that’s what I did. I worked hard, showed my boss what I was capable of, and then I was able to move up quickly.
CSIC: What skills are necessary to work in communications on the Hill?
LP: First and foremost, attention to detail. Also, the capacity to understand complex policies and boil them down into concise talking points, the capability to write content on very tight deadlines, good judgement when talking to reporters, and the ability to remove yourself from Washington, DC, and focus on the issues that are important to constituents in your boss’s district.
CSIC: What is your go to source to learn about communication trends?
LP: These days I pay close attention to Congressional offices that are doing a good job of communicating with constituents through traditional and social media and other outreach efforts. I use the communicators in these offices as resources to find out how we may be underutilizing a communications channel or how we could do outreach differently. Right now, I’m also finding that LinkedIn provides a good platform for keeping up with communications trends. Most of my connections are in the communications field and will regularly share helpful articles.
CSIC: Do you have any tips for our students about getting a job on the Hill?
LP: Find out if there is anyone you know who works on the Hill. Ask them if they have time to grab coffee during a week when Congress is on recess, and take them up on any offer to connect you with other Hill staffers. Build your network and make it known that you are looking for a job. Most of the time, offices try to hire through referrals before posting job openings publicly. Maintain your relationships with people who have helped you in the past.
CSIC: Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us!