Firms see benefit of election campaign leave

In the world of agency public affairs, it is almost a given that senior practitioners will have worked on an election campaign, whether at the congressional, Senate, or presidential level.

In the world of agency public affairs, it is almost a given that senior practitioners will have worked on an election campaign, whether at the congressional, Senate, or presidential level.

So it's not surprising that public affairs pros will often choose to take a break from agency life to temporarily return to the campaign trail. And firms typically accommodate such requests, knowing that the campaign experience can benefit not only the employee, but the firm, as well.

Because of Federal Election Commission laws, PR pros technically can't be employed by a firm while working on an election campaign. So many PR firms offer an employee a leave of absence.

Ranny Cooper, president of Weber Shandwick's public affairs practice, says the agency will allow employees to take a combination of vacation time and/or a leave of absence, which usually ranges from two to six weeks.

"We find it's great for the employees in that it keeps them engaged and politically active," she says. "It really energizes them. They come back [with] wonderful stories to share with the staff."

Laura Smith, EVP and HR director for Edelman, US and Canada, says the firm grants up to six weeks leave of absence, plus two weeks vacation time, most often for mid-level staffers who have been with the firm for at least two years.

"We try to be flexible," she says. "If we can make it work, we want to. We want to keep them [after they've finished the campaign]."

Mike Lake, chairman of Burson-Marsteller's Southwest region, says such a leave can be highly beneficial for the agency.

"We encourage [staffers] to participate in campaigns, Capitol Hill, or state legislatures because it helps them become more rounded professionals to better serve our clients," he says. "They get to learn about the electoral process; they get to build relationships and contacts that become valuable to us once they either come back or go on to other opportunities."

WS' Cooper adds that for junior staffers, working on an election campaign provides good training that can then be applied to their efforts at the firm once they return.

"A lot of new communications initiatives come out of political campaigns, so often they'll come back with new grassroots programs," she notes. "They'll come back to the office with new ideas and new communications techniques that they've learned that we can then share with our clients. So it's kind of a win-win for all of us."

While firms rarely bring election campaign opportunities to employees, Lake says that when approached by staffers who are interested in working for a particular campaign, he'll talk to his contacts to help make a connection.

And a résumé that lists an election campaign stint is always appealing to those looking to hire.

"Campaign experience has been an attractive attribute because campaigns demand so much," says Gene Reineke, COO of Hill & Knowlton US. "It's a great training ground for the agency world, particularly in the public affairs arena. It's a big plus."

Key points:

Employees who leave to work on an election campaign can share experiences with coworkers

Campaign work can prepare junior-level pros for the agency world

New-media tactics are frequently used first on the campaign trail, providing employees with valuable training opportunities

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