By Caroline Silva
Brian Robinson, Grady alumni and Former Chief of Staff of Communications for Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, joined PRSSA Tuesday night to discuss political communications. Robinson graduated from UGA in 1997 with a Newspaper Journalism degree, then went to work for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for five years. After getting his feet wet in a political campaign in Georgia, Robinson relocated to Washington, D.C, where he worked for seven years under two different congressmen. During his time on the Hill, social media was just being introduced to the world and the digital landscape for communications was rapidly changing. He learned to navigate the changing press landscape very quickly, although he believes that the traditional news media is still very relevant today when working in campaign communications.
In 2010, Robinson left the Hill to move back to his home state of Georgia to work on an under-dog gubernatorial campaign in Georgia. He joined now-Governor Nathan Deal’s campaign in the middle of a negative news story, and Deal was in fourth place going into the primaries. Robinson realized immediately that Deal had a calming presence to him, and that he was a fantastic communicator on television, and Georgians needed to see it. Robinson decided that the only way they were going to win this race was by telling a counter-narrative to the stories that were out in the media, and by getting Deal on television spots as much as possible. For four months, Robinson spent every day on the phone with the media, combatting negative coverage and spinning the narrative of his candidate. Eventually, they were able to drive out the negative narrative around Deal and went on to win the general election. Robinson gave the following advice about media training a candidate or client: “If you work in politics and you send your candidate out in front of the cameras, you have to make sure they are confident. Insecurities show through on TV.”
Gov. Deal went on to hire Robinson as his Chief of Staff of Communications after winning the election, and Robinson worked in Deal’s office for a number of years. Recently, Robinson left Deal’s office to start his own consulting business, where he has worked on countless campaigns since, advising his clients on communications strategy, media training, writing earned media content, speeches and any other form of communication a campaign requires. One of his current clients is Georgia’s Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, who is now running for Governor in 2018.
“This industry is about understanding your audience and speaking to them with the strongest arguments,” said Robinson. Robinson is poll-driven when it comes to talking about topics that interest the voter. He always relies on data rather than his own intuition when deciding which strategy to implement. He says that you cannot assume that how you feel about a topic, or how you think a topic should be presented, is the way that a majority of the voters feel about a topic. You must rely on research and data to back up your arguments, and to know how to present your arguments, where to present them, and through which mediums to present them.
Robinson emphasized that if you have any interest in working in politics, you need to work on a campaign, no matter the size of it. “There’s no campaign too small,” said Robinson. “It’s honestly about getting to know people who do what we do. If you lose one race, that doesn’t mean you’re done — you’ll get picked up somewhere else and keep going,” said Robinson. He closed with this, “If you’re good at communications, you’ll always have a job.”
Robinson was asked to teach the inaugural cohort of the Grady-SPIA Public Affairs Communication Certificate back in 2016, and he comes back to UGA to guest lecture frequently in the certificate classes. If there’s one piece of advice that he always gives his students on effective communications, it’s this: “Have a message, and drive it!”