As director of communications and deputy chief of staff for Washington D.C. Councilmember David Catania (I-At-Large), SMPA alumnus Brendan Williams-Kief (PCM ’05) manages media relations, drafts press releases, coordinates press conferences, speaks with reporters, and pitches stories. When asked to summarize his job position in one sentence, however, Williams-Kief laughs, “Well, a huge part of my job is just talking!”
That Williams-Kief majored in political communications as an undergraduate is no surprise. After taking a course in broadcast journalism his sophomore year, however, he decided to explore a career in media. With the help of his professor, Mark Feldstein, Williams-Kief landed an internship at Washington, DC’s NBC 4. He worked as a production assistant the fall of his junior year, moved to weekend assignment editor the fall of his senior year, and, after he graduated, began working full time at the station. He eventually worked his way to manager of the editorial news desk for the flagship newscast, the 11:00 pm news. Despite enjoying his time at NBC 4, however, his love of politics was pushing him to embrace a new challenge.
“After having lived in the District for so long, I started seeing myself as a local,” says Williams-Kief, who hails from the small town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “Obviously, I had been covering local news and living here for many years. The whole odd reality of being a DC resident without legislative voting rights, it really made me want to get involved in the political process.”
In March of 2011, he accepted the position of director of communications for Catania, a five-term councilmember who most notably led the charge for same-sex marriage in the District. Williams-Kief works with Councilmember Cantania to enumerate legislative and budget priorities and develop a strategic plan that would be helpful in advance that agenda. Immediately, Williams-Kief saw the benefit of his political communication degree.
“The School of Media and Public Affairs gave me such a strong foundation,” he explains. “At SMPA, I learned how strategic communication sets the stage for political reality and how to discuss issues in a way that shapes perspectives. Now I find myself using concepts I learned from Professor Livingston and Professor Gross—priming, framing, agenda setting—every day at work. My education informs everything from my press releases to talking with reporters, and I don’t think I could have received that instruction anywhere else.”
These strategic communication concepts have been very useful for Williams-Kief, especially in such a complex environment as Washington, D.C.
“The District has a diverse population, so it’s vitally important to understand how messaging will affect these different groups,” explains Williams-Kief. “You also have to keep in mind that what is done in the city can make waves nationally because we are the nation’s capital. That unique dual reality makes working in DC politics really special.”
Williams-Kief speaks fondly about his time at GW—and not just because he met his wife, Kara, on campus in front of Thurston Hall.
“I’m proud to be an alumnus of the school,” says Williams-Kief. “It gave me the jumpstart I needed. I am where I am because of SMPA, and I’m pretty glad with the way things have turned out.”