A chance meeting while working on an absentee ballot program for an Ohio issue campaign put Samantha Osborne on a D.C. career path that led back to her home town.
Osborne’s encounter with Michael Beach would lead to a position at the GOP digital firm Targeted Victory, but sandwiched in were gigs as a manager of a Wisconsin state Senate race during the recall days of 2011 and and as a deputy field director for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential.
Now, Osborne is the director of digital operations for the Republican National Convention. If leading the most tech-focused RNC to date wasn’t pressure enough, Osborne is doing it on a stage set in her hometown. The Cleveland native spoke to C&E about what we can expect to see July 18-21, the threat of hackers and how a contested convention could unfold before the largest audience the party has ever had.
C&E: How is your approach to digital different this year?
Osborne: This is the first time where digital strategy is driving every aspect of convention. Nothing matters if it's not connected. Digital really makes that connection. We're going to be livestreaming and multi-media producing more content than ever before.
C&E: So digital hasn’t been as much of a focus in previous conventions?
Osborne: It hasn't been. That's what makes this convention different.
C&E: What's the added benefit to this digital focus?
Osborne: It's going to be one of the best viewing experiences. Putting digital first allows us to get to different audiences to engage with the convention and view it in different ways. Audiences are online. We have to make sure they're part of the convention by bringing the convention to them.
C&E: It’s looking like it’ll be a contested convention in July, has that changed your calculus?
Osborne: For me being the digital director, that's not something that I'm focused on. We'll see where it goes the next few months. We're building a digital infrastructure. Whoever the nominee is, [our goal] is to make sure the infrastructure fits them.
C&E: Has hacking been a concern?
Osborne: Yes, we need to be prepared for that. We're taking every precaution. We have a [cybersecurity] director and a senior advisor involved to make sure everything’s secure and we have the resources to manage that should something happen. There's always been a threat, we just need to be prepared for it.
C&E: What's the takeaway from the RNC going to be for down-ballot candidates?
Osborne: I just hope they go home with the understanding that digital needs to be a part of their campaign and it's something we're investing in. Technology compliments everything. It should touch every aspect of campaigns.
C&E: How many digital staffers do you have this year?
Osborne: This is the first time that digital's been its own separate department. That's step one. We started at me and one other [staffer]. Between [all departments] we're going up to over 100.
C&E: What’s it like to be back in your hometown for an event like this?
Osborne: It's great to come home and work on this. Cleveland's on the rise. The convention is a part of that. I knew I had to be a part of it when they announced that [Cleveland] was where the convention was going to be. This has been one of the coolest things I've done in my career. This is really personal for me. I want to make sure it's the best, most digitally focused convention it can be.
C&E: What’s your advice for younger operatives who want to follow in your footsteps?
Osborne: Don't stop learning: There's always new technology out there. Follow the trends. Don't be afraid to do something new or try something new; be adaptable. Don't be afraid to get your hands dirty. Try to understand every aspect of what you're doing. It's all useable, it's all doable. It's just having the will to learn.
C&E: Some old-school consultants worry the new digital generation isn’t well rounded enough, do you agree?
Osborne: There's some truth to that. You should go out there and get some real-world experience and work on the ground. It gives you a better background, it gives you more experience and you'll come back to a firm with a better understanding of how this all works together. It helped shape me, and my background and got me the position I'm in right now.