Gail Gitcho is a partner at McKay-Gitcho Strategies, a firm she co-founded with Ken McKay.
C&E: You got your start with the late Florida Rep. Clay Shaw. Tell us about that.
Gail Gitcho: Clay Shaw was where I feel like I really cut my teeth because it was a competitive district in south Florida in 2004. He was on the Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the Social Security subcommittee. He was a big deal on Capitol Hill and he has this race. That was the race that made me fall in love and stay in love with this kind of work. In 2006, Congressman Shaw lost in a wave of Republican defeat, but he will always be my favorite boss. He passed away Sept. 10, 2013 and I still think about him every day and miss him every day. He was just that kind of an influence on not just me, but everybody who worked for him. I went on to work for Mitt Romney’s campaign in 2007-08, until he dropped out. And then went to work for John McCain where I was a regional communications director.
C&E: What did you learn from Shaw?
Gitcho: Just the way that he interacted with people who he was not on the same side with. That was really a good lesson. He was so courteous to them, even when they weren’t courteous to him. He was easy to deal with. You just learn a lot when you’re 24 and you’re working on the Hill. You have to learn the issues and learn how it plays in a political sense. I believe that’s the longest job I’ve ever had too. I worked for him for three years.
C&E: Tell us about the firm you launched with Ken McKay.
Gitcho: I bring the communications experience from three presidential campaigns and Ken brings the strategy and the political understanding. We hope to continue to work with campaigns as general and communications consultants. We’re really interested in statewide races. We also hope to do some corporate advocacy work in the private sector on ballot initiatives, ballot measures, and crisis communications. We’re going to pitch ourselves to a wide variety of people and industries.
C&E: Is producing TV advertising next?
Gitcho: I think so. That’s something to come down the road. There’s a lot of things that you have to figure out before we get to that point. We just started. We’re trying to build [the new firm] as quickly as we can.
C&E: What’s step two after you hang the shingle?
Gitcho: Right now we are building the firm and taking meetings. We have a lot of friends in the same business.
C&E: How has campaign communication changed in the last 10 years?
Gitcho: When I started, Twitter wasn’t around. The 24-hour news cycle wasn’t around. I remember talking to George Stephanopoulos in 2012—he was a communications director decades ago—and he used to send out press releases either by mail or by fax. And I remember thinking, “How in the world could you create a story just with that limited resource?” It’s increasingly important to have a communications strategy to implement in this kind of a news cycle. If you get into the rhythm of this news cycle you’re able to find success.
C&E: A few campaign professionals have suggested the traditional news media isn’t as useful any longer to campaign communications. Do you agree with that?
Gitcho: I would respectfully disagree with that. It takes all mediums to get the message across. You want to get as much saturation all over the different mediums as possible, whether you’re doing a political campaign or some kind of advocacy. I don’t think that any of them are irrelevant anymore.
C&E: But hasn’t social media reduced the influence of traditional media?
Gitcho: The press secretaries working in small congressional districts still have to work with the local penny saver, because it’s a means to getting their message out. Maybe their district has a senior population that relies on that particular publication. That’s where these smaller publications are still relevant. But sure, it’s a whole new ballgame when it comes to the digital opportunities that you have to get your message out.
C&E: Has being based outside of Washington, D.C. helped your career?
Gitcho: The con is that you’re not in D.C., but I think the pro is that you’re not in D.C. You’re able to understand the mood of the country and achieve this balance in your life, if that’s what you’re seeking. You can do the political work, but you don’t have to live inside the Beltway. That’s the trade-off.
C&E: How can communications professionals keep up with the flow of information in the digital age?
Gitcho: It’s difficult. It’s really difficult. I remember during the Romney campaign, it didn’t stop until 11 o’clock at night, and then when you woke up at 5:30 a.m. it was still coming. Even though the job is a finite amount of time, the job can’t be your whole life. You have to find a balance. You have to do things for yourself. Whether it’s finding a hobby or exercising or making sure that you spend time with your family.
C&E: Did you ever have a safety concern during the presidential campaigns you worked?
Gitcho: I’ve never experienced that. I have been criticized once for a wardrobe choice, but that’s been the only crime.
C&E: You went from Mitt Romney’s campaign to John McCain’s campaign during the 2008 primary cycle. Do you have advice for switching campaigns mid-primary?
Gitcho: There’s definitely a benefit to getting in on the ground floor early with some of these campaigns, because you’ll be able to rise up and continue working on the campaign through the general. A lot of folks that are just starting out ask me, “Who do I choose?” The answer to that is you have to figure out who you believe in. It’s not just who’s going to give you the job that’s going to last the longest, because no matter what it’s only going to be a matter a months. Number two, you have to ask, “Where am I going to have the most fun and learn the most?” You have to make sure that you take the team into consideration as well.
C&E: Do you want to do another presidential?
Gitcho: The presidential cycle is always very appealing, but I don’t think I would do it on the day-to-day as I have in the past. It’s certainly an option worth exploring in this new capacity.
C&E: Do female consultants bring a unique perspective to campaigns?
Gitcho: Oh, sure. I wouldn’t be able to share any stark examples but I’m sure that’s the case because there are differences between men and women—political and otherwise.