Heard on the Hill

Digital Staffers Focus on Getting on Message

Democrats fighting to catch up to Republicans in numbers and training

GOP Labs brings in companies to train staffers in social media and digital platforms. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Breaking through the noise is a typical goal in communications, but this year, staffers just want to speak with one voice. They’re making coordination a priority within their parties.

That coordination is most obvious when multiple congressional offices blast out the same message with the same graphics on the same day. Whether it’s criticizing the Republican tax plan or celebrating Ronald Reagan’s birthday, it’s all from the same script.

Every morning, Democrats wake up to “Digital Dems Early Bird,” an email from leadership with guidance on what to tweet. The Republican House Conference circulates model posts for Facebook and Twitter. It also keeps a bank of them that staffers can browse whenever they’re looking for inspiration.

Why is all this necessary? It’s not just a bid for election-year unity. Congress knows it has to communicate in the social space, but not every office has the means to do so.

Right now, Republicans have the digital advantage over Democrats.

There are more than a dozen designated digital staffers working on the majority staff of committees, but only a handful on the minority side. Democrats are adding digital staff, but they’re not yet on par with Republicans.

The Republican Conference in the House has the resources from leadership to train staffers, both on committees and in personal offices. Some are dedicated digital directors, while others are communications directors handling digital work as part of their larger portfolios.

It also has GOP Labs, hosted by Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers’ office. Tech companies provide hands-on training for staffers, usually every recess week and sometimes on fly-out days.

Labs held in January were led by representatives from Google, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.

Early last year, a group of senior Democratic staffers wrote a report that they presented to leadership asking for the caucus to invest in more digital staff. They expressed a need for a House Democratic digital strategy director who could train others, as well as deal with vendors and contracts.

They also asked for more digital directors for committees and a physical space. GOP Labs has a dedicated space, which includes a video studio and room for training.

[New Staffer Association Wants to Unite Digital Democrats]

To push their party in that direction, a few other Democrats teamed up to create the Democratic Digital Communications Staff Association in 2017. They added a leadership team to kick off this year and expand their presence.

“Just having a pool of knowledgeable members of the staff association to communicate with and collaborate with is so helpful to … push messages,” said Dayanara Ramirez, the association’s communications director from Rep. Juan C. Vargas′ office.

The 90-member group works with Democrats in both the House and Senate while they wait for leadership to deliver more resources.

“As we grow as Americans, we’re realizing that voters are getting younger and younger and we have to adapt,” said Guy King, the association’s membership director from Rep. Bennie Thompson’s office. 

Samantha Brown from Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin’s office is the association’s digital director.

“As technology changes, we have to be able to adapt,” she said.

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