Colleen Flanagan, CLAS ’03, is doing exactly what she prepared for when she studied political communication at UConn. Now Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s communications director, she has also served on the communications staffs of former Connecticut Sen. Christopher Dodd and North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, and as communications director of the Connecticut Democratic party.
As the governor’s communications director and spokesperson, you must have to think on your feet nearly 24/7. What prepared you for that?
I don’t think anything can truly prepare you to be on call 24/7 – it’s definitely a trial-by-fire experience. But I’ve worked on campaigns and for other elected officials, so that certainly helped. Long hours and the intensity of the job can be difficult, but when you’re working for someone like Gov. Malloy, who always works harder than any of his staff, it’s definitely easier.
One minute you are being asked about snow removal, another state employee concessions, the budget, bridge work, railway cars, electricity rates – just about any topic. How do you keep yourself informed of all the issues?
Each and every morning, two very dedicated press office staffers compile state and national clips and send them to all of the Governor’s staff. I have a number of different Google alerts set up so I’m constantly getting emails about new stories that have posted, and I’ve signed up for just about every breaking news alert there is – my e-mail inbox is a little overwhelming! I also take time throughout the day to check local websites and blogs to see what’s breaking through, too. Instead of being an expert on all the issues – it’s just not possible – I try to dabble in a lot of them. I’ve been lucky to work with some incredibly knowledgeable and smart people who know specific issues inside and out – I make sure to ask them any questions I might have in advance of getting back to reporters or the Governor.
The news cycle never ends these days and social media, television, radio, and print, not to mention bloggers, want answers. Do you ever feel impatient when the media is asking the same question over and over? How do you handle that?
I have a very healthy respect for the job that reporters do, and I hope they would say the same about me. I really make an effort to get people the information for which they are asking – or at least point them to the person who can – in a very short amount of time. Am I always successful? No. And are reporters always satisfied with the information I give them? No. But I try. I don’t always like the questions I get from reporters and bloggers, but I appreciate the fact that it’s their job to ask them.
Any tips on keeping up your energy level when crises occur?
Diet Pepsi and deep breaths. It’s really easy to get consumed by one crisis after another, and it’s good to remind myself that this is a marathon, not a sprint. Plus, when a crisis does occur, you need to be at the top of your game and ready to think, strategize, and act immediately.
I’m sure that both experience and education helped prepare you for your job. Can you comment on that, and especially on how a liberal arts education prepared you for your job?
I began majoring in journalism at UConn because I thought I wanted to be a reporter. But I always had a fascination with and an interest in politics, too. I designed my own major through the individualized major program, focused on political communication. This enabled me to take classes toward my individualized major in a number of departments – political science, journalism, communication sciences, and sociology – to find out what I really enjoyed. After I completed an internship at Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro’s office in New Haven and at the State Department in Washington, both of which I was urged to do by my professors, I knew I definitely wanted to pursue things further.
How do you spend the limited amount of down time you have? Any favorite Connecticut spots you can recommend?
I’m lucky that my boyfriend also works in politics, so he understands better than most the time constraints based on my job. Even though it may seem like you have no extra time, I think it’s really important to make time for yourself. I like to bake, and read things that have nothing to do with my job. We live in Middletown and it’s truly an untapped treasure. There are so many restaurants on Main Street – from Thai food to Mexican to great pizza and an upscale wine bar. Having grown up in Milford, I’m also partial to the beach.