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Hill Climbers: Communications Director Is In Charge at Age 23

Maureen Shanahan attributes her new gig as communications director for Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) to being in the right place at the right time. The reality is a little more complicated for the staffer, and involves legwork, meticulous goal-setting and a splash of networking.

All of 23 years old, Shanahan has been laying the groundwork for her Capitol Hill rise for years. With Schiff, the Winter Park, Fla., native starts her second job on the Hill. Previously, Shanahan was press secretary for Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio).

“I think I’m one of the very few people who went to college knowing what they wanted to do and stayed with it,” said Shanahan, a 2009 graduate of the University of Florida, where she studied public relations and business.

College became a time for Shanahan to home in on how she could fit in to the communications world. As a sophomore, Shanahan spent a summer working in Chicago and Las Vegas for Resorts Casinos. She followed that experience with two more summer internships, one in New York City with Steve Madden’s marketing communications division and another as a sales and marketing representative with the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs.

Shanahan, who says she’s “always been a big fan of sports,” really found her groove with the Chiefs. “I got to do a lot of the prep work so when the players would go and do media engagements or interviews, I’d write the talking points for them and make sure that they were prepared,” said Shanahan, a high school varsity softball player. “We did a lot of Hispanic outreach because there’s a huge Hispanic population in Kansas City. That was one of the ways that I really found out that I was interested in working with a diverse set of constituents or target audiences.”

After wrapping up her undergraduate career, she headed to an internship on the House Homeland Security Committee.

[IMGCAP(1)]”Working on a committee, I think you better understand some of the process and research it takes to put together what your boss is involved with,” she said.

After just a few months, Hill work became the goal. And it didn’t take long either. Shanahan’s first “right place, right time” moment came in July with Sutton.

“Congresswoman Sutton was looking for a press secretary, and I obviously was looking for a job and wanted to stay involved in press and we clicked,” Shanahan said. “I learned so much there. … I got the feeling that she was really here because she wanted to help people in her hometown.”

But after just nine months on that job, Shanahan’s interest was piqued when she stumbled across the press opening in Schiff’s office. Shanahan said, “I thought, ‘Los Angeles County? That could be really interesting.’ That’s a very dynamic and tough media market, so you really have to get creative when pitching and be persuasive.”

Shanahan again threw her hat in the ring at the right place, right time.

Now in her third week on the job, Shanahan said she has “nothing but positive things” to say about both Schiff and the lawmaker’s staff and that she’s met the challenges that have come with the transition. In the future, the staffer hopes to couple increased outreach to California’s 29th district, particularly to the Armenian and Chinese-American populations, with greater new media use.

Aside from learning the dynamics of a new district, Shanahan said the transition to Schiff has challenged her legislatively. Schiff is a member of the Judiciary and Appropriations committees. He also sits on the Intelligence Committee.

“There’s a lot that he can’t talk about there, and that consumes a lot of his time,” she said.

Shanahan also works as staff director for the Congressional Caucus for Freedom of the Press, of which Schiff is a co-chairman.

Shanahan still manages to stay plugged in to Florida. She frequently travels back to the Sunshine State to visit family and her two dogs. Shanahan also serves as a committee member in fundraising and sponsorship for the Special Olympics of Florida and is an alumna mentor for the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

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