Is Summer already over? Jeez, time flies when you’re having fun, and honestly, our summer interning with Sterling was exactly that, fun. Of course, it wasn’t always fun, but we consider ourselves lucky because these past three months we’ve had the opportunity to work with some amazing people and immerse ourselves in the world of political campaign consulting.

So, what exactly is it like working as an intern at Sterling during the crazy mid-term election season? George and I did some thinking, and we settled on three phrases to help paint a picture of our Sterling internship experience.

Expect the Unexpected

When it comes to the world of political campaign consulting, expect the unexpected, is easily one of our biggest takeaways. Mark Pischea, managing partner at Sterling, said it best when he told us, “something will always go wrong, but what separates successful campaigns and unsuccessful campaigns is the ability to adapt when something does go wrong.” This lesson became clear during our internship. You can have the most solid and well-thought-out plan in place, but there will always be some obstacle or event that you must adapt to. For us, we saw firsthand how the fundraising team headed by Heather Lombardini, senior director of Fundraising, constantly found a way to raise the extra dollars that were necessary for our candidates’ campaigns, even though they weren’t accounted for in the initial plans.

You think You Know Politics? Think again.

Interning at Sterling opened our eyes to the complexity of running a political campaign. Denise DeCook, senior director of Sterling’s political team, captured this sentiment best when she told us, “running a political campaign is a lot like running a business,” and man, oh man, was she right. Political campaigns are so much more than yard signs and campaign literature. They are full-fledged operations consisting of various elements that include, but are not limited to, having a finance team, hiring somebody to manage the day-to-day ground operations, and organizing extensive volunteer networks. All of these different aspects are vital to the success of political campaigns.

The Small Stuff Matters

This last phase is where George and I come in. We’ve come to appreciate and realize the importance of the “small stuff” – which also turns out to be some of the most important aspects of political campaigns. A good chunk of our summer was spent running Sterling’s AV Chase program. What is an AV Chase program, you ask? We must admit, reluctantly, we had the same question. Simply put, there are hundreds of thousands of voters in Michigan who request absentee ballots, allowing voters to cast their votes ahead of election day. Our job was to analyze the list of absentee voters for each of our candidates, then label and stamp specialized postcards. The program had a singular purpose – make sure our candidate’s postcards were the last thing perspective voters saw before they filled out their ballots and mailed them back to their local clerks.

We labeled and stamped THOUSANDS of AV postcards (just our luck- this Detroit News article covers how election officials have seen a 50% increase in requests for absentee ballots compared to numbers in 2014). As we learned more about political campaigns, especially at the state level, we came to realize just how vital this program would be to our candidates because these races can often be decided by just a few hundred votes or less.

So, as we sit back and reflect on our work running Sterling’s AV Chase program, we are confident that although it’s not the biggest or most glorious part of a political campaign, it can be the difference between a candidate winning or losing an election.
Interning at Sterling during one of its busiest times of the year has provided us with a unique and valuable experience. No matter what path we end up pursuing, we know that the lessons are applicable to any career or future venture.

George Khoury and Zach Serzo are interns at The Sterling Corporation, an Lambert company.
Interested in reading more about public affairs internships? – Check out this post by Jackson Keith (a former intern who is now on staff at The Sterling Corporation): “The Benefit of Internships and Political Exposure.”