Washington Insider 2.0
Shana Glickfield’s Beekeeper Group helps organizations influence public policy.
It’s election time. Tension grips our nation’s capital.
“My friends on Facebook who work on campaigns are making jokes about the weight they’re losing and sleep they’re not getting,” says Shana Glickfield, 36, a former Detroiter who has carved out a career in Washington as a social media consultant. “Between Election Day and inauguration, jobs here are a game of musical chairs.”
While at the center of the political action, she’s immune to the job uncertainty shared by many whose livelihood depends on who wins in November. Glickfield is a creator and one of five partners in the Beekeeper Group, which describes itself as a trans-partisan firm.
“Most of our clients are associations that want to stay neutral,” she says. “So often in Washington, once your issue is identified as left or right, it becomes a real head-to-head battle. A lot of policy issues are non-partisan. That’s where we come in.”
The company’s clients include the American Heart Association and the ALS Association as well as telecom companies. “I’ve worked with Verizon, helping its public policy department navigate social media, not to sell more phones or get more subscribers, but to influence policy issues affecting the company. We work in the same capacity with the National Association of Broadcasters.”
To avoid being typecast, the firm does not sell its services to candidates.
The Beekeeper name was selected to capture the company’s approach. “It’s a new model of grassroots advocacy,” says Glickfield. “The concept is that your advocates are already communicating online, or in other words, your bees are already buzzing. The role we play is to get all those bees together in a hive and collect the honey and deliver it to Congress.”
How clearly someone understands the concept depends in part on where you live.
“When I describe our company to potential clients in Washington, a light bulb goes on, and they get it right away,” she says. “But when I try to describe it to my parents, they say, ‘What is it again that you do?’“
Shana grew up in Huntington Woods, attended Temple Emanu-El and went to Berkley High School. She says a senior class trip to Washington inspired her career. “I loved it. I wanted to go back,” she remembers. “I knew I wanted to be where laws were being made.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in environmental policy from Michigan State University. She credits Jewish connections for much of her career development.
“After I got my law degree, I began working for a public affairs firm that was developing a social media department,” she says. “The company founder was Jewish, and he took me under his wing. He was very connected in his synagogue and active in the Jewish community. He’s still a mentor of mine. I wouldn’t have had the same career experiences without that Jewish connection.”
Three of the five Beekeeper Group partners are Jewish. “One is Jewish Australian. Another married a Jewish woman in May and is in the process of converting,” she said. “We often do Jewish holidays together.”
While the company does not work for candidates, it keeps a close eye on how they are using digital tools. “Our clients see what the campaigns are doing, then want to do the same for advocacy,” she says. “After the last election, everyone wanted to do what President Obama did with social media and mobile communications to organize. We stay on top of the trends.”
Glickfield describes the current state of social media in Washington as “the end of the beginning.” Candidates are going beyond Twitter and Facebook and exploring alternative tools. “Some are doing Google hangouts, where they jump onto a video screen and select a few people to take questions from, and invite everyone to watch,” she says. “President Obama did a town hall through Reddit, which has a younger demographic. Both of the candidates are using Instagram, a popular photo-sharing tool. The idea is to tap into less mainstream opportunities that still have a large base.”
She noted that the latest presidential debates set new records on tweets per second. “It’s a two-screen experience for many people today,” she says. “They’re watching the debate and having a conversation about it at the same time.”
While it’s currently crunch time in Washington for those working on campaigns, it’s preparation time for the Beekeeper Group. “A lot of our clients are getting prepared for a new Congress, no matter the outcome,” she says. “The first year of a new term is when most policymaking gets done. People are not worried about campaigning, and there’s a new freshman class that needs information on your issues.”
Glickfield says her Judaism has an impact on her work life.
“We empower people’s voices to be heard on Capitol Hill,” she says. “I believe my Jewish grounding is why I’m hyper-aware of how communications come across. Social media can be dangerous. Everything’s in real time. I’m sensitive about what I put out there, who it’s going to affect and how.”
In her spare time, she’s involved with several charities, including the Awesome Foundation, which pulls together 10 leaders from different aspects of the community. “We get together once a month, we each put in $100 and give a $1,000 grant to something that’s awesome and benefits our community,” she says. “We’ve funded a farmers’ market in a low-income area and a re-creation of the boulder scene from Indiana Jones as a form of public art.”
She’s also on the L’Enfant Society Steering Committee of the Trust for the National Mall, which lobbies for support for the park and does private fundraising.
“I’m extremely passionate about the city,” she says. “What’s unique about Washington is that just about nobody is from here. It’s the city of all the kids who sat in the front row in class.”
Her office is just two blocks from the White House.
“It’s a unique experience.”
By Allan Nahajewski, Contributing Writer