Academy of Applied Politics shows practical side of campaigns, politics

If there's a sport that Louisianans enjoy more than football, it might be politics. And now, the LSU Manship School of Mass Communication's Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs offers a chance for LSU students and the general public to learn the business side of politics on a day-to-day, nuts-and-bolts basis through its Academy of Applied Politics.

Academy for Applied Politics

A nine-week program offering training in running political and public affairs campaigns, the Academy of Applied Politics has held classes on Wednesday evenings in the Journalism Building this spring semester. Students have had a chance to learn from a variety of speakers from both multiple walks of the process and political persuasions. Each week, the academy focuses on a different topic and hosts a guest or guests who are noted for their expertise in a particular area of political campaigning, from advanced media training, to polling metrics to even the lessons one can learn from a losing campaign effort.

Robert Mann, the director of the Reilly Center, organized the academy and is no stranger to the business of politics. Prior to joining the Manship School in 2006, he served as communications director to Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. He joined the governor's staff in 2004 after serving 17 years as state director and press secretary to U.S. Senator John Breaux of Louisiana. Prior to his service on Breaux's staff, he was press secretary to U.S. Sen. Russell Long of Louisiana. He was also press secretary for the 1990 re-election campaign of U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston of Louisiana, and communications director for the 2003 Blanco campaign.

"I really wish there had been a course like this when I was in school," Mann explained. "I think a lot of colleges don't have a course that can get this practical because a lot of political science departments aren't equipped to teach these skills. Most people will just go get involved in a campaign, and that's great. But this course can help the people who maybe aren't sure if this is really what they want to do."

Academy for Applied Politics
Robert Mann (left) is director of the LSU Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs, and organized the Academy of Applied Politics to “peel back the curtain” on the political and campaign process at a more practical level.

Academy for Applied Politics
The class, held on Wednesday evenings in the Manship School’s Journalism Building, featured nine speakers well-versed in the political process.

Academy for Applied Politics
Scott Hobbs, partner in The Political Firm, a Baton Rouge-based political advertising company, speaks about campaign advertising.

Academy for Applied Politics
Nineteen students and working professionals enrolled in this year’s course.

Academy for Applied Politics
Rob Aho, left, parter at BrabenderCox, a full-service ad agency based in Washington D.C. and specializing in political campaigns and crisis communications, reviewed advanced media training with academy class members.
Jim Zietz, Billy Gomila/LSU University Relations

Mann sought to create a course that would "peel back the curtain and remove some of the mystique" of the campaign process, and started the academy in the spring of 2012 in anticipation of the fall presidential races.

"You'd like for people to know what to expect," he said. "It's not all glamorous."

Nineteen students took part in the 2013 edition of the Academy of Applied Politics, and heard lectures from nine individuals well-versed in the political process, including:

Mann noted that two of his main goals for this year's academy were to impart the importance of fundamental media training, and how to make students better consumers of the political process.

"Media training, in particular, is constantly evolving," Mann explained. "It used to be that if a reporter called, they needed a response by an afternoon deadline. Now, their story may be going live on the web within a few minutes, and if you don't get your messaging out there, the other side will."

The course was open to both LSU students, as well as anybody interested in the subject matter. It even draws a few experienced political professionals.

"My expectations going into the Manship Academy of Applied Politics were that I would be exposed to the very latest in political communication strategy and what is working today out there on the ground in the campaign field," said Julie Baxter, an attorney for the Louisiana State Senate.

"I think Sasha Issenberg was probably my favorite speaker," Baxter continued. "He shared how the marriage between academic analysts and campaign consultants has literally turned the traditional political campaign on its head. His book 'The Victory Lab,' sub-titled 'The Secret Science of Winning Campaigns,' is a must-read for anyone interested in today's political battlefield."

"We've had candidates, lobbyists, professionals from other walks of life," said Mann. "It's a very interesting mix."

Jennifer Lovett, a 2010 LSU graduate currently working as the strategic partnerships director of the World Trade Center of New Orleans, noted that while she may not work in the political world, her job sometimes requires her to interact with those that do.

"I feel the most important takeaway for me personally from this class is to always be mindful of how your message is being received by the public, and to constantly strive to improve through data collection and monitoring public opinion," said Lovett.

Ryan Cross, a junior majoring in public relations, also serves as the communications director for the Republican Party of Louisiana.

"Adding tried and true tactics and strategies to my campaign toolbox are well worth the time and money to take this class," he explained. "Personally, I have enjoyed each speaker very much. They all come from various fields and have a great amount of expertise in Louisiana politics."

Mann noted that it was also important to him that the class provide a balance between the country's two major political parties as well.

"We really looked to have both sides well-represented in this class," he said. "I didn't want to exclude anybody, or have them think we're pushing one side or the other. We had consultants that have worked on both Republican and Democratic campaigns, from Mary Landrieu to Rick Santorum."

In the future, Mann envisions the academy growing into a course taught in both the fall and spring semesters, and becoming almost a continuing education-type of course for political professionals.

"Things are always changing," Mann said. "Just in the time I've been at LSU, social media has exploded in a way I couldn't have imagined. I would recommend the academy as a refresher course for things like this."

An integral part of LSU's Manship School of Mass Communication, the Reilly Center for Media & Public Affairs promotes greater understanding and cooperation between the academic world and practical politics. Its mission is to generate thoughtful programs, dialogue and research about mass communication and its many-faceted relationships with social, economic and political issues. The Reilly Center uses the intellectual muscle of the school's faculty to help address practical problems and advance good-government initiatives.

Evident in everything the center does is its commitment to strengthen and advance the Manship School's national leadership in media and politics. The center's agenda is diverse and fluid – from the annual John Breaux Symposium, which hosts national experts to discuss a topic that has received little or no attention, to conducting the annual Louisiana Survey, a vital resource for policymakers that tracks advancements and regressions of citizen attitudes about state issues and services. Its action-oriented and partnership-driven philosophy underscores the Reilly Center's dedication to tackling ideas and issues that explore the relationship of media and the public in democratic society.

For more information about the Manship School's Academy of Applied Politics, contact Tara Brown at 225-578-7312, or visit