Ryann DuRant (BA 2011 in Communication, Presidential Scholar in Dance)
Communications Director at the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, DC
Describe your current job role.
As a Communications Director for a Member of Congress, I create and implement my boss’s message, and I handle all day-to-day communications and press operations. Since I work in the House of Representatives where staffs are small, I am a one-woman press shop managing all social media accounts, writing speeches and talking points, prepping my boss, sending out weekly e-newsletters, coordinating interviews, pitching media outlets, and speaking on the record on behalf of the Congressman. But what I most enjoy is the analytical and strategic side of political communications – figuring out what we need to say and to whom we need to say it.
What professional experiences did you have prior to landing in your current role?
I love dancing, but I also love communications. After spending my post-graduation summer dancing professionally, I decided to start my Hill career. I worked my way up from Scheduler/Office Manager to Press Assistant/Legislative Correspondent to Communications Director.
In addition to my work on the Hill, I serve as the Secretary on the Executive Board for a 501(c)3 charity called Taste of the South. Taste of the South is made up of 13 southern states, and we raise over half a million dollars each year for charities across the South. Every spring, we host a black-tie gala, affectionately known as “Hill Prom,” with over 2,000 guests.
Tell us about an interesting project that you’ve worked on recently.
Congressional districts are made up of thousands of people who come from different backgrounds and represent different interests. However, it is extremely important that my boss is able to communicate to our constituents in both a broad sense on legislation that affects everyone and in a specialized way to individual coalitions or groups of constituents. Recently, I developed a strategic communication outreach plan that involved three “waves” of outreach to four different issue groups: e-newsletter emails, “snail mail” letters, and glossy mailers.
For example, we have two Air Force Bases in our district, so I sent an e-newsletter, a letter, and a glossy mailer spaced out over a six-month period to thousands of constituents around the bases because people in defense communities want to know what a Member of the House Armed Services Committee is doing for their base. In its simplest form, political communication is about marketing a product or selling a brand, and your buyers are all interested in different facets of that product. It was rewarding to get feedback from constituents who were thankful for the information or who were able to better understand what my boss is doing on behalf of his district.
What do you know now that you wish you had known about being a working professional?
Networking. It is central to everything, especially in DC, where it is not enough to simply make a new contact, but it is important to keep that contact in your network.
Speak clearly. I cannot stress enough how much preparation is essential when communicating in the office space. At Wake Forest, I learned that it was not all about me, and no one wanted to listen to me pontificate about some ill-conceived idea. You have to listen. And what you say matters, but how you say it matters more.
Peer to peer mentoring. Often, we are so worried about “networking up” that we forget we can learn a great deal from our peers. After all, in ten years, the peers we have now will be our business contacts later.
How did Wake Forest prepare you for the world of work?
Admittedly, I let fear dictate a lot of what I did, and a lot of what I didn’t do, in my first two years at Wake Forest: fear of not being as smart as my classmates, fear of not being the best dancer in the company, fear of not being as social, as funny, or as cool as my friends. It was not until my junior year that I relaxed into what Wake Forest had to offer me, and in turn, what I had to offer Wake Forest. I realized that I did not have to be my fellow classmates – I already was one of them. I feel confident that this could have only happened in our unique Wake Forest space where I was surrounded by supporters who celebrated my differences, dance teachers who never let me slack off on perfecting my technique or my creative process, and professors who understood that just because you’re quiet does not mean you do not know the material.
I learned how to capitalize on my fear and turn it into motivation, which has been vital in my post-graduation life. In a city like Washington, DC, so much of one’s success is dependent upon how much that individual takes advantage of opportunities. Wake Forest pushed me to be the best version of myself because I was too scared not to be. I was surrounded by people I admired and respected, and from whom I learned a great deal about life. Had I not grown and matured in a place like Wake Forest, I would not be where I am today.
Wake Forest also excels on an academic stage, but with so much emphasis placed academic fields like Business or the Sciences, Scales is a sometimes forgotten building behind Davis Field to those students who didn’t spend the majority of their lives as Deacons there. But our arts programs at Wake Forest are truly top notch. I am eternally grateful for my time in the Wake Forest Dance Department. It was in the studio that I learned how to breakdown problems introspectively and push the boundaries of my creativity. I learned how to think analytically and see things with a different lens. These lessons I could have only mastered at the barre, and I am forever indebted to my dance professors at Wake Forest. Go take an entry level dance class – you’ll have fun, I promise!
What advice would you give to current Wake Forest students and/or young alumni who are about to start their first professional full-time job?
Humility. In your first job – even if it’s an awesome job way beyond your years of experience – there will come a time when you will have to do a task that is “beneath you.” Do this task with the same vigor as you do everything else, accept the task with grace, and never have your superior have to ask you to do anything twice.
I think college students are so concerned with getting career advice that they forget to get general life advice, too. Most major life events happen after you graduate (marriage, buying a house, having a family member pass away). You are starting a completely new chapter of life that will look a lot different from the past four years, so find a mentor who can coach you through life decisions and give you honest advice on questions that will have nothing to do with your career (Should I move to a city for a significant other? What part of a city should I live in?).
Have you been mentored by anyone or served as a mentor in your professional field since entering the workforce? If so, what impact has that had on you?
I am fortunate enough to be in the Wake Forest Alumni-to-Alumni mentoring program here in Washington, DC. I deeply admire my mentor on both a professional and personal level, and it is so important that I have someone who “gets” the Wake Forest experience. She understands where I am coming from and where I want to go. Making changes for the better and forming life-long habits can be daunting, so we are currently working through a “Wellness Program” where I am focusing on one facet of professional/personal life each month.