William Shelley ’14 wasn’t looking for just any internship last summer, which worked out well because Brad Crone wasn’t look for just any intern.
“It’s a working internship. It’s not running the Xerox and going to get coffee. It’s a real, live experience where you’re working with real, live projects with real, live campaigns,” Crone, founder of the Raleigh, N.C.-based Campaign Connections, said. “The hand grenades have pins in them. Usually my internships are with State and with Carolina and with Duke because they’re all local, but William came up and really did a very good job.”
Located in a plain brick office building behind a Harris Teeter just outside the beltway, northwest of downtown, Campaign Connections doesn’t make a big deal of itself. That’s because the political consulting agency is in the business of making a big deal out of its clients, which include a slew of corporations and non-federal political candidates in North Carolina. “When people ask me what I do, I tell ’em we solve problems,” Crone says.
That is exactly what Shelley, a history major set to graduate in December, was asked to do—without causing any new ones himself.
“The pressure was different from any sort of academic pressure that I’ve had, and it was a good thing, I believe,” Shelley said. “In the office you couldn’t really have a day go by where you slacked off, whereas in class—while obviously it’s not encouraged—if you don’t prepare for a particular day of class you’re not going to get chewed out by your professor necessarily whereas if you show up for work unprepared your boss is going to let you know.”
Especially this one. Crone is a burly man whose words flow in a soft eastern North Carolina drawl, but his approach is direct.
“William came in in the middle of June, and I think I scared him to death the first day be showed up for work because I was having a meltdown. We were having a client presentation, and my two full-time staff people had not gotten prepared so he walked into a whirlwind. But he did alright,” Crone said. “I’m a tough guy to work for. I tell everybody that, because I expect to hold people to the same standard I set.”
Shelley was tasked first with learning how to do proper research before sharing that research with clients. He wrote press releases and gave presentations, and the quality of work was expected to match that required of any of Crone’s employees—which is exactly what Shelley wanted.
“One of the main things (I learned) is how to operate in a professional setting and a professional environment. I had an internship a couple of years ago, but it was sort of part-time and it was mostly research-oriented,” he said. “This really got me accustomed to the 9-to-5 way of life . . . and being surrounded by people who put pressure on you to do what you need to get done.”
Shelley, a native of Concord, N.C., comes from a family involved in politics and found his way to Campaign Connections by way of his cousin, Ken Goodman, a Democrat who represents District 66 in North Carolina’s House of Representatives. Goodman has known Crone, a self-described “pro-business, centrist Democrat,” for years.
Most of Campaign Connections’ political clients are Democrats, who face a tough row to hoe in North Carolina this year, while corporate clients include the likes of the Healthcare Leadership Council and Energy Citizens, a group with a decidedly non-liberal agenda.
“It was really interesting doing the research and everything necessary to consult. It gave me an understanding of the entire process of managing a campaign and working with a client,” Shelley said. “There are instances in which you may not be completely supportive of some things that you’re actually supporting. (Energy Citizens is) a pro-fracking group, and that’s such a huge issue in North Carolina and has had so much backlash going on right now, especially from environmentalists. I still don’t really know how I stand regarding fracking, but in that case we had a client that was pro-fracking and we were out there supporting our client despite vocal protests from those opposed to the issue.”
Crone’s career started in old-school newspaper journalism, and he’s watched the ways of dispersing information change nearly as much as the political climate. He has adapted to both, though not happily in the case of the latter.
“I continue to say if we’re going to be successful as a nation we have got to stop screaming at each other, and you can’t pollute the political process and then have a policy process that is clean and free,” he said. “I’ve not seen historically the country as divided since the late 1890s. We truly are a very polarized democracy.”
One thing he has refused to adapt to is what he feels are mistakes some schools are making in educating students.
“They don’t necessarily do a very good job of taking ownership of a project. They want to delegate out responsibility so that nobody is liable in the event that it screws up. That’s a product of our educational system not getting them prepared to enter back into the work world, and the work world is having to move over more and more to group-oriented task management as a result,” he said. “The problem is that in this business, if you leave it for someone else to do it won’t get done.”
Crone simply won’t abide that approach, and Shelley didn’t force his hand.
“You don’t last if you can’t do it . . . I know in two weeks whether or not you’re going to be able to make the cut. He’ll do very well whether or not he goes into the business world or whether he goes to law school,” Crone said. “From that perspective he’s gotten a good foundation at Furman and will be able to move on.”
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