For political communications strategist Denise Horn, it is imperative that she ensures her client is poised, remains on message, and is prepared to handle whatever comes her way.
Oh, and her “client” just so happens to be the first woman Democratic presidential nominee EVER, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In her role as Director of African American media, it is Denise’s job to handle all affairs as they relate to connecting with Black media for Secretary Clinton’s campaign. As one of the forty African-American women working on HRC’s campaign, Denise is proof that politics is no longer “good ol’ boys” game, but one that requires a variety of voices, perspectives and stellar expertise.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Denise Horn earned her undergraduate degree at Howard University and her master’s in public policy from the University of Chicago. Denise says she always had a love for media and politics and appreciates the opportunity to fuel her love for both through the lens of a communications strategist. She held previous positions at NBCUniversal, Facebook, the 2012 Obama Campaign and most recently as the Assistant Press Secretary at the U.S. Department of Education.
Now, as the Director of African American media for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, she’s managing Hillary Clinton’s appearances at events like Black Girls Rock, preparing her remarks for an interview with Power 105’s The Breakfast club, and executing on ideas like the #ImWithHer commercial featuring Shonda Rhimes. It is her ultimate goal to encourage African Americans nationwide to head to the polls this November.
Her Agenda caught up with Denise to discuss the importance of her role, her passion for politics and how millennials can adequately prepare to cast their ballot in the next presidential election.
Her Agenda: As the Director of African American Media for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, what excites you most about this opportunity?
Denise Horn: Every day, there’s an option to do something new and in many ways you’re able to come up with creative ideas. Especially coming off of eight years of having a Black president, it is very integral to this campaign. As African Americans, we tend to consume the news via social media, so that definitely keeps me on my toes. I’m always thinking, “How can something go viral?” or “How can a piece of content be short and to the point?” I also focus on long form pieces, but not everyone likes longer pieces of content. Back in April, Secretary Clinton attended Black Girls Rock!, and when I first arrived to the campaign I thought, “What if she went to Black Girls Rock and just praised Black women and how her life has been influenced by them?” And that was honestly just a great moment. I was backstage with her; briefed and prepped her and wrote her remarks. So it was really awesome to see it all come together.
Her Agenda: The millennial vote is critical in this year’s election. What do you think is important for millennials (specifically African American millennials) to know as they prepare to head to the polls in November?
Denise Horn: First and foremost, it is super important to make sure that you’re registered to vote. In addition, I think that everyone should know the issues and identify what’s important to [them]. There’s a lot at stake. A lot of times people think, “Oh, it doesn’t matter, my vote doesn’t count” but your vote really does count!
Her Agenda: With the advancement of many popular networks like Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat, how do you think these tools will play a role during this election cycle in terms of the candidates to connect with millennial voters?
Denise Horn: We’re actually using social media a lot. One of the things that we’ll do to engage with millennial voters is Facebook Live chats. In partnership with TheGrio, Facebook users were allowed to ask Secretary Clinton questions – she was really sitting at the computer providing answers in real time. We’re hoping to do more Twitter engagement, too. One of the things that I love is the Black Women Lead #HigherHeights Twitter Brunch on Sundays, which I always follow because it gives me new ideas. One of the other amazing women who works on the campaign, Zerlina Maxwell, is our Digital Director of Progressive Outreach. She focuses a lot on #BlackTwitter, what’s trending at the moment, and what actually resonates with voters.
Her Agenda: Do you recall when you first became passionate about politics and media?
Denise Horn: It was definitely my senior year at Howard. I think it was The Obamas coming into office, honestly. It was President Obama’s first inauguration, and oh my gosh – that was probably one of the best weeks of my life. Just witnessing the very sharp individuals who he brought into his Administration, I think that is what really piqued my interest. Another thing that I noticed, especially when I was in Chicago while getting my master’s in public policy was that there were a lot of African Americans within the nonprofit sector. But on the policy side, there weren’t that many of us – which was really interesting but also sad in a way. So many policies affect African Americans, and to see very few of us at the table advocating on our behalf is problematic.
Her Agenda: If you could impart one piece of advice to your 25-year-old self, what would it be?
Denise Horn: Don’t wait in line. You have to go out there and be bold. A lot of times, especially as Black women, we’re waiting and hoping someone will see us working hard. But I’ve worked in many different positions and especially when you’re in a field where there aren’t that many African Americans, it’s natural for people to mentor others who look like them. If there isn’t anyone in a senior role who looks like you, we often get looked over – and it’s never intentional. We should definitely make sure that we’re trying to get our own opportunities and seek out mentors. One of my first mentors right out of college is now the head of communications at BET Networks and ten years later, it’s still so very gratifying to have her support and encouragement in my career.
Also, you really shouldn’t be worried about your competition. There is more than enough space for all of us.
Her Agenda: What was the most challenging decision you’ve ever had to make in your career thus far? What lessons did you learn from that moment?
Denise Horn: For me, it was making the transition from media to politics. I had so much experience in broadcast journalism and marketing and almost doubted whether or not I could succeed in politics, even though I loved it. But [if] I stayed on the track that I was on, I wouldn’t be as successful as I have been thus far. I also wouldn’t be as happy. It has been said that not a lot of money is made in politics, but you don’t have to worry about the money. I know it’s hard, especially with student loan debt, but at the end of the day everything will come through. A lot of my friends will say, “Oh Denise, you’re so lucky,” and I have to correct them by saying, “No, I’ve actually been working a long time to get to where I am today.”
Her Agenda: What is your motto?
Denise Horn: I have so many! I think one from my childhood that my parents always told me was, “You have to work twice as hard to get half as far.” But also, you only have one time to make a great first impression, so make sure that your stuff is tight. From your resume to a 30-second elevator pitch, you never know when you next opportunity will present itself, so be ready.