In the News

SKDK is Hiring: Summer Interns

Posted February 8, 2016


We are seeking interns to join our team in our Washington, New York, Albany and Los Angeles offices for the summer. Candidates must have a demonstrated interest in Democratic politics, media, advertising, digital work, social media or other related fields.

Ideal candidates will have full-time availability, strong writing and research skills, digital/social media experience, an understanding of the media and the ability to handle multiple projects at once. SKDKnickerbocker is an equal opportunity employer with a strong dedication to diversity. Internships are paid positions or can count for university credit. University students and recent graduates are encouraged to apply.

Interested? Please send your resume, availability and a writing sample to, or by March 18th.

01.07.15 JNS Event 4

SKDK’s new event series, Books & Breakfast, brings together authors and influencers to discuss women in politics. Tomorrow, as New Hampshire goes to the polls, author Nancy Cohen will discuss her new book Breakthrough, which challenges the conventional wisdom on electing women to office. Are we ready for the first woman president? Cohen says we are.

This follows January’s discussion with TIME’s Jay Newton-Small on her first book Broad Influence, which focuses on women’s ability to gain critical mass in business and politics, the business imperative to adding more women to corporate leadership, and the encouraging gains women have made in the nation’s justice system.


Do Celebrity Endorsements Help Presidential Candidates?: Well, it depends how you define ‘help’

By Sam Roudman

The 2016 presidential reality show is nearing the first big knockout rounds in Iowa and New Hampshire, and so the Democratic and Republican frontrunners—Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, respectively—are looking to consolidate support with the help of some celebrity firepower.

Clinton went out and procured forever-GIRL Lena Dunham to don some highbrow HilGarb and stump for her in those states. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Donald Trump convinced fellow reality TV alum and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to endorse him in a speech marked by the bellicose incoherence that many Americans believe will repave our road to greatness. Maybe make it one way this time.

In both cases, the organizational bureaus of mighty human brands settled upon arrangements agreeable to all. The presidential candidates hope to siphon the prestige of their endorsers, and gain the support of their audiences in key demographics (GIRLS, moose mommies, etc.) The endorsing celebrities get to support values and a message they—hopefully—believe in, while at the same time soaking up the light of public attention, which can often be converted into legal tender, or rolled over in exchange for even more attention.

But do celebrity political endorsements even work? And if so, how?

The unsatisfying answer to the first question is sometimes, but we don’t really know. The unsatisfying answer to the second is, well… it depends on the situation.

“It’s very difficult to isolate the impact of celebrities say on turn out or vote choice,” says Mike Cobb, a political science professor at North Carolina State University who has studied the issue. In the context of a voter survey it’s a challenge to separate out the influence of a single celebrity versus any number of other factors. Cobb himself turned to experimental studies, where subjects are assigned what-if scenarios involving celebrities and various political endorsements. Cobb says These studies “don’t really suggest celebrities are effective at getting people to want to vote.”

It’s no surprise that a celebrity endorsement is unlikely to change someone’s general election presidential vote in in an era of profound political polarization. It would be frightening if one could. But this does not mean endorsements are useless.

“If I’m a Republican and I’m voting amongst eight Republicans, my party affiliation doesn’t help me pick which one anymore, so how am I gonna choose?” asks Cobb. “A celebrity endorsing one of the candidates if that celebrity is very credible and popular might be effective.”

That’s exactly where Oprah was effective for Obama in 2008. Oprah is perhaps a special case though, since she is not so much a celebrity as a demigod with a robust media arm, who had already primed Her followers to submit to the dictates of her consumer preferences.

Cobb’s research suggests most celebrities don’t fare so well. “If you’re a celebrity and you’re [endorsing], you’re risking your brand.” He found those turned off by a hypothetical endorsement by Angelina Jolie even found her to be less attractive afterwards. Perhaps this helps explains some of the great torrent of social media bile that has flowed towards Palin and Dunham in the wake of their respective endorsements.

If endorsements are unlikely to decide any one person’s vote, they may still be useful if applied strategically.

“It’s effective if the celebrity already has an established position on the issue you’re talking about,” says Joshua Goodman a Vice President at the PR and consulting firm SKD Knickerbocker, who previously worked in politics. That could be RFK on the environment, or former NY firefighter Steve Buscemi on issues in the city. “If you’re not a political person and you maybe follow politics a little bit…this celebrity validator says ‘You already know that I’m a person who is publicly devoted to this issue, well so is this candidate.’”

Mechanically, Goodman says a celebrity’s involvement in a campaign usually follows the request of a presidential candidate. Then depending on their willingness and abilities a campaign might deploy them as anything from a name on a press release to a featured guest or speaker at a fundraiser.

“What are you going to do?” Asks Cobb, “are you gonna attend the rally with boring John Mccain or are you going to attend the rally with John Mccain and Kid Rock?” It’s not hard to imagine a strong segment of 2008 Republican voters preferring to ba-wit-da-ba rather than just ba-wit-da-senior senator from Arizona.

In this election cycle you can see the blessed trilogy of candidate need coinciding with celebrity interest and ability in rapper and activist Killer Mike’s endorsement of Bernie Sanders. Killer Mike went from getting stoned and reading Sanders’ tweets to working the candidate’s post-debate spin room, not only because he is a powerful speaker, but also because he plugs a leak in the Good Ship Bernie– the candidate’s lack of black support. It also benefits from not being detracted from by seemingly contrary-to-endorsement statements or actions.

Ironically, celebrities looking to get the most out of their endorsement might learn from current nominee Donald Trump’s 2012 endorsement of Mitt Romney. In this truly boss move, The Washington Post reported Trump wanted to make his endorsement “more than Romney wants it.” But if a celebrity isn’t willing to commit to a jerkish power play, they might want to back off. “Unless you don’t care, you shouldn’t be doing this very publicly” says Cobb. “The more underneath the radar the better.”

CNN 5 lessons from Iowa

By Doug Thornell
Wed February 3, 2016

(CNN) The Iowa caucuses are history. Hillary Clinton became the first woman ever to win the caucuses and Ted Cruz out-organized Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican field to take the top spot in the Hawkeye State. What does it all mean as the candidates head to New Hampshire for next week’s primary?

Here are five key takeaways:

1) Organization matters more than crowd size: For weeks, all we heard about was the size of Bernie Sanders’ and Trump’s crowds. They were packing gymnasiums, and even filling arenas. Anecdotally, this was supposed to be a sign of strength. But it is one thing to pack a gymnasium, it’s another to get those folks to go out and caucus for you on a cold night in February. Clearly, Trump has some work to do on the organizing front and Sanders, even though he finished a close second, still lost.

Meanwhile, the Clinton campaign for months has been touting its superior organization. The campaign knew where its voters were and turned them out. On the Democratic side, 64% of caucusgoers were over 45, and Clinton did extremely well with them. Looking ahead, this bodes well for the former secretary of state because her voters are more reliable when it comes to turnout, whereas Sanders voters will require more of a nudge.

Cruz, like Clinton on the Democratic side, had the best organization in Iowa and it paid off. He focused his message on very conservative voters and evangelicals, who made up a significant portion of the electorate, and he won big with them. Trump did well with moderates, but given that they only made up 14% of the Iowa electorate, that wasn’t good enough. He also either underperformed with, or didn’t turn out enough of, the white male, infrequent voter demographic that makes up the bulk of his support.

2) Bernie now has to deal with the expectation game: Sanders finished a surprisingly close second in Iowa, but now he has to deal with expectations that he will run away with New Hampshire. The Real Clear Politics average shows him with an 18-point lead, and the latest UMass/7 poll has him up 29 points! If Clinton is able to cut away at his lead and keep the margin of victory within single digits, she could plausibly take from her husband the mantle of the new “Comeback Kid” of New Hampshire. Even though expectations worked in Sanders’ favor in Iowa, they have now become a burden for him in New Hampshire. Sanders starts the last stretch of the campaign in New Hampshire as the clear favorite, but it’s the spread that matters here, and which candidate can claim the all-important “big mo” heading into Nevada and South Carolina.

3) Sorry Marco, but third means you lost: Ron Paul, the late Fred Thompson, Alan Keyes, Lamar Alexander: What do they all have in common? They all finished third in the four most recent competitive Iowa caucuses and none of them went on to become president. The only Republican to ever finish third or worse and win the presidency was Vice President George H.W. Bush in 1988. So I get why the Rubio folks are spinning his third place as victory, but the reality is that he entered the evening in third place and he left in third place. A participation trophy is nice for your kids, but in politics, you have to win somewhere.

Let’s not forget that Rubio camped out in Iowa for the last days of the campaign and spent a significant amount of money on television advertising, and yet he still lost to a reality star and a guy universally loathed within the Republican establishment. For Rubio and his team, expectations will be very high to do well in New Hampshire. In fact, given the media’s eagerness to write Trump’s obituary, you could argue that Marco should win New Hampshire.

If Rubio fails in New Hampshire, where will he succeed? South Carolina will be very tough for him. It’s a very conservative state and his record on immigration will be a vulnerability. I am circling Nevada: If he doesn’t win there, he will have a hard time making the case that his campaign should continue.

4) Democrats still love Obama and value experience: President Barack Obama and his policies remain very popular with Democrats. Entrance polling of Iowa showed that 55% of caucusgoers would like a president who will continue Obama’s policies, and among that group, Clinton won overwhelmingly. This should be a warning sign to the Sanders campaign as they head into more diverse states. Running on an agenda to dramatically overhaul what the President has accomplished, including getting rid of Obamacare, is fraught with danger within the Democratic nominating contest. At some point the Sanders team will need to refine its message for voters in the party who believe Obama has been a very good president.

Sanders has done a lot of things well, but if he doesn’t recognize and embrace the gains made under Obama, his inequality message will fall on deaf ears. In addition, most polls show Democrats want someone with experience as their nominee. And the entrance polls in Iowa back this up: 28% of caucusgoers wanted someone with the right experience, and among those voters, Clinton won with an astounding 88%.

Sanders needs to do better here, and he can. The reality is that he has been a politician much longer then Clinton and knows how Washington works. This runs a little counter to his message, but Democratic voters don’t want to turn the keys over to someone they worry will need on-the-job training. Sanders clearly doesn’t, but he needs to address this weakness.

5) Clinton needs to show she cares: The second most important issue to Iowa caucusgoers was finding a candidate “who cares about people like me.” Sanders dominated Clinton here, garnering 74% of their vote. This is a serious red flag for the Clinton campaign. In 2012, even though Romney was trusted more on the economy, voters felt that Obama cared more about them, and this helped him get reelected. But Clinton’s numbers should improve when we head into contests with more diverse electorates where she connects very well with African-Americans and Hispanics. Clinton is a fighter and voters like that about her, they always have.

This caring-gap is a fixable problem for her campaign. We need only remember back eight years when she limped into New Hampshire after losing Iowa where she finished third on the “caring” scale, and won a stunning upset over then-Sen. Obama. Along with winning the votes in that momentous New Hampshire victory, Clinton also handily beat Obama out as being the candidate who cares.

Perhaps we’ll see her do it again.

Doug Thornell is a managing director at SKDKnickerbocker, a political consulting and public affairs firm. He is the former spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and was a senior adviser to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland. You can follow him @dthornell. The views expressed are his own.