Jenifer Sarver on her Passion for Public Relations & Public Service
How one expert communicator is now telling her own story - to the voters of Congressional District 21.
F E B R U A R Y 7, 2 0 1 8
It is such a privilege to share this latest interview with Pink Granite readers. If you've been around Texas politics for awhile it's likely that you know Jenifer Sarver - especially if you're a Republican in Texas. Jenifer is a well-established public relations professional who owns her own small shop here in Austin. And as you'll learn - when she's not telling her clients' stories she is now telling her own in a bid for Congressional District 21.
I first met Jenifer at a friend's home who was hosting a meet and greet with Sarver the candidate. I don't live in her district - but in the spirit of full disclosure - after hearing her message of bringing civility back to politics I was compelled to join the effort and contributed to her campaign. Getting to know Jenifer that night it was also clear that she would have so much to offer Pink Granite readers - no matter which side of the political fence you reside.
She's a young woman who has been thinking about running for office for a long a time. The opportunity presented itself, and unlike so many of us that would hesitate or question the move - she jumped headfirst into a lifelong goal of public service. Here she tells us a little bit about her background, of course touches on her platform, but also shares unique insights for anyone looking to launch their own campaign for public office.
Where do you work, what is your title and what does your job actually entail?
I am a small business owner. I run Sarver Strategies, a strategic communications consulting shop in Austin. I focus on training and storytelling, helping clients develop a narrative that conveys their core values, and then preparing them to effectively deliver that message. I am also running to serve Texas’ 21st District in the United States Congress.
How long have you been performing this work, how long have you been Running for office?
I started Sarver Strategies in December 2014.
I launched my campaign on December 6, 2017, three months to the day ahead of the March 6, 2018 Primary Election.
Where are you from?
I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, a wonderful, special part of our state. I’m a proud graduate of Sharyland High School, in Mission, Texas. I am now an Austinite, a city I fell in love with during college, and am proud to call home.
What did you study in college and where did you attend school?
I graduated from The University of Texas at Austin with a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Science in Communication Studies in 1999. I earned the degree of Master in Public Administration from American University in 2004.
Political party affiliation?
I am a lifelong Republican. My first political job was on a Congressional campaign in the 1996 cycle. I worked on Capitol Hill for U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, served in the Bush Administration at the U.S. Department of Commerce, volunteered as a speechwriter at the 2008 and 2012 Republican National Conventions, was deployed by the Republican National Committee to New Hampshire in 2004 for the Bush re-elect, and Ohio in 2006 to assist in Congressional races and in 2016, I served as an alternate delegate to the Republican Party of Texas State Convention.
"I often joke you’re either 'called' or 'crazy' to enter public life. I now understand it’s an important mix of both."
How did you get your start in policy/politics?
In high school, my government and English teacher, Penny McLeaish, sparked a love of politics in me. I was in high school when Bill Clinton was inaugurated and I remember she went to Washington, D.C. to attend. That sparked ongoing debates between us about Republican and Democrat politics and I remember her regularly challenging me. At first, I thought it was because she didn’t like me. But later, when she gave me social studies student of the year, I realized she was trying to sharpen me. Help me hone my arguments and better articulate my view points. That was the beginning of my love of politics. I went on to work full time on Congressional races in the 1996 cycle. After graduating from college, I worked in the private sector for two years before realizing that I loved communicating – but wasn’t in love with high tech. I moved to D.C. three weeks after 9/11 to pursue a career in public service. I ended up working on the senior staff of Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, then serving as the Director of the UT System’s Archer Center and finally as the Deputy Director of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Commerce. After returning to Austin in 2009, I spent nearly six years as Chief of Staff to Ambassador Karen Hughes, the Worldwide Vice Chair of Burson-Marsteller, before going out on my own in late 2014. Karen has been an important mentor to me, helping shape my view of effective communication, understand the importance of being well prepared, and how to deliver impeccable client service.
When did you know you wanted to run for office?
I have always been passionate about public service and felt a specific to call to run for office for as long as I can remember. I often joke you’re either “called” or “crazy” to enter public life. I now understand it’s an important mix of both.
I believe deeply in civic engagement, and have always worked in a bipartisan way to get more people to actively participate in our political process. I believe our society – and our political system – are better off when more voices are a part of the process, and have worked throughout the years to get people engaged. In 2002, I helped launch a bipartisan leadership training program for young women in Washington, D.C. I am the advisory council chair for the Annette Strauss Institute for Civic Life at UT Austin, an organization I have been involved with since 2009. After serving as the executive director of the Archer Center from 2004-2006, I have been on the advisory council working with young people interested in pursuing public service careers. Since 2014, I have been a member of the Board of Directors of the Texas Lyceum, a nonpartisan statewide leadership organization. In 2017, I graduated from the third class of Presidential Leadership Scholars, a program launched by Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton to share lessons from the presidency with a cohort of nationwide leaders. In short, I have been committed to civic engagement, focusing on collaboration and civility throughout my professional career, and those values are the centerpiece of my campaign.
"In short, I have been committed to civic engagement, focusing on collaboration and civility throughout my professional career, and those values are the centerpiece of my campaign."
Anything you wish you knew before running for office?
That there are never enough hours in the day. I always feel behind and that I am not doing enough. Prioritization and time management are critical.
Have you seen challenges running as a conservative woman in the so-called “pink wave” of women who are often assumed to be liberal candidates?
There is a tendency for media to share one dominant narrative about women running for office as a result of the 2016 election results. That is decidedly not the case for me. I have long had a desire to run, believing I could contribute to our community and our public discourse. For me, it has been about being ready, willing and able when the time is right. The retirement of Lamar Smith, my Representative, created such a time. I am running for the people of District 21, and am eager to represent them in Washington.
I'm a young woman and I've decided that I want to run for office. What do I do now? First?
Take stock of your resources. Who do you know? Who knows you? Begin keeping a spreadsheet of people who can be supportive in different ways. You will need to be bold about tapping into them and asking for their support.
What if I'm considering a run for office one day in the future - what sort of support system has been helpful for you? What relationships, skills and/or tribe do I need to be thinking about today?
An excellent way to think about this is to ask the question: Who is my personal board of directors? This helps you assess your relationships and the people in your life who may be willing to support you through what will be an enormous undertaking. I have friends on my personal board (my “tribe”) who support me in very different ways – spiritually, financially, emotionally and thorough their skills (political, photography, digital, copy writing) and through their personal and professional networks. I have been blown away by the men and women in my life who have rallied to my campaign and cheered me on. There is nothing more powerful than people being willing to speak out on your behalf. It has been a blessing to realize what a strong network I have cultivated. Their confidence in me motivates and inspires me.
"I have been blown away by the men and women in my life who have rallied to my campaign and cheered me on. There is nothing more powerful than people being willing to speak out on your behalf."
Best professional advice you’ve ever received?
Pursue your passion. If you love what you’re doing, it will never feel like work.
Advice you wish you could give your younger self?
I actually participated in an interview for a blog called 40/20 Vision in the fall of 2016 that asked this very question. The full link to the interview is here, but the summary is this: 1) Learn to see yourself as a beautiful creation, 2) Cultivate a love of exploration and travel, and 3) Pursue excellence in everything.
What is the most rewarding part of your current job? Biggest challenge?
I love helping people tell their story. That’s what I get to do in my day job. On the campaign trail I’m learning to cultivate a love of listening to people’s stories. So many people just want to be heard. They want elected officials who will listen to and engage with them, and understand the challenges they face – and try to help fix them.
Describe a time that you knew you were “good” at your job.
Last fall I gave a speech on civility in public discourse. The speech had been scheduled all year, but ended up falling just a few days after the Charlottesville protests. It was a tough topic at a tough time. But afterward people lined up to talk to me and thank me for tackling the topic head on, and challenging the audience to practice civility in their own lives. It was rewarding to be reminded that words have power – they can be used as weapons, but they can also be used to bring people together and heal.
"So many people just want to be heard. They want elected officials who will listen to and engage with them, and understand the challenges they face – and try to help fix them."
Something that is often misunderstood about your job?
People often misunderstand public relations. Throughout my career I’ve had to educate people on the difference between PR and advertising, or PR and marketing. Public Relations is the ability to help an individual or organization frame their story and tell it to the right audience, through the right channels at the right time.
You could never do your job without __________.
Coffee. Strong, black coffee. And Wi-Fi.
Best tip(s) for staying on top of your to-do list/staying organized?
While I am very organized, and keep a detailed Outlook calendar, I also am never without my Black & Red notebook. I’ve been carrying them for years, allowing me to take notes, make lists, capture information and stay on top of the myriad requirements of my job – and my campaign.
Last time you were the only woman in the room during an important meeting.
It’s pretty common in some settings to be the only woman, or one of the only women. On the campaign trail there are 18 candidates in my Primary and I’m one of just three women. I feel blessed to be a Texan, where there’s always been strong female leaders – Ann Richards, Kay Bailey Hutchison, Christi Craddick – there just hasn’t been enough of them, or any new ones in far too long. I was inspired by a woman running for Congress in 1996. Coincidentally, that’s the last year we elected a new freshman woman from Texas to the U.S. Congress.
"I was inspired by a woman running for Congress in 1996. Coincidentally, that’s the last year we elected a new freshman woman from Texas to the U.S. Congress."
You can have dinner with anyone, living or dead - who and why?
My mother. In June, we’ll mark the 10th anniversary of her death. She was tragically killed in a head-on car accident. I miss her every day. She was my rock, my confidant and my best friend. I would give anything to share another meal with her.
What’s always in your bag during the work day?
Laptop. Altoids. Water. Lip gloss. Almonds. Black & Red notebook. Hand lotion. Business Cards. Toothbrush & toothpaste.
Favorite place for a business lunch?
The Grove on West Sixth. Good, healthy food (and valet parking).
Favorite place to get your news?
I check Twitter religiously to get the headlines. I follow media and pundits from across the political spectrum. FOX News, The New York Times, Texas Tribune, San Antonio Express-News, Washington Post, The Atlantic, Buzzfeed, POLITICO, etc. I think it’s important to get a variety of perspectives on the news of the day, and not limit ones worldview to one perspective or outlet. It’s helpful in digesting information to understand how different groups perceive news and information to formulate a more robust and grounded viewpoint.
Favorite social media apps?
I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram throughout the day both personally and professionally. I help oversee content for clients, as well as for my own business and my campaign, so it is critical that I stay on top of what’s happening on the apps and the latest and most innovative ways in which people are engaging.
Favorite book for career advice?
Dale Carnegie’s How to win Friends & Influence People remains a lasting guide.
If you weren’t in your current role you’d definitely be a ____________.
Running a small boutique resort on a tropical island. I love travel. I’ve been to 46 countries. The world has so much to offer
I'm humbled and amazed that in the mania of running a Congressional campaign and working a full-time job, Jenifer agreed to this interview. Thanks so much to her! If you'd like to learn more about Jenifer's campaign you can find her at SarverforTexas.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.