Public Affairs Executive & Crisis Manager
Describe your legal background and describe your current role today.
I graduated from Washington University School of Law in 2013 after attending the University of Pennsylvania for my undergraduate studies. In the years between undergrad and law school, I worked for Secretary Hillary Clinton in both the Senate and U.S. Department of State. I attended law school to advance my understanding of the law, government, and regulatory affairs and help navigate crisis situations with a legal background.
What inspired you to pursue your current career?
I spent my summers in law school as an associate in Lanny Davis’ Washington, D.C. firm. Davis is both an attorney and a well-known crisis manager. His work inspired me to pursue a career in public affairs and crisis management.
The three words to describe my career are ...
Experienced problem solver.
How has your legal education/background shaped the way you perform in your current career?
There is an obvious relationship between the law, public affairs, crisis communication, and government relations. My law degree advances the communication work that I do. I am able to better understand the workings of government, such as regulatory affairs and legislative actions. I also am able to work collegially alongside attorneys in crisis situations. My legally trained mind is often thinking of the law in addition to the battle being fought in the court of public opinion (the media). For this reason, I am very meticulous in deciding what my clients can or cannot say and in avoiding any future crises, which generally pleases the attorneys I work alongside. Traditionally, there can be a back-and-forth between communication experts and lawyers regarding what a client can or cannot say. Since I understand the attorneys’ perspectives as well, I am better able to create playbooks that appease all parties involved.
What’s one thing you wish you knew before you began your current venture or role?
I wish I knew that careers are not always linear. Since I started working for Secretary Clinton at a young age, I had believed that one day I would be fortunate enough to work in her administration. Of course, this never happened. What I learned: Even the most meticulous planners can only plan so much because chance is a big part of career paths as well!
If my career were made into a book, movie or song, then the title would be...
Another version of The Rembrandts’ song, entitled: “I’ll Be There for You.”
What lessons learned or unexpected challenges did you face in your current role?
A good crisis manager should plan 100 steps ahead, think about all possible scenarios, and determine how best to handle them. This is a lesson I learned early and one that is most important for a career in crisis management and public affairs.
Name a memorable piece of advice that you have heard or received.
Pat Croce, a notable entrepreneur, once said, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.” This is my personal mantra.
David Helfenbein is a strategic communication expert with a law degree who is focused on crisis communication, public affairs, and government relations. He most recently served as Senior Vice President at Main & Rose, Strategic Branding. Under President Obama, David was appointed social media coordinator for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and special assistant to the Secretary in the Office of White House Liaison, both at the U.S. Department of State, where he helped to rebrand the State Department’s web and social presence. David speaks frequently about how the media and technology are shaping the future and the relationship between public figures and the media.