INTERVIEW 18:
CARA MORRIS STERN

1.Tell us your story … 

I grew up in Boston Massachusetts.  All of my grandparents came over from Ireland as immigrants and that was very much a defining part of who my family was.  My parents both educators and I knew I didn’t necessarily want to do that but there was this assumption that you were going to do something for the public good.  I started interning on the state house in Massachusetts and caught the bug.  Graduated from the University of Massachusetts and started working on a Governor’s campaign for a woman who was running in a crowded primary. She didn’t win but it was really exciting.

It was like that kind of first taste of what it was like on the other side so not in the offices on the Hill but on the outside trying to win. After that, I started talking to people and everyone in Boston who had interesting jobs that I liked did two years in Washington like almost like an internship. So they said go, get some experience in Washington, and then you can kind of do whatever you want.

So I came down here. I started answering the phones for Senator Kerry during impeachment of Clinton which was a fascinating and horrible experience time and again figured out that I wasn’t necessarily the policy legislative person so had the opportunity to go over and work for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. Again answering the phones for an incredible boss who let me do more than just be his assistant. I was sitting in the press room and so I just weaseled my way into the kind of media outreach press world. I was there for three election cycles and each time I had these bosses and mentors who would just kind of let me again do more so that by the third cycle, I was able to be the national press secretary.

It was an incredible opportunity really really good people. And over those three cycles, you basically worked in all 50 states. I was able to both be in Washington which I thought was exciting and I love it here and it’s my home now but I was always being sent out for the last month before a primary to be on the ground or before an election.  Being able to be there at that time, I felt like I was on a balcony watching – I wasn’t in the pit and I wasn’t on the court but it was kind of this perfect mix for me. And then after that, I worked with the same group of people. So there’s something to be said about this core group of hardworking but really fun people that I stuck with.   What they did was they took the idea of candidate campaigns and they used all of the tactics and the strategy and they put it towards an issue fight –  which was at the time George W. Bush. He had he’d just won re-election and so that he was going to use his political capital to privatize Social Security.  So we basically ran out aggressive political campaign in 20 states to make sure that basically it was a third rail of politics. So privatizing Social Security became something just untenable. People politically paid a lot for it. We ended up running or winning in the 2006 elections.

2The Interpreters spend a lot of time trying to understand our clients’ customers and segments within the market. How do you get to know your customers?

That is a good question. It really depends on the client –  whether they want to get you to get to know them or not. I feel like there are some clients who very much clear and know what their message is and they want us to just help spread it, especially in the traditional communications piece.

But for some clients who come to ask for communications in reality they need help defining their strategy. They don’t have the kind of core piece done and they’re wondering why they’re not communicating well.

So I feel like one approach that we do is to try to do that a long whiteboard brainstorm meeting that’s structured but unstructured.   Trying to get more of the client and the team so you can see a little bit of the dynamic there.  A lot of times if you’re brought in by the leadership of an organization, the traditional public relations people don’t like it. And I’ve always said, I don’t know how to do public relations or marketing,  that’s a totally different skill set. What we do is really different. So in some ways it’s like trying to spend a little time with them. I’m a structured agenda driven person and I think that’s actually a great way to figure people out. You can see if they’re responding to that and then you keep going with it or else you have to get up and do it their way.

3. We do a lot of problem solving at The Interpreters so we’re interested in how other people solve problems. How do you approach problem solving?

Again I would go back to the campaign training that I have which is work out what is winning to you and then work backwards from there. A lot of times people will have like a distinct project they want you to work on but if you don’t have a sense of the end goal, it’s hard to figure out the right way to get them there. So I guess it’s like for me I try to do the figure at the end game and then work backwards. And the problem solving piece, I would say this is probably not true of any of my partners but I’m kind of throw everything at the wall and see what works.

4. Interpretation is subjective but a key part of our analysis. We’re always interested in the ways other people might interpret key trends or things of interest from their specialism. How do you interpret nationalism in America?

Interesting. We do a lot of immigration advocacy work – it was my first client that I ever got on my own. I was working at the time with Frank Cherry at the National Immigration Forum.  And I think if you look at this not just through an American lens but a global lens, you’re seeing as communities change and get more diverse what we’re seeing is a reaction to that piece.

I feel like it’s like one of those pieces where the pendulum has to swing that way in order to get ourselves kind of right. I mean, at least that’s what I always hope it’s like.   It goes back to something Obama said on the trail all the time where he said it’s like the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. So there’s this idea we will have these hard times but it’s hopefully part of a larger course correction that acknowledges that our kids are changing as they’re more diverse and they’re more connected.

5. Because we firmly believe that Information is Beautiful, we would like to give you a copy of Information is Beautiful, ‘a stunning visual journey through the most revealing trends, fascinating facts and vital statistics of the modern world’. Because first impressions matter, have a scan through and tell us which visualisation caught your attention and why?

I kind of like this page. The worldwide cost of the financial crisis. Yeah. It gets you. Because it is blank.  To be honest it is one of those things I think the message is abundantly clear. The minute you look at it you know. So it’s not. It’s not something I’m spending a lot of time trying to decode