How to Communicate for Impact: Lessons from Presidents, CEOs & the Grassroots

Listen to the episode below — or with iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play, TuneIn, and other podcast apps. Find other recent episodes here.


Sean SmithWe’re used to thinking of words and images as the things we use to describe reality. But they make reality too.

Nowhere is that more true than in America, which was literally created from ideas. And ever since, great communicators have shaped the way things are in government, business, nonprofits, and neighborhood groups.

We sometimes think that good communicators are just born talented, like a Jefferson or a Lincoln. And it’s probably true that the great ones have a special gift. But it’s also true that anyone can learn to communicate better.

To explore how, Spencer talks to Sean Smith, who has worked on presidential campaigns for Bill Clinton, John Kerry, and Barack Obama. (Spencer was on the Obama campaign at the same time, but they didn't work together.)

Sean has also worked in government: in the Obama administration, he was the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the Department of Homeland Security. And now he’s in the private sector: in 2011 he joined a leading public relations firm, Porter Novelli, where he’s the Executive Vice President for Global Reputation Management.

At Porter Novelli, Sean has worked with a long list of clients, including Disney, McDonalds, Hewlett-Packard, and other Fortune 500 companies.

So if Sean offers you advice on how to communicate, it’s definitely worth listening closely.

Sean Smith

Sean Smith leads the global Reputation Management practice at Porter Novelli. He has established an innovative approach to corporate communications that integrates the varied functions a company utilizes to build a corporate brand and create trust among its key audiences.  His team of experienced specialists stretches around the world and leverages cutting edge technology to help clients enhance and protect their reputation.

Sean has developed creative and substantive campaigns to build, strengthen, and maintain brand reputation and then implemented those campaigns through executive visibility, thought leadership, CSR, social media, media relations, internal communications and financial communications.

Since joining Porter Novelli in 2011, he has developed and led corporate reputation campaigns and managed issues for Disney, McDonald’s, Bel Brands Cheese, Timberland, Chapstick, Almond Board of California, National Honey Board, Hewlett-Packard, Palo Alto Networks, SanDisk, NetApp, Dun & Bradstreet and other Fortune 500 companies.

He advises a number of CEOs and other prominent executives at some of Porter Novelli’s biggest clients. 

From January 2009 to April 2011, Sean was the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In that role he was responsible for managing all aspects of the Department’s brand and reputation. He was the principal advisor to the Secretary on these matters and eventually advised several other Cabinet Members. While at DHS, Sean led the Obama administration’s public response to attempted terrorist attacks, the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill, the H1N1 outbreak, border violence in Mexico, cyber attacks and dozens of other breaking news incidents.

Prior to his time in the Obama administration, Sean worked on a number of political campaigns, including three presidential campaigns, and served in a variety of public affairs capacities.  He has been a Lecturer at Yale University, Johns Hopkins, and the University of California San Diego. 

Sean holds degrees from Harvard University and the University of Oregon.

Show Links

Porter Novelli

The Making of the President 1960