Clyde Deskside: A Conversation with Matt House, Managing Director of Clyde Group.
“Our motivation should be creating a sense of societal empowerment. In this way, I see our role as not just communicators, but as agents of social change.”
This is our third edition of Clyde Deskside, where we talk with the people who lead Clyde Group about their professional lives and personal journeys. Our hope is that these conversations can shed some light on how Clyde Group operates as the best agency to work for and the best agency to work with, as well as where the future of the industry is headed.
Matt House is our Managing Director of Public Affairs and brings nearly 15 years of high-level communications and public affairs experience to Clyde Group. He spent a decade on Capitol Hill in both the House and Senate, including more than five years as Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer’s communications director. He works with clients in a range of industries including tech, education, nonprofit advocacy, and more.
What is your career journey prior to Clyde Group?
I knew from a young age that I wanted to work on Capitol Hill and was fortunate enough to get an internship during college with my home district representative, Paul Hodes, and then an entry-level job opened up when I graduated. While his run for the Senate in 2010 was unsuccessful, it paved the way for working for Sen. Chuck Schumer (NY) for about seven years, except for a stint on another Senate race. I learned more than I ever could have imagined during those seven years, and was lucky to be along for the ride as he ascended to Senate Democratic leader in 2016.
What was the most important lesson you learned along the way?
A lot of your career path will be determined by factors beyond your control. So you need to maximize your ability to take advantage of opportunities when they come; be intellectually curious, do a great job with the task at hand, and focus on your own professional development and that of those around you. If you do those things, you’ll be in a prime position to seize the moment when you have the chance to do so. Those opportunities may come when you least expect them, so it’s important to be ready.
The best policy position in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t shape the politics around it. It won’t go anywhere if you can’t effectively message it in the press.Matt House, Managing Director
What would you tell your younger self about what you know now?
Be present in the moment as often as you can. There are a lot of things that can pull you out of the present moment, and it takes work to avoid them. If you’re not present, you’re going to miss out on learning a lot of important things.
What is your favorite part of working at a PR agency?
The diversity of the work. Being at an agency requires you to learn a lot about a wide range of issues, and to quickly toggle back and forth between them. It forces you to constantly learn, which makes each day unique and exciting.
How has your work in politics and on Capitol Hill informed your work with private sector clients?
Being effective in Washington or any public affairs arena requires a sharp understanding of the intersection between policy, politics, and press. There is no better place to learn that than working for Sen. Schumer — there is a reason his press shop is often referred to as a boot camp. The best policy position in the world doesn’t matter if you can’t shape the politics around it. It won’t go anywhere if you can’t effectively message it in the press and to all the relevant stakeholders. Understanding and navigating that is essential to being effective on the Hill and as a consultant to a range of clients seeking to move the ball forward in a difficult environment.
What advice would you give company leaders who are trying to improve their PA practice?
The most effective public affairs practices have a mix of subject matter expertise and a deep understanding of how PA works — you need both. Take a look at your current operation and ask yourself “are we as strong as we can be in those two areas?” If it feels like your team is full of people who understand your business but not the arena, or know the arena but don’t understand your industry, solve for that.
What aspect of the PR/comms industry has changed the most drastically over your career?
The changes in the news industry have been widely discussed but they can’t be overstated. People have never trusted the news less, its ability to shape policy debates has never been more scattershot, and the “power” in media has never been more decentralized. Some companies and organizations have adapted their approach in tandem with these trends. Others are lagging far behind.
How do you see the PR industry changing over the next five years?
The ability to deliver a tailored message to a highly specific audience is going to continue to improve. Technology continues to make it easier to understand precisely which message is going to move an individual person, and the ability to create personalized communications at scale to deliver that message will only get better. It’s going to raise serious questions about who or what is really behind delivering that message, as we’re seeing with the rise of increasingly sophisticated AI chatbots.
Most overused jargon in PR today?
What’s your essential podcast?
NPR’s How I Built This. Every story is the perfect combination of the ambitious, 30,000-foot thinking required to develop big ideas and the nitty gritty, boots-on-the-ground work of turning them into reality.
What's the best film you've ever seen?