Dolan '74 Mixes Diplomacy, Democracy, and Political Communication
“The way candidates and parties are reaching voters changes in every election,” says Charles H. Dolan, Jr. ’74. “What was once the domain of party bosses and advertising firms is now available to anyone with a laptop, cell phone or twitter account….We are witnessing a democratization of information.”
Indeed, the increase in the number political commentators and the ease with which the average person can make his or her convictions known has meant corporations, non-profits, and governments have to work harder to make their cases around politics, litigation, or policy. This is where Dolan comes in. As executive vice president for Prism Public Affairs in Washington DC, Dolan regularly works with public and private entities to strategically brand and effectively communicate organizations’ messages. His company “operates at the intersection of public policy and the media,” he says.
Dolan’s career trajectory has not been a straight line to Prism, however. “I've lost count of how may career paths I've been down,” he says. Yet, his professional life has always been tied to politics in some way. He started as a volunteer for a Massachusetts state representative election campaign, worked for a US Congressman and the US Embassy in Ireland, served as a field coordinator for the Carter re-election campaign, spent several years at the Democratic Governors’ Association, and, in 1993, Bill Clinton appointed him to the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, a Bi-partisan Commission which advised the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy on the nation's global communications program.
Being involved in politics in so many different ways has honed Dolan’s ability to understand political framing and communication through many lenses, and these experiences have made him a seasoned and sought-after communications professional. However, Dolan is quick to state that this expertise builds off of experiences at UMass: “I have to say that Professor Eric Einhorn had a major influence [in my career] in that he taught me the analytical skills one needs in dealing with questions of foreign policy,” he says. “I still refer back to many of the lessons of diplomacy provided in a foreign policy course he taught.”
In addition to great professors like Einhorn, Dolan has been fortunate to find mentors in the public policy field throughout this career, including Bill Rourke, who was the top aide to Congressman Harold Donohue, and his successor Joseph D. Early. “I have never forgotten [Early’s] advice that you never learn anything by listening to yourself talk,” Dolan reflects.
Dolan’s current mentor is the distinguished diplomat and scholar Dr. Walter Roberts. “When I was appointed to the Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy by President William Jefferson Clinton, my turn to speak came after Walter's because of seniority rules,” he says. “For the first year, I always said ‘Walter has pretty much summed up my thoughts on this issue.’ And indeed he did.”
Dolan’s network of mentors is only one of his keys to success. In addition, he says the “combination of the excellent education and rigorous academic training I received at UMass Amherst, luck, and the willingness to take chances” have served him well. He encourages students to follow a similar recipe for success. New graduates have to take chances, he states, especially when starting out. “I have been part of more losing elections than you have voted in,” he says. “Don't worry about immediate success….The workplace is constantly evolving at an increasingly rapid pace, in order to succeed in it we all need to stay on top of changes in technology and the structure of the workplace,” he says. “Be very nimble about reinventing yourself.”
And, of course, remember your UMass roots. “As the motto says, ‘you were - you are UMass.’ It is part of my DNA, and I would not be where I am today without my UMass education,” he says. “I owe a great deal to UMass for what it did for me, my sister and my daughter.” Dolan, who has recently joined the Department of Political Science Advisory Board, has chosen to use his expertise and experiences to help shape the institution that gave him so much. “My invitation to join the Advisory Board is one of the highest honors I have received,” he says.
Dolan describes himself as a “true believer in the UMass Amherst model.” He referred his oldest daughter, Julia, to UMass when she was looking at colleges, and even paid out-of-state tuition to send her here. “The Commonwealth of Massachusetts created a public treasure when it invested in our little land grant college,” he says. “I am the first person in my family to graduate from a university. (My father attended on the GI bill but had to drop out to support his younger siblings, and my mother went on to get her degree later in life). My family could never have afforded to send me to a private university. …I am delighted that I have an opportunity to give something back to an institution that gave so much to me and my family.”