“Don’t talk politics” is not a philosophy that Lizzy Guyton Johnson ’06 adheres to. Communications director for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, she spends her days (and sometimes nights) figuring out how to best share a steady stream of information with the community and the media.
At Govs, Lizzy was a varsity athlete and won a Special Prize; served as a Class Agent for fundraising for her class; and developed a love for communicating through the written word. After graduating from Union College, she worked on the campaign trail, including for Senator Scott Brown. Here, she shares a behind-the-scenes look at her political journey.
How did you first develop an interest in politics?
My passion for political communications was born out of my desire to find a career in writing. I was an English major in college, a degree I pursued after taking Mrs. White’s AP English class my junior year at Govs. As a college graduate, I pursued a campaign job to find something fast paced and was immediately drawn to the communications side.
What is it like managing communications for political campaigns and offices?
It’s an adrenaline rush. Whether you’re on a campaign or in office, political communications is often synonymous with crisis communications. It requires me to always be on my toes and plugged in to the news cycle to respond to what’s going on around us.
How has the nature of your work changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?
Most of my work, ranging from writing the Governor’s daily remarks to working with the media, stems from COVID-related topics. I spend a lot of time absorbing the state’s public health trends and collaborating on how to message important information to the public. Right now, we are working on vaccine distribution. Other examples include messaging the conditions in our hospitals or explaining new guidelines that we have put in place for residents and businesses.
What are your main goals as the Governor’s communications director?
It sounds simple, but my main goal is to distill a lot of information—which can often be big and complicated—into a straightforward narrative that everyone can understand and benefit from. This could take the form of a speech, media statements, or social media content. I am constantly working to craft communications that capture the Governor’s voice and convey his message on any given topic—from the pandemic to a major piece of legislation.
How does your work influence the political process?
That’s hard to say. I spend a lot of time with my team strategizing how to best explain things. Ultimately, the content that people read online, in the newspaper or see on TV is a product of that work.
You have a front-row seat to politicians. Is there anything you feel is misunderstood by the public?
One challenge of state government is the vast amount of information that needs to get dispatched to the public, and it’s tough to get everything fully saturated in the daily news cycle. Especially with the influence of social media, where people absorb news through a tweet or a Facebook post, a lot of information seems underexplained to me. I think it would be beneficial for people to spend more time studying politicians through the details—like their voting records and extensive public comments—and forming their opinions through that lens.
A career in political communications seems quite demanding. What skill set does it require?
Adrenaline, sense of urgency, and attention to detail; I’m constantly working to meet a deadline. These roles also require good listening skills. I learn a lot from other people who are subject matter experts and have decades of experience on me, and use that information to do my job.
What keeps you passionate about your work?
I’ve been hugely motivated by the people I’ve worked for, especially Governor Baker. Working in state government during the pandemic has also taught me a new meaning of public service, which is both challenging and humbling. I feel passionate about doing my job well so that Massachusetts residents have the information they need from the administration. As we battle COVID-19, that job feels more important than ever and I’m grateful to be part of the team.
Have you ever considered running for a political office?
No. I love my role in the crisis communications lane—that’s the right fit for me.