Students crowded into DeMoss 1101 Thursday night to hear Brett O’Donnell, who has worked on presidential campaigns, address his alma mater.
The event was put on by Liberty’s chapter of Public Relations Student Society of America and the American Advertising Federation.
Cindi Fahle, a public relations major who helped coordinate the event, was excited to hear O’Donnell speak.
“He left such a legacy here (at Liberty). And he’s made such an impact with his career,” Fahle said.
O’Donnell entitled his presentation “The Curved Path.”
“When I arrived here at Liberty, I actually thought that I was going into the ministry, to be a pastor,” O’Donnell said.
But O’Donnell was given a piece of advice that changed his path. He was advised that it would be better to hone a skill that could be used in many places, he said. He decided to major in speech and minor in Greek. He was the director of Liberty University’s award winning debate team for 18 years, he said.
O’Donnell became involved with former president George W. Bush after meeting Karl Rove. O’Donnell offered to go work for the president, never thinking it would actually happen.
“I saw a chance and I took it. That was truly God’s work,” O’Donnell said.
Through working with Bush’s office, O’Donnell was given another job opportunity. In 2006 Senator John McCain offered O’Donnell a job. O’Donnell was happy to take the job, but the road was not easy.
“I was one of 16 who survived from the beginning to the end of the presidential campaign,” O’Donnell said.
Before the end, O’Donnell had gone two months without a paycheck and the campaign was literally being run out of the employee’s pockets. O’Donnell said he stayed with McCain because he believed in him.
So much goes on far beyond writing the speech and covering the main points. Who would be in the shot and even what the candidate would wear has to be considered, O’Donnell said.
“Cindy McCain called me Mr. Valentino because I would actually pick out (John McCain’s) ties, his shirt and his suit,” O’Donnell said.
The war room and the spin room are also integral to a political debate, O’Donnell added. The aptly named war room is where staff listens to the debate in real time. They would employ rapid response by sending out press releases throughout the speech. Sometimes they would expound on a point. Other times they would correct an error. The spin room is where the media spin was put on the debate.
O’Donnell also addressed journalism majors in the crowd. He warned them against sensationalizing events when they were not even there to witness them.
“Please, please, please tell the truth. Fifty percent, probably more than fifty percent of what you read about campaigns is not true,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell urged students to be well-read and up on the current news. He also suggested students get involved in activities and broaden their horizons. As for being a Liberty alumnus, O’Donnell said it has not hurt him in the political arena.
Dr. Gina Barker, the faculty advisor for PRSSA, said the event has been in the works for about a month. “We jumped at the chance to have him speak,” Barker said.