Communication student Briana Riley learns from internship on Alderman Bill Stephens’ winning campaign
The #fliptheboard movement that put three newcomers on the St. Louis City Board of Aldermen this past election has at least one University of Missouri–St. Louis connection: communication student Briana Riley served as an intern on the winning campaign of new alderman Bill Stephens.
With a little over 51% of the vote, St. Louis Public Library employee Stephens, 27, beat incumbent Ward 12 Alderwoman Vicky Grass by just 90 votes (1421-1331) in the April 6 general election.
Riley, who is set to graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree and an emphasis in strategic communication, said her role in the upset was in helping build Stephens’ communications strategy. Riley worked with campaign communications director and mentor Robert Fischer.
“We pulled it off by canvassing,” Riley said of the campaign victory. “And I worked with my communications director on social media strategy, press releases, newsletters, media relations – all the good stuff. It was truly an amazing experience.”
Riley, 23, is a graduate of Clayton High School and attended Northern Virginia Community College and the University of Kansas before transferring to UMSL in 2019.
“UMSL is close to home, and it’s a great school, especially because it’s affordable and flexible with my schedule,” said Riley, who works part-time as a server. “And I know a lot of people who love it here.”
She said that her communications classes at UMSL helped prepare her for an internship with a political campaign. Riley’s most memorable class was taught by associate teaching professor Shannon Ahrndt.
“I had her in the Fall of 2019 for a professional communications course, and she taught me a lot about the professional world – not just about the field of communications but any career, any major,” Riley said.
With a special interest in public relations writing and social media, Riley was instantly drawn to the internship when it was posted online by the Department of Communication and Media.
“It seemed like right up my alley as far as what I wanted to do,” she said. “I actually learned a lot – more than I thought I would – and it gave me a better understanding of how things work.”
Through her internship, Riley has been able to receive hands-on experience building skills in social media content, graphic design and newsletter and media writing.
“Over time, I learned things like how to develop newsletters and PR pieces and social media pieces,” she said. “I created graphics for all of the endorsements from other alderpersons from different wards and other organizations. We got a lot of donations from the newsletters, and that stood out as a really big thing – to see the newsletters I wrote getting attention from donors.”
One of the things that Riley was surprised to learn was that people with communications teams don’t always write their own media quotes. She was delighted to find out when an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Stephens using the words she composed.
“The St. Louis Post-Dispatch did an article, and they picked up the quote that I wrote for Bill’s victory speech, word-for-word,” Riley said. “Before I started my internship, I didn’t realize that the candidate himself doesn’t write his words. It’s obviously his ideas, but it’s us more coming in and condensing what he wants to say.”
After graduation, Riley hopes to continue using her media writing and social media skills in public relations or on another political campaign. In the meantime, she plans to continue working on Stephens’ communications team as a volunteer this summer.
“I loved this internship,” Riley said. “It was a great experience, and I was kind of sad it was over, even though I was happy that he won. He’s amazing, the whole staff was super friendly and I learned a lot from Bill and Robert.”
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