We had the good fortune of connecting with Michelle G. Kauk and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Michelle, what do you love most about your work?
Explaining what I do for a living is never a short answer. I have worked in public affairs for 20 years, and the first question I always get is – what is that? Public affairs is the blend of government affairs and communications, and it is something I have been wildly passionate about from a young age. I became fascinated with politics in high school and as a junior I was able to attend the Electoral College at the Connecticut state capitol for the 1996 election. Other students were bored, naturally, I on the other hand was mesmerized. I started paying attention to what was happening in my community, and my state, and knew I would end up involved in politics at some point in my career. When I was in college, I worked as a Page at the Arizona state legislature, which is traditionally a job held by a college student to help run errands for staff and elected officials. Over the course of three legislative sessions, I witnessed the behind the scenes of state politics, and instead of running for the hills, I was all in. I remember watching Senator John McCain speak on the floor of the United States Senate, and in media interviews, about important issues facing Americans, and being absolutely entranced by his ability to convey complex matters in a way that was easy for everyone to understand what was going on in Washington. I went on to work for him for six years, and was able to see if firsthand, further developing my love for public affairs, and specifically the art of crafting messaging around intricate issues. When I started my company, MODE Public Affairs, I knew my work had to be connected to projects that are focused on the community. In the three years my company has been up and running, I have had the great fortune to work with amazing clients and on projects I feel will make a difference in our communities. From working on messaging and strategies for strengthening economic development efforts, to promoting metro Phoenix on the national level as a destination for business growth, to developing strategies for workforce programs to enhance the quality of life for people in our communities. The work I do ranges from social media to full blown campaigns, and I love every minute of it. I love working through complex economic data and putting it into context for how it impacts our region. I love being able to work on messaging with businesses and individuals on how we can promote our cities to groups outside Arizona. And I love to think that the work I am doing is making even the smallest difference in leaving this place better than we found it.
What should our readers know about your business?
It’s interesting now that my company has been around for three years to think about the new projects I have taken on and how having your own company allows you to take on new challenges and turn them into opportunities. The combination of services I am able to offer my clients does set me apart – being able to strategize and deliver messaging blending communications, politics and economic development is something I am passionate about, and it comes across in my work. Getting here, however, took a lot of hard work, a desire to constantly learn and the ability to ask others for help. Early in my career, anytime I was asked to tag along on a meeting, or look into a new issue, or write about a new topic, I never hesitated. Even today I am eager to learn more, whether it is attending a webinar or reading countless articles or books. One of the first questions I ask clients when taking on a new project is “why?” and then working through that to find out what they are looking to gain, what problem are they trying to solve, what void are they trying to fill. I believe strongly those answers lead to better results, and I do the same with how I lead my company. That’s what shapes my work, and makes MODE Public Affairs stand out.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I love this question! Now with social distancing and safety measures this looks a bit different, but one of the things I tell people visiting from other areas is about the not so secret food scene happening in metro Phoenix. Personally, I love the small, family-owned establishments, with one of our absolute favorites right here in Gilbert – Sal’s Gilbert Pizza. This is more than a restaurant, it is a community, where patrons become regulars, and sitting down for a meal is like being invited to their home for dinner, a meal they are proud to present to you. The food is out of this world. I also really love how downtown Gilbert has transformed to a go-to spot. However, if building out an itinerary (all food based of course!) we would start the morning by grabbing a coffee to go at Piexoto in Chandler, then go for a long walk in my neighborhood, followed by picking up lunch at Sal’s (a slice of pizza of course!) to eat at one of the many parks in Gilbert, and then a visit to downtown Phoenix to walk around and look at the juxtaposition of old buildings mixed in with new high rises, and end with dinner (take out!) from Thai Lahna in Phoenix for the absolute best Thai food of your life.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
There are a number of people who contributed to my success and are responsible for my being where I am today. I had a few mentors at the state legislature when I was in college who were always willing to talk with me, offer advice and even make recommendations on my behalf (be it for graduate school, an internship or a job). To this day I do not take it for granted the number of people in my corner rooting for me to succeed. I lovingly refer to them as my “Spinach Club” – these are the people who will tell you when you are great, but will also tell you when you have spinach in your teeth. There is the mentor, the confidant, the “whine” club, the booster and the reality check. For me, I have a number of people that fit into these categories and I know exactly who these people are in my life and how lucky I am to have this incredible roundtable of people who I can go to both personally and professionally. Over the course of my career those people have been Paul Senseman, John Graham, Jim Rounds, Beth Lewallen, Kelly Patton and Crystal Bradley.
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