Behind every Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump, and Tim Kaine is a less well-known Brian Fallon, Hope Hicks, and Ian Sams. The former have a reputation to maintain and a political platform to promote, and the latter spend every waking moment making it happen.
As the current communications director for Senator Tim Kaine, Ian Sams, a 2011 alumnus, says his is an all-in industry.
“The news cycle is 24 hours and therefore your job is 24 hours,” Sams said. “But I feel pretty lucky. The thing that gets me up in the morning every day is wanting to do this. It’s more of a calling and a commitment than it is just a job.”
As Sams would tell you, he got his start in political communications at UA when, as a sophomore, he ran Kendra Key’s SGA presidential campaign.
“It was a very, very competitive race,” Sams said. “I actually still talk about it with the people that I work with now. The intensity and seriousness with which students at Alabama take politics, especially SGA and campus politics, was sort of the proving ground that I needed to decide to do this professionally.”
The campaign Sams ran for Key ended in a 700-vote loss, but it had one of the largest voter turn outs in the school’s history—bringing in roughly 14,000 student ballots.
Since graduation, the stakes have multiplied, and his career has been a whirlwind to match the intensity of his everyday job. At only 29 years old, he has worked for the Democratic National Committee, Delaware Senator Tom Carper, Congressman Tom Perriello’s campaign for governor, Virginia Senator Tim Kaine as well as Secretary Hillary Clinton.
“One of the things that I’m proudest of in my still pretty young career is being one of the lead communications staffers working to roll out Hillary Clinton’s domestic policy agenda in the primary race in 2015,” Sams said. “I would help coordinate policy development, digital roll outs, media placement, press releases, written materials, web pages, etc. on the different domestic policy issues from health care to child care to Wall Street reform to the opioid crisis.
“The reason I decided I wanted to do communications in the first place is because it has the power to move and change things quickly. It was amazing to watch a press release that I had written drive the news on the front page of The New York Times the next day.”
Though many Americans have expressed their distrust of politicians on both sides of the party lines, Sams has a lot of hope and faith in the sincerity and earnestness of most national and local leaders.
“People often question politicians’ motivations because people are skeptical of the system, and they don’t think it’s working for them,” Sams said. “But there are a lot of people of good will who are trying to do good and get things done that are constructive.”
“These are people at the end of the day,” Sams reiterated. “And as my grandmother use to tell me when I was a kid, ‘they put their pants on one leg at a time just like you do.’”
After serving as communications director for Virginia incumbent Tim Kaine’s reelection, Sams was appointed the national press secretary for Kamala Harris for President. Here, he served as spokesperson for the Harris campaign in press events, and made several appearances on national news networks like CNN and MSNBC.
When Harris concluded her presidential campaign in January 2020, Sams became an independent communications and strategy consultant. He currently leads communications for Navigating Coronavirus, which guides its readers through the national response to COVID-19 with daily newsletters detailing news and updates from around the country. He also has served as a political analyst in print and television. Most recently, he was interviewed about the selection of Kamala Harris as vice president for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign on PBS NewsHour.