Top photo: Lauren Harper (right) with 2020 Presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke and campaign staffers Cynthia Cano and Chris Evans.
Lauren Harper knows what she wants, but she also knows when to pivot. In high school, she planned to pursue a journalism career, but she switched to public relations her freshman year at USC, caught the public service bug then carved her own path.
Harper worked in various politically adjacent roles with a public relations focus while pursuing her degree, which she earned in 2016. She spent time interning for current state Sen. Mia McLeod while McLeod was in the South Carolina House of Representatives; working for The Campbell Consulting Group, a public affairs firm; and interning in the Office of the Mayor under Steve Benjamin — all while participating in student government at USC.
“I found public service deeply fulfilling, and I was inspired by my bosses who held elected office. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but I figured, ‘Hey, let’s give this a shot,’” says Harper.
She found her experiences working in positions that serve the community rewarding.
“I knew deep down that as I started my career, I wanted to work for leaders and organizations that allowed me to do work that directly impacts people,” she says
Harper was offered a job in former Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin’s office as policy and communications director and held the role for three years. She learned the ins and outs of how a mayor’s office works and was able to practice many valuable skills that she uses today, such as engaging effectively with her community. She was also tasked with writing the mayor’s annual State of the City address.
“I wrote probably hundreds of press releases working for Mayor Benjamin,” says Harper. “They’re certainly not rocket science, and you can figure it out with practice, but those technical writing skills are essential in the political world. When you go to write something, it shouldn’t take you two hours; it should take you two minutes.”
In 2018, while working for Mayor Benjamin, Harper also stretched her wings, founding CityBright, a political and communications consulting firm. It was originally a side job where she could hone her skills ghostwriting op-eds and speeches for clients. But in 2019, she was recruited by several presidential campaigns for the 2020 election cycle and chose to serve as state director for Beto O’Rourke’s campaign.
The campaign was short, but Harper learned many valuable lessons and made the decision to work for herself after the campaign ended. In November of 2019 — right before the pandemic — she took a leap of faith, bet on herself and began working full time for CityBright.
Harper’s career has accelerated at a stellar pace. She co-founded The Welcome Party, a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that focuses on mobilizing independent and swing voters. She also co-founded the PAC affiliate of that organization, WelcomePAC, which works to grow a “big tent” Democratic Party by recruiting and supporting Democratic challengers in winnable but overlooked Republican-held districts and states.
Harper also worked for the Texas Democratic Party as coordinated campaign director for the 2022 election cycle.
“My passion is civic engagement. I get really excited when people learn more about how the government and political world work because people tend to engage with things more when they learn how they work,” she says. “People don’t necessarily watch football if they don’t know the rules. You can’t really get involved and watch the game if you have no idea what a first down is, right?”