Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Consultant Mixes Politics and Fashion

Thanks so much to Rosalie Earl, Bill Lynch, and the Charleston Gazette for today's story!

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Under the Capitol dome, Cartney McCracken stands out in a sea of assorted legislators, state workers, lawyers and lobbyists. She's the only one wearing pearls, pink stiletto shoes and a black cocktail dress.

Against the shell-white marble, McCracken is a black reef of calm, and it's impossible not to wonder, "What is she doing here?"

The 26-year-old Charleston native is the social media strategist and client relations manager for Rainmaker Media Group, an advertising and image-consulting firm in Charleston. The firm has represented several politicians and interest groups, including the West Virginia Federation of Teachers and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association.

The George Washington High School graduate is also a political analyst and blogger. Her "Politico in Stilettos" blog, which watches local and national political scenes with a fashionista sensibility, has its fans and its critics since she launched it last year. Still, it's as recognizable as her retro hairdo. The blog was recently cited on the New York Times blog "The Caucus" after the state Supreme Court ordered Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin to act as governor and set a date for a special election for governor.

"It's very exciting," McCracken said, meaning both the nod from The Times and the upcoming election. "I'm pretty sure Rainmaker is going to have a horse in that race.

She doesn't know whom yet, but she can hardly wait.

McCracken, whose seems to channel the spirit of Carrie Bradshaw, would like to become a press secretary and a communications director for a national officeholder.

"I'd love to work with campaigns in South America," she said, while acknowledging that parts of that continent are highly volatile. "I love the culture, especially Peru, and I never shy away from a challenge.

She'd have to work on her Spanish, though. She says she used to be fluent but has let it slip.

McCracken is passionate about many things, but her two greatest loves are fashion and politics. Fashion came first, probably because her mother, Lisa, is marketing director for Charleston Town Center Mall. Politics took root in the ninth grade.

"Politics is like golf," she said. "Once you start, you catch this fever for it, and I just never gave it up."

As a teenager, she was elected president of the Young Democrats at GW and worked as a volunteer for Joe Manchin when he served as secretary of state. She was devoted, and Steve McElroy, then executive director of the West Virginia State Democratic Party, asked her to work for them.

"But I had to go to school," she said, frowning.

In school, she studied both the pretty, manicured world of couture and the bare-knuckle world of politics. She graduated from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro with a degree in fashion marketing. She is working toward a master's in integrated marketing communications from West Virginia University, and is also considering law school.

"I have friends who have really been pushing me to go to law school," she said. "With a law degree, you can do so many things. It teaches you how to construct an effective argument."

McCracken recently took the LSAT, but she wasn't exceedingly pleased with the results. She says she might try again.

Law and marketing go together, she says.

"You can break politics down into two camps," she said. "There are the policy people and the campaign people. I'm pretty much on the campaign side of things -- crafting image, creating brands and finding ways to get the message out there."

After college, she took some time to figure out what she wanted to do. She worked at Ivor's Trunk, on Lee Street, for a while (and still works there as a model). She spent months networking, making new connections and renewing old acquaintances before she found work with Rainmaker Media Group.

"I networked my butt off for six months," she laughed.

Part of what she does with Rainmaker is to help clients reach customers or constituents online through the constantly evolving social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter. Neither is expensive or difficult to use, she says, but they're time-consuming.

"A lot of what we do is based on what the client wants. But we're looking for good press for them, basically."

Politics and fashion are not strange bedfellows, she says.

"Before John Kerry ran for president, what did he do?" she asked. "He got a haircut. He got a tan. He lost weight."

McCracken believes looking the part is almost as important as having the right platform -- at least if you want to get elected.

"Look what happened with Nixon and Kennedy," she said. "In their big television debate in 1960, John F. Kennedy looked like a president. Richard Nixon didn't."

Presenting the right image is even more important now, McCracken says, and she practices what she preaches. Partly, McCracken's stylish outfits and pink stilettos are meant to attract attention, get people looking and wondering.

She also likes wearing them.

Reach Bill Lynch at or 304-348-5195.

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