Michele L. Watley is the founder and owner of The Griot Group, a consulting practice that partners with clients to bring together the people, institutions and resources necessary to create impact through strategic communications and advocacy. She is a results-driven practitioner that has worked with candidates and organizations across the US, representing a vast range of political ideologies at the federal, state, and local levels of government.
During the 2016 electoral cycle, Michele served served as the national African American outreach political director for Senator Bernie Sander’s presidential campaign and as the statewide political director for Koster for Missouri. In both roles Michele successfully targeted voters to build broad coalitions of support within communities that were not previously engaged. Prior to the 2016 campaign season, Michele served as a regional director for Missouri Secretary of State, Jason Kander.
Michele’s passion for politics began with her first career in labor as a carpenter apprentice with the Carpenter’s District Council, Kansas City and Vicinity. As a carpenter apprentice, Michele worked on and led a number of major construction projects for one of the nation’s top construction companies. She made the transition from a highly successful career in carpentry to a career in strategic communications and political advocacy. She went on to work with organizations in the government administration and non-profit sectors including the Missouri Department of Transportation, the Congressional Black Caucus Institute, and the Hague Conference on Private and International Law located in the Hague Netherlands.
Michele is a graduate of Avila University with a BA in Communication and a Masters in Organizational Development. She is a proud member of Rotary International and Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
AAPC: What does being a 2017 AAPC 40 Under 40 Award winner mean to you?
Michele: Being named 40 Under 40 is a not only an honor, but it is a testament to the quality of my expertise and accomplishments. Knowing that industry leaders review each nomination based on metrics of excellence set by the organization ensures this award is not “another award that people in the industry give to each other to make themselves feel good.”
AAPC: What are you most looking forward to this year?
Michele: I am looking forward to expanding and growing my company, The Griot Group, both geographically and our scope of work. I met quite a few professionals at the AAPC national conference that I look forward to partnering with.
AAPC: To what do you credit your success at such a young age?
Michele: I work within the mantra that “It’s Better to Beg for Forgiveness than to Ask for Permission.” As a young woman in this industry, I found myself over analyzing and talking myself out of opportunities for fear of offending others or making mistakes. Being open to opportunities that involve risk and that cause me to “stretch” have paved the path for the successes I have today.
AAPC: What advice would you give to a young professional who has their eye on being a future 40 Under 40 Award winner?
Michele: While working on campaigns, define what your “win” looks like and determine what you would like to contribute and accomplish. There are times when you work on a losing campaign, but you have wins. Working on a winning campaign doesn’t mean you contributed to the win. You should be able to articulate where you contributed to a win, regardless of the campaign’s outcome.