Online pioneer R. Rebecca “Becki” Black Donatelli is a USC alumna and president of Campaign Solutions/Connell Donatelli. She served as the chief Internet consultant to both of Senator John McCain’s presidential races, and was the first person to raise political money on the Internet. We caught up with Donatelli during a recent hard-hat tour she took of Wallis Annenberg Hall.
R. REBECCA “BECKI” BLACK DONATELLI: My father was a graduate of USC. My stepfather was a graduate of USC. I graduated from USC. My daughter Elizabeth graduated from USC in 2004. So it’s a straight line, along with two uncles and three cousins, so you could say this is the family school. Elizabeth is entering her 10th year as an on-air reporter, this is her third market, and she credits it all to the actual hands-on work that she did here as an undergraduate. She took an ethics in journalism class here at Annenberg that made a big impact.
USC ANNENBERG: You have been credited with being the disruptor of an industry.
DONATELLI: We like to think we’re innovators—although I love your term, ‘The Disruptor.’ I think I might have to adopt that. We’re constantly looking at trends, and what’s new, and trying to innovate and keep up with things or be a step ahead. We have taken a great pride in being the first to do things, because at my age, I’m not afraid anymore of taking chances. If it doesn’t work you put it aside and do something else.
USC ANNENBERG: Was it hard to convince campaigns, at a national level or local level, to do things differently; to use online techniques?
DONATELLI: It is still hard. On our [Republican] side of the aisle, it’s a little bit harder than the other guys [Democrats], because President Obama actually won utilizing what we do for a living. But any time there is change, it’s difficult. So we are constantly evangelizing. I’d like to say everybody’s now running to our doors and saying, ‘Gee, I want to invest all of my media money in online advertising.’ It’s not the case, but it is changing, especially because of the people who went to Annenberg 10-15 years ago are now moving into leadership opportunities, and understanding the convergence of media and data and digital, and that it’s not all about buying TV spots anymore. Thank you, Annenberg!
USC ANNENBERG: Why did you establish the R. Rebecca Donatelli Expert-in-Residence in Political Analysis and Media program, which will bring leading political analysis and media technology experts to campus to share their perceptions and knowledge with our students and faculty?
DONATELLI: Because I love USC. I think it’s the finest university in the country. It has afforded me with the tools to go forth in life and succeed. That’s first. Second, the idea of working with young people is exciting. Plus, there’s a connection to Annenberg through Elizabeth. And, you’ve got an amazing Dean [Ernest J. Wilson III], whom I just connected with, and I’m overwhelmed by his willingness to enlarge the footprint here, and consider new things.