Uber VP of communications on life in political and online PR
By UO student Lili Wagner
Jill Hazelbaker graduated from the University of Oregon with a bachelor of science in political science in 2003. In the short time since then she’s served as national communications director for John McCain’s 2008 presidential bid, Michael Bloomberg’s press secretary in his last mayoral campaign in New York City, Google’s senior director of communications and public policy, Snapchat’s vice president of communications and public policy, and, finally, Uber’s vice president of communications and public policy.
Not too shabby.
Hazelbaker transferred to the University of Oregon prior to her sophomore year after originally enrolling at Loyola Marymount University in Southern California.
“I wanted small classes, in a large university setting,” Hazelbaker says. On campus, she indulged her interest in political science.
“I was drawn to politics because I’ve always viewed it mission driven," Hazelbaker explained. "I want to work for and with inspiring people who have a strong sense of purpose. I actually started working on election campaigns while I was at Oregon.”
During her collegiate career Hazelbaker worked mostly on local campaigns, though she was also able to work on a gubernatorial campaign and some projects with the state House. In addition to local and regional involvement, Hazelbaker earned the opportunity to work in Greg Walden, BS '81’s congressional office in Washington, D.C., which she names her first real exposure to politics.
Following her graduation, Hazelbaker quickly won a tremendous opportunity to prove her mettle in the political arena. In the midst of John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign, Hazelbaker was raised to the rank of national communications director.
“He took a big chance on me," she said. "At the time I was hired, we were falling in the polls and running out of money, and I really took it as an opportunity to double-down. We made it through the primaries and to the general election, and were, of course, eventually defeated by Barrack Obama but it was amazing being able to work on one of the most interesting political campaigns of a lifetime.”
After McCain’s campaign, Hazelbaker moved to work on Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral campaign, during which time she collaborated with Howard Wolfson, who had served as Hillary Clinton’s communications director in 2008. “So we had both lost to Barack Obama,” Hazelbaker jokes. “In no other world would we have teamed up, which I think speaks to Bloomberg’s strength as a leader, but it was a great lesson in understanding other perspectives.”
Despite her passion for politics, following her work with Bloomberg Hazelbaker took a professional leap of faith, leaving being the high paced grind of politics for the even higher paced industry of technology. But the jump from the world of politics to the tech world of Silicon Valley wasn’t as difficult as some might think, Hazelbaker contends.
“I was originally at Google. I thought I had found my calling in politics, but then I met them. I thought it was worth continuing the conversation. Before this transition, I didn’t know anything about tech. I could hardly tell an operating system from a browser.”
Rachel Whetstone, Google's senior vice president of communications and public policy, convinced Hazelbaker to leave New York for California. Moving to across the country to work at Google was Hazelbaker’s tenth move in twelve years, but she says, “When I started talking with Rachel it was clear that Google was a mission driven company. I was immediately drawn to that.”
Of working at Google she continues, “There were really good people solving big problems. It was inspiring to be surrounded by some of the smartest people in the world. It was also a first class education in the business of technology.”
After working with Google for five years in two different roles—first as director of corporate communications and public affairs and then internationally as senior director of communications and public policy based in London—Hazelbaker decided it was time for another transition. Though she decided to remain in the tech industry, she determined that she wanted to work at a start-up.
“I’ve always wanted to work in a start-up. To me it was akin to a political campaign before the White House,” she says. So Hazelbaker accepted a position with Snapchat, a picture and video messaging app developed in 2011.
“What I found especially intriguing about Snapchat is that it's 100-percent percent mobile, which represents a shift in the tech landscape. It was a great opportunity to learn about mobile and product public relations.”
After a year at Snapchat, Hazelbaker was poached away to join Uber, the company that connects passengers with drivers. The poacher? Whetstone, currently Uber's senior vice president of communications and public policy.
“Uber has changed people's lives, and I love the mission of the company: push a button and get a ride,” Hazelbaker explains. “I’m all of three weeks in and I’m loving it. I oversee communications and public policy in the Americas.”
Despite her impressive cosmopolitan professional ventures, Hazelbaker admits she sometimes misses Oregon. “It’s a spectacular place—incredibly beautiful and I love the campus. It's home for me. I had a chance to serve on the alumni board a few years ago and it was great to be back on campus. I hope to do more for the university in future years."