Originally published in Azalea Magazine (3.20.16)
Written by Susan Frampton
PUSH Digital founder and CEO Wesley Donehue is the virtual face of digital media, but his mirror reflects so much more.
If you don’t want to know what Wesley Donehue thinks, you’d best not ask him. He’s smart, passionate, talented, and ferociously honest. Husband, father, political activist, entrepreneur, Christian, athlete, avid Gamecock and self-proclaimed geek, Donehue’s mirror reflects a man of many authentic and fascinating faces, one who moves fluidly from one role to the next with seemingly endless energy.
Named “Rising Star” and “Campaign Innovator of the Year,” by Campaigns and Elections Magazine, he and his staff at PUSH Digital have blazed a fiery trail in the field of digital marketing for conservative candidates, issues and brands. As Political Director of the SC Senate Republican Caucus and Marketing and Technology Director for the SC Republican Party, Donehue has never hesitated to push the hot buttons, and he is well known for speaking his mind.
Donehue’s interest in politics came early, ignited by reassignment to a new high school—a result of a change in the district lines of the Goose Creek community he grew up in. He took his argument against the change to the school board, standing before them as the voice for the neighborhood of the young, disenfranchised students. His stand brought him to the attention of the both newspaper and television, and to the notice of conservative Republican State Senator Bill Mescher, who offered the teenager a job on his reelection campaign. Donehue took to the job immediately.
It was while attending USC and working as a page in the SC Senate that Donehue realized the world of politics was one that well-suited him. He recalls his delight at the discovery. “For the first time, I understood this could be an actual job.” The notion that he would one day help run a campaign for a possible presidential nominee never entered his mind, but his penchant for politics made the path almost inevitable.
He joined College Republicans at the university, and quickly rose through the ranks to become state chairman of the organization. Meeting like-minded people from all across the country, he worked for campaign consultants on a number of campaigns. The game became even more interesting for Donehue during grad school, when he was introduced to the campaign manager for a little-known congressman from the Upstate who had thrown his hat in the US Senate seat race. Jim DeMint’s campaign and subsequent election changed everything; doors began to open, and he was soon off and running on a campaign consulting career that would find him crisscrossing the country.
Along the way, he observed that more and more people sought their news from the internet, and he recognized that it would become a driving force in the future of politics. Still working on more than a dozen senate campaigns, he moved back to Columbia and began working with web developers to create websites for the candidates he served. Senator DeMint saw the success of the websites, and asked Donehue to build a site for him. He acknowledges that the opportunity represented a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.
“The site caught fire, and DeMint became the most followed member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.”
Recognizing digital media as the next big thing, Donehue set out on his own and his expertise was immediately put to the test when his client exclaimed the now infamous phrase, “You lie!” during a presidential address. “It was totally unexpected. He was the quietest, most respectful person you’d ever meet,” Donehue says, describing South Carolina’s U.S. Representative Joe Wilson. Not only did Donehue’s firm manage the crisis, in less than two weeks their efforts raised $2.5 million for the congressman. It was a digital fundraising record.
While in Columbia, the conservative Republican Donehue, and his best friend, Phil Bailey, a staunch Democrat, began “Pub Politics;” a live, weekly internet radio show featuring the two discussing politics at various local pubs around the city. The show grew in popularity and hot-topic discussions with guest politicians, journalists and local celebrities soon drew the attention of The Washington Post, CNN and Fox News.
“As fun as it was, I knew that it was not our opinions on the issues that mattered, but rather, the issues themselves,” Donehue says of the decision to end the broadcast. When he began to be called upon for interviews by national newspapers and news networks as an expert on digital campaigns, it was his expertise in the field that he lent to their reports.
“I didn’t want to be a talking head. I wanted to be the guy running the campaigns that they were all talking about.”
The digital and social media campaign he now runs for Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, has put him squarely in that arena, and the next few months will prove to be exciting for the strategist.
But there is a softer side to Donehue, which is evident when his face lights up at the mention of his wife, Elizabeth, and their son, Harlowe. He and Elizabeth met and became good friends when both attended USC. The two went their separate ways before reconnecting in Charleston two years later. They dated for three months before becoming engaged, and married only four months later. She is the perfect counterpoint to his frenetic style.
“Elizabeth is my grounding force,” he says. “She keeps me pointed in the right direction and keeps me focused.” The two returned to Elizabeth’s home town of Summerville after almost ten years of traveling and bouncing back and forth between Columbia and San Francisco. “We always knew that we would come back here,” he says. “This is our favorite place in the world.”
Harlowe’s arrival might have mellowed him a bit; his demeanor changes when he speaks of the little man of the family. “He is hilarious,” Donehue smiles, “he likes to make everything into a hat —he’ll walk around with a box or some other random thing on his head. People tell you that a baby will change your life, and that is certainly the case.”
But Donehue remains driven. He is a familiar face to a group of men committed to rising before dawn for an early workout. His involvement in F3, the faith-based fitness program he brought with him from Columbia is a testament to his competitive spirit, as well as his deep faith. Already, almost 400 men have completed the program of fitness, fellowship and faith. They gather each morning at 5:00 am, for the free, 45-minute workout, which ends with a prayer and devotional.
“It has changed a lot of lives,” he says of the program.
In part, the program spurred the training he and Elizabeth are doing toward running a marathon. They have already finished several half marathons, and plan to keep up the pace until they’re ready for the grueling 26-mile test. They are a familiar sight around Summerville, with Harlowe often leading the charge from the front row seat of his jogging stroller.
Donehue’s latest venture, a partnership in a craft brewery, has pushed him in yet another direction; though it was his political career that first brought him to take an interest in the business. Writing legislation for the pint law permitting craft breweries the ability to serve up to three pints of beer on premise, and later a bill allowing those serving food to serve unlimited beer, prompted him to invest in the Frothy Beard Brewing Company—a move which may or may not be the impetus behind the impressive beard framing the expressive face just above the signature bowtie.
It is the face of a man who admits that there are almost always a dozen things running through his mind, and time spent with Donehue reveals it to be only one of many peering back from Wesley Donehue’s looking glass. Each reflects the brilliant mind and forward momentum of one for whom the word “PUSH” is far more than simply the name of his company; it’s the philosophy and watchword of the man in the mirror.
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