Spitfire Strategies

Spitfire Spotlight: Get to know our newest Spitfires

There are some new faces at Spitfire, adding valuable talents and perspectives to the Spitfire team. We sat down with four of them to learn more about some of their favorite things—at work and at play.


Where were you before Spitfire?

Mike Carter-Conneen

Director, Washington, D.C.

I spent 15 years in broadcast journalism with stints in TV newsrooms in Arizona and Colorado before arriving in D.C. in 2008. After 10 years reporting and anchoring at WJLA-TV (ABC7), I decided it was time for a change. Frankly, at this moment – politically, culturally, historically – I was eager to get off the sidelines and get engaged.

Hannah Ross

Account Executive, D.C.

I was a Communications Associate at the Case Foundation, a family foundation which focuses on inclusive entrepreneurship, impact investing and millennial engagement. I helped run digital strategy there. I also helped draft blogs for the leadership team, and I edited the foundation’s online publication, #FacesofFounders, which spotlighted diverse entrepreneurial leaders.

Nima Shirazi

Director, New York

After managing communications and media-related grantmaking at The Atlantic Philanthropies, I helped launch a new narrative training and movement building start-up last year. Around the same time, I co-created a media criticism podcast that seeks to call out, challenge, and correct corporate media’s reliance on and regurgitation of false and destructive narratives, tropes, and stereotypes.

Aaron Zeiler

Account Coordinator, D.C.

 I just graduated with a masters in mass communication from the University of Florida. In addition to being involved on campus, I had internships at the frank gathering, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (CTFK) and Florida Hospital.


What previous job or experience made the biggest impact on you, professionally and/or personally? How did it shape how you see your work today?

Nima: I’ve been rather peripatetic in my work life; that is to say, I’ve done a lot of different stuff. I’ve always tried to stay connected to creativity, though, from my time at a film production company to Off-Broadway theater management to touring as a drummer in various bands you’ve never heard of to produce an independent, listener-supported podcast. I can’t say which of the myriad threads had the most impact on me; rather, it’s the combination of everything that has shaped how I see my work.

Mike: My first TV job at KUSA in Denver was brief but career-defining. I wrote news copy for the anchors – Denver TV icons – I grew up watching. I was a 20-year old college junior with no prior experience. During my first writing shift, one of the newsroom veterans chastised my work and berated me in front of everyone; he clearly did not think I was qualified for the job. Humiliated, I found refuge in one of the station’s make-up rooms. Looking in the mirror with tears streaming down my face, I was convinced I had just destroyed my career. But I got it together and got back to work. And fortunately, I soon found many mentors in the newsroom who helped me grow – including that newsroom veteran. They each taught me the fundamentals: writing, storytelling, videography, etc. And that experience – good and bad – launched the rest of my career, taught me how to confront problems and sparked my interest in mentoring others.


What made you want to become a Spitfire?

Aaron: Public interest communications is my passion. While I was a Karel Fellow at CTFK we had a lesson with a Spitfire about Smart Chart. After hearing about the strategic work they did, I decided I wanted to be a Spitfire. Three years later, I’m a Spitfire.

Hannah: I’ve followed Spitfire’s work for a while, and I’ve always been excited by how the firm supports a variety of clients doing incredible work, all while sharing insights with the broader communications and changemaker world. I’m honored to be joining a group that’s both furthering clients’ missions using strategic communications and sharing its findings with fellow social good leaders.


How are you sparking change at Spitfire these days?

Mike: It is new for me to actively advocate for a particular issue or viewpoint but I’m loving it. I’m currently working to garner support on Capitol Hill for carbon removal technologies that can curb carbon pollution to prevent catastrophic climate change. I’m also helping to raise awareness of the We Believe You Fund which, in the wake of the #MeToo movement, aims to shift attention from individual perpetrators to problematic corporate policies for women in the workplace.

Hannah: I am helping with research, digital content creation, writing and media relations for clients working on everything from inclusion in sports, to reproductive health, to criminal justice and more.

Delicious Spitfire cookies from our newest AC.

Aaron: I bring cookies to the office (pictured right). Cookies always help spark change. 

In your role at Spitfire, what are you most excited about having the opportunity to work on and/or contribute to, whether a specific project or an overall organizational mission?

Nima: I have the privilege to be working with a set of incredible organizations, most of which are courageously facing down issues of dire importance: white supremacy; mass incarceration; segregation and discrimination; the criminalization of entire communities; a criminal legal system that has little to do with justice; a national security apparatus more interested in surveillance and control than protection and privacy. Using the right words at the right time for the right people is one thing, but winning concrete change for the better is another. We have a lot of work to do, but I know we’re up to it.

Hannah: I’m really excited to help with media relations across the board, and also to help support criminal justice reform clients, which is an area I’m passionate about supporting positive change in.


What is one personality trait, hobby or passion that best exemplifies who you are?

Mike: I am passionate about photography. Since I was a teen, I’ve enjoyed capturing beautiful, impactful images. This interest was magnified during my years in TV news. And like any parent, my photo archive has grown exponentially since I became a dad.

Aaron: I think my ability to listen makes me a great communicator. When you take the time to actively listen, you can better understand where a person is coming from and where they want to go.


What’s your favorite movie or TV show?

Mike: I love the French film “Amelie.” It’s witty, optimistic and romantic. And it has a charming message about appreciating the little moments in life.

Hannah: I really like This Is Us. It’s a little corny, but it’s full of relatable characters who are easy to root for and the show tackles a lot of important issues in an interesting way.

Aaron: To Kill a Mockingbird. It reminds me that not everything is black and white and that it takes courage to try to understand someone else’s point-of-view even if you don’t agree.

Nima: Let me know when you have fourteen hours of free time to discuss this.


To learn more about Aaron, Hannah, Mike and Nima, read their full bios at https://www.spitfirestrategies.com/team/.

“This has been a tremendous eye opener. It shows us how to pull the aspects of communications skills, from the message, to the audience. It forced us to identify our strengths and our weaknesses in an effort to become more strategic in how we prepare our messages and communicate them.”

- Training Participant

Getting Your Story Covered: Tips for Top-Notch Media Pitching Part Two

Mike Carter-Conneen

By Mike Carter-Conneen

  In the first installment of this two-part series, I shared some insights from my years working in TV news and media relations, focusing on the best methods to get your pitches seen by reporters. In this part, I review some strategies for increasing the odds those reporters will actually… (read more)

Making Your Pitches Count: Tips for Top-Notch Media Pitching Part Three

Hannah Ross

By Hannah Ross
Account Executive

  Communication professionals are no strangers to the challenges that journalists are facing today, from the demands of the 24-hour news cycle to budget shortfalls and understaffed newsrooms. We respect them for their tenacity and commitment to uncovering the truth, and we value being able to build relationships with them… (read more)

Finding the Words to Champion the Greater Good

Kristen Grimm

By Kristen Grimm

  An interest in politics isn’t new to Paige Swanson, a Karel Fellow who is working at Spitfire this summer before returning to Yale University for her senior year. But what is new to Paige is using strategic communication to make the case for political and social change. “I’ve worked… (read more)

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