SPIA alumni Cody Hall (AB ’15), a Dawsonville native who now serves as director of communications for the office of Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, has been named one of UGA’s “40 Under 40” distinguished alumni for 2021. The list recognizes young alumni who have made a significant impact in their field.
Hall was quick to point out both the depth of his honor and genuine surprise that he made the cut.
“Looking at that list,” he said, “I saw folks with careers way more interesting than mine.”
But none with more modesty. At 27, Hall is one of the younger honorees, with a meteoric, and inspiring, professional rise. As the first person in his immediate family to attend and graduate college, he initially struggled to find his feet on the UGA campus.
FOSTERING HIS PASSION FOR POLITICS AT UGA
“My parents were very supportive of me,” said Hall, “but you grow up pretty quickly when they say, ‘We support you, but you make a decision that works for you.’ I thought I wanted to rush, but other than that, I had no idea. I had to figure out scheduling classes, Greek life, and also what campus organizations I wanted to [join]. I leaned on the early structure that UGA gives you. That was hugely helpful for me because I didn’t have any folks from home that I could call and ask.”
That structure, and a longstanding passion for politics, led the self-proclaimed “political junkie” to the School of Public and International Affairs. He initially opted to double major in political science and international affairs, but made a change based on priceless advice from Dr. Charles Bullock: the long-time professor recommended Hall drop his IA major to allow time for more internships in the political world.
“He gave me one of the best pieces of advice I ever received,” he said. “I interned the summer of 2013, all of 2014, and spring of 2015. Through those three internships, I got official congressional experience, campaign congressional experience, and state legislative experience, [which] completely changed my direction and informed decisions I had to make to get here today.”
Hall also cites an honors congressional elections class taught by Dr. Jamie Carson as a major influence on his success, helping develop his instincts in the political world.
“That class was probably one of the most informative,” he said. “You go into the nuts and bolts of what people do during congressional elections: why they do it, what makes it successful, what makes it not. You actually get the data behind all of that.”
Also impactful was a course on the legislative process with Dr. Tony Madonna, who taught Hall the value of “tedious work.”
“I went into the congressional record and did a research paper on amendment processes in Congress [over] a space of years, and how [legislators] voted on amendments,” he said. “It was really interesting to see the process up in D.C.”
Meanwhile, Hall spent time as the executive director of the UGA College Republicans and worked to get the most from internships and the resulting connections.
“[My final] internship really opened my eyes to state government and state politics,” he said. “I came to a pretty quick conclusion that I would rather be a medium-size fish in a small pond than a tiny fish in a big ocean.”
STARTING HIS POLITICAL CAREER
When he graduated in 2015, his UGA and professional network landed him his first job, the position of policy assistant (known in the political world as a ‘body guy’) to Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black.
“My responsibilities were driving, figuring out point A to point B, and making sure [Black] saved time in meetings,” said Hall. “There was also a policy component, researching stuff that we heard on the road, interacting with different groups, and making sure that they got in contact with the right people at the department. That’s why folks do a body guy gig. You meet a lot of people and get a feel for what politics is like as a career.”
This introductory gig taught Hall about the range of Georgia cultures, industries, and ways of life.
“We spent a lot of time in North Georgia, but also went to places like Soperton and Nashville,” he said. “That was a huge eye-opening experience for me: life is just different down there. They have a culture that is centered around agriculture and row crops, stuff that I wasn’t really exposed to as a kid. In my current job, it’s always a good reminder of the differing approaches to government and ways of life inside the perimeter in Atlanta and outside.”
The relationships Hall formed during his work with Commissioner Black proved to be important and long-lasting. A friend pointed him toward his next position, an entry-level communications job with the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, which combined his knowledge of Georgia political realities with a long-held interest in media.
NETWORKING HIS WAY TO THE GOVERNOR’S OFFICE
As his network grew, more opportunities arose. A friend, the general consultant for 2018 gubernatorial candidate Hunter Hill, offered him a communications position on the campaign. Hill was defeated in the primary, but Hall still considers the gamble worthwhile.
“It’s one of those things that people learn when they’re in politics,” he said. “It’s very unstable, fast-paced, and fast-churning. I left a job with benefits to go work on a campaign, and learned a lot about myself, about communications, and about interacting with media. You just can’t replicate that amount of experience. I failed a lot, but you learn from that, you know?”
Hall refers to the summer after Hill’s loss as his “’oh, snap’ moment,” as he figured out his next professional move. However, his network paid off again, and he joined the campaign of then-candidate Kemp.
“I hopped on [Kemp’s team] in August of 2018, and that’s all she wrote,” he said. “I was press secretary for the campaign transition and the first two years in office, and then last fall became communications director. I just passed over my three-year anniversary, and I felt every minute of those three years. But I’m now working a dream job for folks I look up to and they’re great. The Kemps in general are wonderful people and they’ve given me a lot of opportunities.”
Despite the long list of Hall’s successes, he takes the most pride in lessons learned the hard way.
“I refer to it as failing forward,” Hall laughed. “UGA taught me a little bit about this. In my freshman math class, I failed the first test. I’d never failed a test before in my life. When you’re out on your own, making all these decisions, you are going to fail some. I poured 10-11 months into a race that we ended up losing . . . But I worked my tail off and it worked out.”
As comms director, much of Hall’s daily routine revolves around consuming the news of the day, setting strategy, reacting to current events, and forging productive internal and external communication.
“I always make sure that we have at least a daily meeting with the comms team [a full-time staff of five and an intern],” he said. “Between the governor’s social media events, statements in response to press inquiries, press releases, videos, and strategic planning, this keeps things from falling through the cracks.”
By staying informed and being proactive, Hall ensures that his team can manage incoming media requests, remain on schedule, and solidly promote the priorities of the governor.
“It’s all a big freight train and we just try to keep it on the tracks,” he said. “One of the hardest parts about this role, and about communications and politics in general, is that if you’re not making the news, it’s making you. It’s a tough balance.”
APPLYING HIS PASSION TO THE STATE OF GEORGIA
Even so, Hall’s passion for politics has remained constant through the daily demands of the job. He emphasizes the importance of state government work, seen by some students as a less-glamorous alternative to the D.C. experience, as a path to a more meaningful and impactful career.