Career Spotlight: Public Relations & Crisis Communications CEO

Public relations and crisis communications are two terms that have become extremely common in today’s world. Despite the fact that everyone has heard the terms and thrown them around in conversation, few actually know what they mean or if pursing a career in one of the two fields is for them.

Managing disruption

Meet Bill Coletti, CEO of Kith, a crisis communications and reputation firm based in Austin, Texas.  Kith works with established corporations in the agriculture, education, energy and healthcare fields as they go through disruptive moments, like food recalls, misalignments with ingredients in products or public expectation.

“We exclusively work for companies that are feeling disrupted in the age of disruption,” Bill said. “Our main focus has been serving major agricultural companies.”

In order to guide companies through disruptive times, Kith focuses on three primary areas.

  1.     Response — During a crisis, Kith helps a corporation handle and respond to the media and stakeholders.
  2.     Training — Kith works with companies in advance of a crisis to make sure the corporation’s team is ready to handle anything. Part of the training process involves crisis simulation.
  3.     Planning — Kith works with companies to evaluate and understand the public risk.

An example of a food and agriculture company who recently used crisis management is Bluebell Creameries. Bluebell implemented crisis management when they had their listeria challenge that caused them to suspend operations for a while.

“It’s not a project we worked on but the process of brining that product back into the market, rebuilding public trust and trying to get back to the position they had (is crisis management),” Bill said.

Employing for crisis

Kith currently has six employees working on public relations and crisis communications issues for client companies.

“We’ve got two specialists who just exclusively focus on food and agriculture issues,” Bill said. “One is actually a veterinarian with a strong food safety background, and then I have a recent Ag Communications Texas Tech graduate who is just an amazing specialist, ideally focused on client relations and our marketing efforts in and around the agricultural community. It’s a great team, great organization.”

When looking to hire new individuals to work at Kith, Bill looks for those who possess the following traits.

  •      Political experience — Politics allows you to understand human behavior and dynamics. Those skills are critical in this line of work.
  •      Writing proficiency — Writing is one of the most important skills needed when dealing with crisis communications.
  •     International experience — Seeing the United States from outside of the country proves to be a critical skill that you can only learn by traveling.

Advice for management

It can take years for individuals to move up the latter to become a boss in some type of capacity. One of the key components to being an effective leader is empathy.

“Being a boss is much more about empathy and understanding than it is about yelling at people and telling them what to do,” Bill said. “I think that having a measure of empathy and understanding for people, as well as a true vision of where you want to go and how you want to accomplish it are the two key traits (needed) at that level of leadership.”

For those who have just been promoted to a managerial role, Bill encourages you to set high expectations for people, but to have enough discipline to hold yourself accountable to the same expectations.

“Hold yourself as accountable as you hold anybody else to deliver work product,” he said. “Be on time to meetings and be prepared. I think leaders don’t get to cut corners. I firmly believe in servant leadership.”

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Alex Lowery