We met Kim last fall while speaking at The Global Wellness Summit in Singapore and were fascinated by this humble, direct Midwesterner who is fearlessly throwing herself into the world of PR digital communications. All those stories about people our age not being able to learn new things, or slowing down and pulling back…well, that is not happening with Kim. Powered by her curiosity and 25 years of PR experience, and backed up with a smile that won’t quit, she is a force.
Where are you from?
Alliance, Ohio — the home of the Genie Garage Door Opener.
“Our roots make us who we are”
Me too! I’m from Cleveland. What’s it like for you being from there, and now living in LA traveling around the world?
I left the Midwest at 15 when my family moved to Florida. I went to college in Maryland and then began working in the travel/hospitality and spa industry for airlines, destinations and hotels. It has taken me everywhere from Tahiti to Turkey and lots of places in between. But you just can’t forget your roots — I learn so much about this country every time I pull a chair up beside my Uncle Jack who is a great father & grandfather still in that Ohio town and who was a blue-collar factory worker all his life.
I don’t forget for a moment that our roots make us who we are. And, I think it has also made me remember to get to know real people in whatever country I visit — to get an authentic picture of the place. And, hopefully, that attitude helps me craft insightful questions for people we interview on the podcast from around the world who attend or support the Global Wellness Summit.
Multi-Generational PR Team
PR is often thought of as a younger person’s job, but clearly it is not. What does your life experience bring to your work?
Maybe the frontline part of the work is, but for big picture, cohesive plans, it always helps to have a multi-generational team. For one thing, the contacts you’ve built up over time make things happen more quickly. For instance, I work with one of the hippest restaurant companies in the world since they have a restaurant at one of our hotel clients in LA, The Orlando Hotel on West Third. Recently, the seven-person team — of mostly millennials, Gen Z’s and boomers — worked for four months on creating a New Year’s Eve event at the restaurant, which had never had one before. There was no precedent that it would draw a crowd but week by week we chipped away together at every goal, each of us bringing something unique to the effort (happily, our established contacts saved the restaurant thousands of dollars in entertainment costs), and we ended up with a sold-out bangin’ event where that same range of generations danced the night away.
Here’s what Erica Pressberg, the Marketing Director of The Orlando Hotel in LA says about working with us: “There’s nothing like the combination of experience and adaptability. Kim’s team goes above and beyond and uses a multi-generational approach to procuring press for their clients based on long-term relationships and the ability to be open-minded in an ever-changing industry.”
The Thrill of Finding New Ways to Communicate
What excites you about your work?
The possibilities. It’s still so much fun when clients tell you their dreams and ideas and you craft them into a story or an event that links to the zeitgeist…and then journalists and the public react positively to it. I also love crafting strategic alliances. One of my mentors — Alex Szekely from the founding family of spas in North America — always said you can gain so much more traction by connecting to someone else’s momentum. It sounds cliché, but it really is all about creating a win/win.
And also, I LOVE trying something new. Communications and storytelling is the leitmotif of what I do, but continuing to find new ways to do that is a thrill. Besides producing and hosting a podcast for the first time this year, I also wrote animation scripts for the first time for a cool, new gender-neutral-skincare-line client. Working hand in hand with the founder of the line and the animator, it was a joy to help make a very complex story come to life via six very different characters.
What are your specialties?
Travel, hospitality, lifestyle, but most specifically, “wellness.” In fact, so much so, I co-founded a PR firm for wellness brands called S’Well Communications. I was fortunate enough to start out as a dancer, then a dance critic, then a lifestyle journalist writing about theater, books & travel. In the midst of a budding freelance writing career that started when I was nearly done with my bachelor’s degree, I got a job at an airline to feed my love of travel. It was equal opportunity then and, in spite of my background, I drew the straw that put me on the tarmac parking planes and loading luggage! A few months and free trips later, I took a leap at a job posting and got promoted to the airline’s corporate PR department. Eventually I was hired away by a hospitality PR firm … then by one of their client hotels … and then a famous spa hired me to do their onsite PR. And, it just so happened that my career coincided with the explosion of the spa industry — from 50 across the country to more than 120,000 around the world today.
From “Devil Wears Prada” to Influencers
What are the changes you have seen in the last 5 years?
The biggest change in the communications and media business is the way the public —including me — consumes news … and the rise of social media and influencers. Most major media outlets are either changing or going away. The “Devil Wears Prada” glamorous magazine editor jobs are being replaced by influencers publishing their own ideas, in essence being their own editors.
I love a good book and a gorgeous magazine to hold and touch and feel. And of course, I think a free press — in particular, a healthy newspaper — is crucial to a free society, but the number of people who are holding them in their hands is dwindling. I’m just as guilty as anyone. I fly ALL the time and I bring books and magazines. But I find myself always being drawn back to the news on my phone — as if with a rubber band — because it’s constantly being updated. I admit, I’m addicted!
But here’s the thing: I am a professional communicator and my job is to do that communicating on whatever platform or channel that is smartest and most appropriate for today’s audience and the audience we will build.
What are the new channels you are using to communicate for your clients?
We use all the social and traditional media channels. Video is huge. YouTube posts are great for search, but while my 19-year-old only watches TV on his phone, I don’t think many wellness companies or resorts are spending much time on TikTok right now.
We’ve found that it’s good to pick your “top two” favorite ways to be showcased and really do those well. Not sure if Twitter is the right place for lifestyle products, and in the end it’s “heads in beds” and conversion that matters. We always tell our clients that if one thing worked, that’s all you’d do, but the challenge with today’s communications industry is that the pie keeps getting sliced thinner and thinner. You have to be everywhere. For instance, we’re now working on the launch of a $100 million luxury wellness resort and residence in Palm Beach County-owned by a real estate and tech entrepreneur from India. Among many other things, Amrit will have some of the best Ayurvedic and yoga offerings in the country and they’ll work with a famous plant-forward chef. Do we only market to luxury, real estate, and food magazines? Of course not. We break it down by topic and then we break it down buy communications channels – everything from tech mag reviews of the resort’s new wellness app … to international influencers coming for hard hat tours … to local t.v. segments and tantalizing Instagram posts … mini-resort tours on IGTV … spa media events in New York … pre-opening blogger brunches … and yes we might even send gorgeous postcard mailers to a select few audiences. Will any single thing work? No, but all of it will.
What has been your learning process?
Read, observe, research, talk it over with people you respect and …. Repeat.
What has been the hardest thing to learn?
Patience. Especially if you have the ability to sort of see what the next big thing will be, it’s hard to wait for other people to catch on to the idea … or grow to believe it themselves. Over the years I’ve learned if I really want to convince someone of something, I have to learn to share all the facts and info I have with a decision maker, and then just let it sit with them and let them chew on it.
Dealing With Short Attention Spans
How has the role of traditional media and journalist pitches changed?
The pitching hasn’t changed — except everyone has the attention span of a gnat right now. So shorter is always better. It’s just that there are fewer and as a result much busier media that you’re pitching. Jobs have been slashed and many just simply don’t have the time to consider and ruminate. It’s easier than ever for your story to be lost in the shuffle.
We only hope the next generation has the attention span to read something longer than a photo caption. I can devour an entire Time magazine on a plane ride, but will my son’s generation ever read The New Yorker? I think not.
How do you stay abreast of what is happening?
I read all the time. If I’m not reading, I’m playing news or podcasts or music in the background when I work. There’s not a line I wait in or a car ride I take that I’m not reading or listening to something. Meals with journalists and events with influencers also help. We compare notes as to what’s working now and what they see on the horizon.
Interconnected Modes of Communicating
You have recently started podcasting; do you see that moving into social with IGTV or YouTube?
Moving pictures do capture attention faster — and longer. Why else do we have to listen to Oprah and Gayle talk about the yellow flowers she flew in from Holland to decorate the center of Gayle’s 65th birthday dinner party table? Isn’t it enough that we can look at it and read about it in O magazine? Seems not. And then the minute after Oprah admits, in the same IGTV snippet, that she doesn’t have one yellow dress, even though it’s Gail’s favorite color, a fashion influencer posts below the video that she can help them with that. It’s like Wackamole: your yellow flower story has to be everywhere today. It’s interesting to stop and think that today when you push information out, it is rarely a one-way conversation.
So, the next time we tape the Global Wellness Summit podcast, which will be at the GWS media event in New York at the end of January, one of us will be shooting video so we can post snippets of interviews and we’ll even use that sound bar, EKG-looking graphic to illustrate a snippet from each interview on IGTV and YouTube channels – never neglecting our beloved Instagram either. BUT, the mere act of communicating on one channel — say, a podcast — is not enough today. It is just the beginning. Then you break it up and repost little pieces all over your social media channels and of course your guest’s channels.
Podcasts Have Reached the Mainstream
What is the age of most podcast listeners?
The latest Edison Research “Share of Ear” report found that 51% of Americans have listened to a podcast — 144 million, which is 20 million more than last year — so we can now say it has reached the mainstream. The research also shows that the median age of podcast consumers is 35 compared to 46 among AM/FM listeners, and an even older median age of 56 for viewers of the big three television networks. Listening among those 55 and older is up from 13 percent last year but, right now, just 17 percent of this older demographic are monthly podcast listeners.
Weekly listeners said they heard an average of seven podcasts in the last week. Forty-one percent of monthly podcast listeners say they are listening to more podcasts today compared to one year ago.
So, if you asked me if I’d like to invest in a broadcast network or a podcast network, I think you know my answer.
The Story Is Everything
Do you find that an older audience needs a different approach to a younger one?
When it comes to sharing information, it typically boils down to the story. Take the latest remake of Little Women — it’s a story about a family of girls growing up during and after the Civil War. But who cares? Each generation of girls since has enjoyed the book and every few decades or so the movie is remade. This year’s take on the story by Greta Gerwig has been getting rapturous reviews (from me too) and I saw all ages — and genders — in the audience.
Another case in point is the Global Wellness Summit podcast — our production crew is a group of millennials out of Ohio who work on a lot of wellness-themed podcasts. I could not believe how engaged they were during our interviews in Singapore. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see them nodding in agreement to so much of what the interviewees and I talked about. I really never expected them to care as much. And, they seemed genuinely amazed at finding this motherlode of wellness information at the summit. From gut microbiome testing to quantum leadership — they were all over that info we gathered.
Next week, I’ll be seeing her again as I’ll be on stage in NY helping to present The Global Wellness Institute’s year-end findings, and she will be producing episodes for the GWS podcast.