The Power of PR: Kara Alaimo

Kara Alaimo (Ph.D. '15, Political Science)

Fake news, Twitter attacks, and viral videos are making life more difficult for corporate and political leaders. But it’s a golden age for experts in global crisis and reputation management like Kara Alaimo (Ph.D. ’15, Political Science).

Within one week in mid-April, Alaimo, an assistant professor of communications at Hofstra University, was quoted in a front-page story in The New York Times and published op-eds in Bloomberg View and CNN Opinion on separate PR disasters — outrage over the forced removal of a United Airlines passenger and Alabama Governor Robert Bradley’s sex scandal. Through diligence, study, and networking, Alaimo has secured her place as an authority on global public relations in a tumultuous time.

Alaimo has the chutzpah and credibility to advise CEOs, political leaders, and public relations executives. In her op-eds, she has commented on topics ranging from how Trump can defeat ISIS to ways Samsung can burnish its reputation. Her book, Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication (Routledge, 2016), has won praise for its straightforward guidance on how to communicate across cultures.

Alaimo wrote the book to give others the roadmap she says she lacked in her roles as a global communicator at the United Nations and in the Obama administration. “I had to understand cultural differences and how people communicate and there was just no guidebook for me,” she says.

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Alaimo served as spokesperson for international affairs in the U.S. Treasury Department, under U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner (left). Photo credit: Chris Taylor, U.S. Department of the Treasury.

Alaimo has held two positions at the United Nations — head of communications for the United Nations Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda and media coordinator for the United Nations Millennium Campaign. From 2011 to 2012, she served as spokesperson for international affairs in the U.S. Treasury Department, which, among other responsibilities, involved being the media adviser to Jim Yong Kim during his successful campaign for the World Bank Presidency.

“I think the reason that I have done so well in my career is not just because I’m a good communicator, but because I really understand my issues,” Alaimo says. “I know how the G-20 works. I know how the world economy works.”

Alaimo’s thirst for expertise drove her to pursue a doctorate in political science at the Graduate Center. She specialized in writing politics and studied with Professor Peter Beinart (Political Science), who writes regularly for The Atlantic and The Forward and is a CNN commentator. From him, she learned how to craft political opinion pieces — a skill she now relies on, she says.

Alaimo writes a column a week, on average. She keeps current by reading — a novel a week and The New York Times daily — and talking to “smart people all the time,” including friends, family, and leaders in her field. She is a board member of the World Communication Forum in Davos, which this year named her a Titan of the Future.

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Lately, she has been crisscrossing the globe, speaking to executives and communicators about managing the sorts of reputational crises that have emerged since President Donald Trump’s election. “Some of the phenomena was saw affecting candidates in the 2016 election are now starting to affect businesses,” she says. As a result, corporate communicators are looking for guidance on ways to defend against social media blitzes and appease polarized and politicized employees and customers, according to Alaimo.

In her consulting work and her classes, she stresses that “there are real principles of effective crisis management and effective reputation management. You have to understand them and you have to have the conviction to apply them and to insist to your bosses that they do so.”

Ultimately, she believes in the power of public relations to change the world for the better.

“The one thing I learned that most impacted my life in my very first job at the United Nations is that ending poverty is not a scientific problem,” she says. “I used to think that if only we could scale up resources, we could end global poverty, and now I see that the world has all the resources and everything we need to end poverty. It’s a problem of advocacy. It’s a problem of convincing governments and convincing people to do the right thing. And for me, that’s what public relations professionals do.” 

Submitted on: MAY 17, 2017

Category: Alumni News | General GC News | Political Science