Samantha Kruse (who goes by Sam) is an Account Supervisor at LEVICK where she is an integral member of the crisis and corporate communications teams. Although originally from Maryland, Sam had an interesting path to starting her DC public relations career; after graduating from Wake Forest, she moved to Spain to teach English as a Foreign Language, an opportunity which was meant to last one year but turned into three. When she came back to the US, she had an informational interview at LEVICK. The rest — along with a ton of hard work — is history. When she’s not putting out fires for clients in her power suit of “all black everything,” you can catch her breaking a sweat at Flywheel.
WWPR’s Molly Mitchell met up with Sam at LEVICK for the February edition of Power Points.
MM: What ultimately drew you to public relations? I saw on LinkedIn that you spent a few years abroad in Spain after college teaching English?
SK: I double majored in Anthropology and Spanish and I knew that I wanted to go to Spain after college. It was supposed to be a one-year deal but I ended up absolutely loving it – both teaching and the culture. And I knew that I needed to stay longer than a year to become fluent, which was the ultimate goal. So three years later I wake up and I’m still in Spain.
MM: How did you know it was time to come home?
SK: After those three years, I came to a point where I was ready to make a decision about staying abroad for the rest of my life or going back to the States to be a professional in DC and have a life outside of college. So I ended up back here – mainly because my family was from here and I was like ‘where am I going to go with this interest in culture from my degree and my travels abroad?’ I knew I was attracted to the world of communications, so I went on a bunch of informational interviews, including one at LEVICK. I loved everyone here and it just clicked. I started with what we call a fellowship. I ended up loving it and now nearly five years later I am a permanent member of the team.
MM: Describe your current role at LEVICK elevator sentence style.
SK: We are a crisis firm. We do a lot of other more traditional communications work as well, but I am on the crisis team. My day-to-day is completely unpredictable, which is part of what I love. LEVICK is there at the planning, the incident management, and the reputation recovery stage of whatever a client might be going through.
MM: I assume this is going to involve your schedule but what’s the most difficult part of your job?
SK: Definitely time management is the most difficult. It sounds so basic. Obviously with any job, time management is going to be a crucial element. But when you have anywhere from five to 10 clients, or more, some of them might have a crisis going on that week and some of them might not. You have to make sure even the ones that are operating normally still get the attention they need that week. Even if there’s a crisis in LA that’s blowing up and your NYC client is sort of quiet but wants to schedule a conference call. Thankfully, our teams do a great job of helping each other out. At least two or three people are informed at any given moment on what happened on the last client call. So you’re not scrambling to bring other people up to speed at any given time.
MM: The most gratifying aspect?
SK: It’s always achieving the goal that the client set out to do. It’s truly gratifying to put in the work no matter how many hours or how much effort and to see that end goal reached, whether it’s their name in a Wall Street Journal story or the opposite – their name not in a story. But really just helping them achieve all of their marketing and business goals in the most seamless way possible.
MM: What keeps you motivated amid the daily grind?
SK: Outside of work, it’s finding time to go to spin class. Flywheel has become my favorite – they’re on ClassPass and it’s a game changer. I think it’s important to do whatever you need to do to be focused when you get into the office. At work, my co-workers keep me motivated. Everybody here is awesome and really wants to see LEVICK achieve its goals and get all of our clients where they need to be.
MM: What has working in crisis communications taught?
SK: In any industry, but especially in crisis communications, I’ve learned that not only do you need a Plan B, but a Plan C and D. I can’t tell you how many times I have strategized with a client or internal teammates for days or weeks and we’ve come up with this perfect plan, and then the day before execution something changes. I’ve come to realize that you need to be constantly prepared to work with, for example, a new spokesperson, a different journalist, or a last-minute alteration to a project timeline.
MM: Which is true of so many things in life.
SK: Exactly. But I also think this industry has taught me it’s important to take advantage of every networking event and actually talk to people and be a human. I see a lot of people attending events and just observing, which of course is good from an educational standpoint. But I think making sure that you are actually networking or making time to sign up for public speaking opportunities so people can associate your voice with your work is so crucial. And whether or not an actual client engagement comes out of it is one thing, but the relationships you form along with the potential referrals down the line are invaluable.
MM: In a nutshell what makes a successful communications campaign? How do you know you’ve done a great job?
SK: In the world of crisis it’s very hard to measure universally. In my opinion, a sign that you’ve done the best job you possibly could in a crisis scenario is whether that client comes back to your firm for other work or stays on with you for traditional PR or ongoing public affairs projects, for example. If we handled an organization’s crisis so efficiently that they want LEVICK to be a permanent member of their team, that’s an amazing sign.
MM: What do you think is the biggest barrier to female leadership in the workplace?
SK: I would love to say that I don’t see that barrier. I think to some degree here in the communications world it’s not as noticeable. Politics aside, I will just say I have been so inspired by what I’ve seen not just from people in DC and not just from people in my industry, but from women, minorities, marginalized populations and everyone everywhere who is standing up for what they believe in. I think women in professional industries need to keep working as hard as I know my female role models are to reach those C-Suite roles. It’s still more common than not to walk into a boardroom that has only older men and that can be intimidating. But, it’s been so inspiring to me in the communications world to see many women taking on leadership positions.
MM: When you hire what are the qualities you most value in potential employees?
SK: A varied background really helps. I don’t necessarily believe that it’s a must for a person to have majored in communications or journalism to get a job in PR. The more people we bring on that are already experts in their particular field is extremely advantageous for the firm. For example, we have former attorneys who are now on the legal communications end of the spectrum. It is essential to bring those colleagues in when we have clients facing potential litigation. I think pulling on everyone’s individual experience and bringing it in to one cohesive offering for our clients is something that I see as a real benefit.
MM: Now on to some fun day-in-the-life questions. What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
SK: Ah… so sad, but I usually roll over and check my Facebook and Instagram. I’m trying hard not to check my email first thing because it’s a stressful way to start the day, and I think it can wait till I get in the office.
MM: What’s your go to Starbuck’s order?
SK: Not a Starbuck’s gal! I usually go to Saxby’s on 19th Street NW. Usually I just get black coffee, but if I’m feeling adventurous sometimes I get this amazing almond coconut mocha that they have.
MM: What are three things that you always have in your workbag?
SK: I always have a charger. I never want my laptop or phone not to work, as ridiculous as that sounds, but you never want them to be dead if you have a last minute client meeting or get together and need to contact someone. I think sunglasses are really important. I get mad at myself when it’s gorgeous in DC and I don’t have them on me. And finally my favorite lip-gloss, which is cherry ChapStick. I can’t go anywhere without it. Honestly I put it on before every meeting because it makes me feel whole and ready to do whatever I need to do.
MM: What’s your favorite DC restaurant?
SK: I live in Adams Morgan and my favorite restaurant for a night out is Mintwood Place. The food is amazing. Then my regular go to is Roofer’s Union, which has this great neighborhood feel.
MM: What outfit combination do you consider your “power suit?”
SK: All black everything. It just feels like business. I wear a lot of colors in my personal life so I like that separation.
MM: What advice would you give your early professional self?
SK: Don’t let yourself be held back by what you perceive as a lack of credentials or experience.
To learn more about LEVICK check out: http://www.levick.com/about
Follow Sam and Molly on Twitter: @samkruser and @mollyemitchell