Capitol Communicator is running “Up Close and Personal” profiles of communicators in the mid-Atlantic. In this profile we feature Kristin Smith. Photography for the series is by award-winning Cade Martin, wardrobe styling by Pascale Lemaire and Sybil Street for THE Artist Agency; and hair and makeup by Patti D Nelson, Janice Kinigopoulos  and Lori Pressman for THE Artist Agency.

Kristin, please provide us a short bio.

I joined Arnold Worldwide first as a media planner then as an account executive in the time before mobile devices, social media and OTT, cutting my teeth on clients including McDonald’s and Lockheed Martin. I then moved downtown to establish Ogilvy Public Relation’s D.C. advertising capability with clients including ADP and Snap-On Tools, before focusing on integrated communications planning for industry trade groups like the Appraisal Institute and the Association of American Railroads (AAR). Crossing to the other side of the tracks – literally and figuratively – I moved from agency to client life when I joined the communications team at AAR back in 2010. At the beginning of 2018, I took over as the Senior Vice President of Communications overseeing the branding, advocacy, earned media and public affairs campaigns promoting the nation’s freight railroads.

Are you involved in any other organizations?

“Transportation” is a prominent theme in my life. When I’m not talking trains to policy influencers, I’m tackling beltway traffic to schlep my three kids to their myriad activities or to the volunteer duties that the gods at Sign-Up Genius dole out. This blur of activity momentarily derailed – another bad railroad pun – most extracurricular professional pursuits. But I will soon have a teenager to help alleviate some Uber duties, so I’ll re-engage communications activities, including most recently joining the National Capital Chapter of PRSA.

 What are the things you are most proud of?

I am amazed to think of the enormous creativity and boundless determination my AAR and agency teams expended last year concepting, producing and launching RailxTech, a first-of-its kind railroad event on Capitol Hill. We were charged with transforming the perception of the 200-year old American rail industry from old and outdated to modern and innovative. Since we couldn’t bring staffers to the railroad, we brought the railroad to them. By harnessing the power of VR and the visceral impact of hands-on learning, we linked the virtual introduction of rail technology to the reality of modern railroading. RailxTech gave policymakers unprecedented access to rail experts, provided railroads face-to-face advocacy with hundreds of policy influencers and kicked-off a multi-year initiative designed to advance a policy agenda that will keep railroads delivering well into the next century.

Who is your personal role model?

Without a doubt, my father is my most influential role model. He exemplified what it means to be a leader, inspiring others to do and be their best. He embodied the principles of wisdom, integrity, compassion and hard work, and I strive to follow in his footsteps every day.

Did others offer professional advice that helped you in your career?

Let me share what I learned from three smart, powerful and kind women that can be boiled down to three Rs: Risk – Reward – Return.

I learned the importance of taking calculated risks from my first boss at Arnold, Diane Lewis. She taught me it was better to ask for forgiveness than permission. By empowering a young woman to make bold decisions, Diane set me on a path to professional and personal success.

From Sarah Doolittle, also from my Arnold days, I acquired the critical skill of negotiating – and discovered the power of silence – valuable for achieving positive outcomes for contracts and promotions while at work to curfews and bed times at home. The rewards of effective negotiating are boundless!

And Patti Reilly at AAR modeled the importance of doing well by doing good. In particular, she is a champion for women, and I am lucky to call her a trusted mentor and staunch ally. She instilled in me the desire to return the favor by helping the next generation of women make their indelible mark on the world.

What professional advice do you have for others?

Don’t let the negatives control you – take control of them instead. At AAR, when we’ve tackled difficult – or negative – topics with reporters and influencers, it has paid off by establishing greater trust, balancing news coverage and offering a different perspective. In the case of RailxTech, we capitalized on the unexpected (aka negative) to turn the misperception of the rail industry being outdated on its head with a truly surprising, high-tech experience. The takeaway:  no one is going to change the narrative for you, so own it and invest the time and effort to make your case.

What’s on your Spotify and Pandora playlists?

These days I seem to have either Walk Off the Earth or Calum Graham on repeat. While stylistically they are very different, they have three things in common:  amazing musical creativity, virtuosic performances and, interestingly, they are all Canadian. BTW:  I’m not Canadian, I’m from Kentucky.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

I’m a mom. Anyplace I don’t have to cook – or do dishes – is my favorite.

Is there anything else you would like us to know about you?

My family and I live life out loud – enthusiastically and vociferously. My colleagues will tell you I’m a noisy talker. My sister will say my three kids are a cacophony of motion. My mother will attest to my husband’s verbose and lively musings. My neighbors well know our raucous parties. And my dad? Well, I like to think a little bit of our laughter bubbles up to whatever cloud he’s floating on.


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