The July edition of The Voice-Tribune featured five Women in Business leaders across Louisville. We are proud that our Vice President of Communications and Marketing, Kelley Dearing Smith, was one of the top women selected. Enjoy her interview below or view the original full article at The Voice-Tribune.
by Liz Bingham
Kelley Dearing Smith’s career revolves around out-of-the-box thinking and telling a story. Dearing Smith is Louisville Water Company’s vice president of communications and marketing. In her career at Louisville Water, Dearing Smith has developed strategic partnerships and communication efforts that build Louisville Water’s brand and highlight the value of something most people take for granted, high-quality and reliable drinking water.
Dearing Smith is a member of the company’s executive leadership team and directs internal and external communications and content marketing, brand development, education and outreach, government relations and economic development.
Dearing Smith has authored a book highlighting Louisville Water’s history and oversaw the development of the “WaterWorks Museum” at the company’s 1860 original pumping station.
Prior to Louisville Water, Dearing Smith worked in television news. She is the incoming chair of the American Water Works Association’s Public Affairs Council and frequently speaks to utilities and businesses on best practices for branding and communication. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Broadcast Journalism from Eastern Kentucky University.
Dearing Smith lives in Louisville with her husband Doug and daughters Katie and Kortney.
How long have you been in your industry and how did you get involved in it?
I joined the company 22 years ago in 1999 after working in television news. I discovered the job by a phone call to an acquaintance who worked at Louisville Water when I had a question about a story. I learned there was a new communications job at Louisville Water and I should consider it.
At the time, I was in management at a local television station and I had always said “whenever someone else fed my child breakfast, lunch and dinner, it was time to find a new path.” In early 1999, my husband and I had an 18-month old and a nanny who should have just lived with us. I took a leap of faith, interviewed and got the job. You could say I “drank the water” because I’m still here!
This summer, I’ll chair a national public affairs council for the water industry. I’m proud that several years ago our company added the VP role for communications; it’s a huge testament to the emphasis we place on building the brand and being transparent, visible and consistent in how we listen and communicate.
Now, my two daughters have grown up around Louisville Water and are often our best brand ambassadors. I’ve been able to have the career that’s so important to me but also have that balance for my life with my husband and daughters.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the people and the product. I’m curious by nature and I love to tell stories, and who knew there were so many great stories with water and Louisville Water! I use my journalism skills daily; it guides my decision making and my stance that Louisville Water “tells stories – we don’t issue statements.” My team is laser-focused on highlighting something most take for granted, a high-quality and reliable supply of drinking water. Through education and outreach, content marketing, brand journalism, economic development and community relations, we’re building a community that values water. Louisville Water is the only water utility to trademark its tap water. In Louisville, the water is so good it’s called Louisville Pure Tap™. We have fun with the water; through events, social media, in schools, or a visit to the WaterWorks Museum. There are so many stories to tell.
With my peers on the executive team, I love the diversity of thought that happens when you bring engineers, scientists, accountants, lawyers and a communicator to the table. Often, I represent the customer’s voice and I think my peers would say I’m always asking what’s the story with an initiative and why should our customers care.
What makes your workplace unique?
Louisville Water has a unique connection to every place in Louisville. Not many businesses can say that. Louisville Water is not just a utility, we’re an essential employer, an anchor in this community for public health and quality of life. Our blend of field crews, office staff, scientists and engineers builds our unique workplace culture. During the pandemic, we balanced taking care of those employees whose jobs could not be remote but also quickly sending home nearly 200 employees to work. Now, coming out of the pandemic, we’re reshaping how our company looks. I expect this will be a several-year journey.
We’re also a company with a trademarked product, Louisville Pure Tap™, a National Historic Landmark with the Louisville Water Tower and a favorite community walking spot with the Crescent Hill Reservoir. We may be the only drinking water utility with a bourbon page on its website too – more than a dozen distillers use our recipe to make their award-winning Kentucky bourbon.
What are your future goals for yourself in your industry or career?
I never want to stop listening and learning. Over the next few years, Louisville Water is focused on the customer experience by transforming how our customers interact with us and how they learn about our product and delivery. A big part of the project is listening to our customers and making sure we deliver on our brand promise.
During the pandemic, my wow moment was how quickly thousands of people fell behind in paying their Louisville Water bill and that sparked an idea to reshape the affordability conversation which is also tied to the equity and inclusion issues we’re facing in Louisville and across the United States. I want to be a change agent in this effort.
What can you recommend to others interested in working in your industry?
Working in the water industry is not just working for a utility, it’s a career where you can truly say your job impacts the health and vibrancy of your town. Louisville Water is grounded in science and engineering, but there are also journalists, accountants, HR professionals, business analysts, customer service reps, plumbers, heavy equipment operators, computer programmers and marketing professionals who make it possible for Louisville Pure Tap ™ to flow from our faucets.