She fell, right into the president’s lap

Katherine Snow Smith
Liz Stockbridge | USFSP
There are many similarities between journalism and public relations, says Katherine Snow Smith.

USFSP Student Reporter

ST. PETERSBURG – As a newspaper journalist for a quarter century, Katherine Snow Smith covered business news, wrote a column about parenting and edited a slick magazine for affluent readers.

She also fell into President Barack Obama’s lap at a White House Christmas party for journalists in 2009.

In November 2018, however, Smith left journalism to join B2 Communications, a public relations agency in St. Petersburg.

It was hard to leave the Tampa Bay Times, her workplace since 1994, because there were “so many bright, funny, and smart people of all ages and all backgrounds with a very communal cause to get the paper out,” said Smith, 51.

But newspaper journalism today is beset with financial challenges and an uncertain future, and B2 seemed to offer fresh opportunities and stability.

Smith says she has found many similarities between journalism and public relations, but some noteworthy differences as well.

As the senior content strategist at B2, Smith spends her days pitching stories, dealing with the news media, planning conferences, and writing blog posts, case studies and newsletters for other colleagues’ clients.

Whether she is e-mailing, texting or calling clients left and right, Smith stays busy. B2’s clients include SPCA Tampa Bay, Valley Bank and the Community Foundation of Tampa Bay.

One of the benefits of PR work is that “you do get to establish a relationship; you’re allowed to form a friendship with your sources and your clients,” Smith said. “As a reporter, you could have friendships, but you couldn’t be on their side in reporting stories.”

Smith found that writing PR releases is quite comparable to writing newspaper stories.

“It’s a lot of interviewing, getting the stories, finding the hook or what makes it interesting,” Smith said. “Sometimes the client doesn’t know what the compelling thing is.”

Smith grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina, where her father was a newspaper editor and columnist and her mother taught speech communication to college students.

She earned a bachelor’s in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and started her career covering three tiny towns in South Carolina.

There, Smith met fellow journalist Adam C. Smith, who became her husband for 24 years and father of their three children.

He was a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times, so she moved to Florida and worked at the Tampa Bay Business Journal, then shifted to the Times to cover business in Pasco County.

When the first of her three children were born, she left the paper’s staff, but for 10 years she wrote a column about parenting called “Rookie Mom.”

Smith’s work does not stop at raising children and representing clients.

After taking a memoir writing class at Eckerd College, Smith was inspired to try a different style of writing.

A collection of essays about her humorous experiences, Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker: Missteps and Lessons Learned, is scheduled for publication next July.

The awkward encounter with Obama came in 2009, when she accompanied her husband – by then the Times’ political editor – to a White House Christmas Party.

Smith dressed for the occasion of meeting the president of the United States but broke the Southern rule about wearing sensible shoes.

She wore high heels.

“An epidural could not have lessened the severe pain from my toes to my spine as I hobbled through the most elegant night of my life,” Smith said.

When it came time for Smith and her husband to pose for a picture with the president and the first lady, things went south – including Smith.

“Just as we smiled for our big moment, my left foot twisted, my knee gave way, I fell against the 44th president of the United States, then headed backward,” Smith said.

Her heels were her misstep, her fall a lesson learned that became one essay in her forthcoming book.

To read more about Smith’s missteps, readers can pre-order her book on Amazon here: 3087033&sr=8-1

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